St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27) handles the puck as he splits the defense of Chicago Blackhawks' Dave Bolland (36) and Duncan Keith (2) in the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, March 6, 2012 in St. Louis. The Blues beat the Blackhawks 5-1.
Thursday at the United Center, both participants have the chance to clinch something. With a win, and a loss in regulation by the Phoenix Coyotes later in the evening, the Hawks will clinch a playoff spot.
With a win over the Hawks, the Blues can clinch the division. The prospect of doing that at the home of the team their fans hate most probably appeals pretty heavily in that dressing room.
The Blues come in not having seen a red light go off in their own end in three games. That's right, three straight shutouts.
The strange thing is that the goalie who backstopped all those, Brian Elliot, will sit in favor of Jaroslav Halak. But that's how the Blues have done it all year, almost evenly dividing up time between the two with Halak slightly shading the amount because he's going to be the playoff starter.
For the Hawks, Steve Montador is back to the concussion room again, and it is likely he has played his last game this year. Michael Frolik will replace him in the lineup, as the Hawks will duck for cover when the third pairing of Sean O'Donnell and Dylan Olsen is on the ice. Corey Crawford will get his seventh straight start in a bid to really get rolling into the playoffs.
A performance like Tuesday's in New Jersey will give the Hawks every chance of victory.
Being without Duncan Keith will see the Blues come after the Hawks defense even more than they usually do. It's the kind of pressure that make Niklas Hjalmarsson wilt, and that will be the Blues goal. They will be bombarded with finished checks tonight.
On the other end, it's got to be as simple as possible. No turning down shots for cutesy passes, get bodies and pucks to the net, try and outwork the Blues slow-ish defense down low. Convert your power plays, which you will get, though that's been so beyond the Hawks lately it's not even worth mentioning. But that's the idea.
These are always such ho-hum affairs. Strap on in.