Joel Auerbach, Getty Images
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak #41 of the St Louis Blues stops a third period shot by David Booth #10 of the Florida Panthers on February 8, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Blues defeated the Panthers 2-1.
You can almost hear them licking their lips.
The St. Louis Blues love playing the Hawks. They're the team their fans and probably the players hate most, or at least consider their biggest rival. They know they play a style the Hawks can't deal with and they haven't had anything to play for in weeks, so firing mortar into the Hawks playoff hopes is something they'd be dying to do.
St. Louis comes in playing some of their best hockey of the season. They just lit up Detroit for 10 in The City of The Damned (that's Detroit, but it could easily be St. Louis).
It is just not what the Hawks need.
St. Louis has won five of their last seven, scoring 33 times in those games. And before you think that's padded by the 10 they put up in one game, 23 in six games is still almost four a game.
This team was rebuilt midseason. They shipped off their former No. 1 pick in Erik Johnson along with a checking center in Jay McClement for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and forward Chris Stewart.
The feeling in St. Louis was that Johnson, though possessing all the tools to be an absolute killer on the blue line, was not going to live up to that in Missouri.
We saw what he could be for the USA during the Olympics last year, but the fans in St. Louis rarely got it displayed for them. So they figured they'd cash in while they could, and boy have they.
Stewart especially is the perfect player for this the Blues style. He's a big forward who can skate and he loves to crash into...well, anything. He's a rabid forechecker that puts any defenseman under pressure from jump street. And he can finish. This is his second consecutive 20-goals season, and he could break 30 with big games Wednesday and in the Blues finale.
Shattenkirk is himself a first round pick, and he can really move the puck. He's got gifted hands, and while he has a lot to learn in the defensive zone as any young D-man does, there isn't much of a dropoff from him to Johnson. He gives them another defender who can spring those forwards in combination with Alex Pietragelo, and this trade is looking a steal.
The reason the Hawks have so much trouble with the Blues is that the Blues can push them around. They're intent on finishing off every check and have enough speed to do it. This causes the Hawks D so much duress that they just start firing pucks out of the zone to try and avoid contact, instead of trying to pick out a pass. This either results in the Blues just retrieving the puck in the neutral zone to start all over or worse, holding the puck in which allows those forwards to then Braveheart charge to the front of the net and create chaos there.
When the Hawks beat the Blues, it's because they accept they're going to get pounded, wait that extra second to make a smart pass. When they do that, because the Blues are sending forwards so aggressively, there's a lot of space behind them to exploit.
If you have two forwards deep then you're at best going to have only three guys to deal with at least three Hawks pouring forward, and usually it's four.
What also gets the Blues is they can't stay out of the box. They're the third most penalized team in the league, and frequently get overzealous in trying to punish teams.
Though the Hawks power play has been spilling beer on itself the past little while, they can't do that Wednesday.
Furthermore, though the Blues have skill they don't have a gifted center, though Patrik Berglund on the second line may be that one day. They struggle to create offense on their own. They need you to turn it over or make a mistake to come crashing through the city walls. If they have to carry it over the blue line and make a few passes to open you up, they struggle to do that.
There's no exaggeration in saying the Hawks have to win. If they don't, they lose control of their destiny, and we lose control of our bowels.
It's a tough task, considering the circumstances. But there's no choice here. If there's no gas in the tank, no juice in the legs, then they must find something in the heart or guts to compensate.
Or risk becoming a joke.