Ken Hitchcock and Joel Quenneville are among the winningest active NHL coaches. They've met in the playoffs before. Oddly, each time the outcome reflected not so much their coaching as the quality of their rosters.
In 1999 Hitchcock's Stars beat Quenneville's Blues 4-2 in the second round, on their way to the franchise's only Stanley Cup victory. In 2001, despite a 106-point season and coming off two consecutive Cup finals, Hitchcock's aging Stars were swept in the second round by Quenneville's rising Blues, who lost in the conference final to the eventual Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche.
Hitchcock was fired during the next season. Quenneville lasted two and a half more seasons before management panicked and let him go. The life of coaches.
Both have taken detours through other teams before landing here, again guiding two of the league's powerhouses.
|Game||Date||Time (ET)||Western Conference First Round||National TV|
|1||Thu, Apr 17||8 p.m.||Chicago at St. Louis||NBCSN, CBC|
|2||Sat, Apr 19||3 p.m.||Chicago at St. Louis||NBC, CBC|
|3||Mon, Apr 21||8:30 p.m.||St. Louis at Chicago||CNBC, CBC|
|4||Wed, Apr 23||9:30 p.m.||St. Louis at Chicago||NBCSN, CBC|
|5*||Fri, Apr 25||8 p.m.||Chicago at St. Louis||NBCSN, CBC|
|6*||Sun, Apr 27||3 p.m.||St. Louis at Chicago||NBC, CBC|
|7*||Tue, Apr 29||TBD||Chicago at St. Louis||CBC|
Who's Healthy Here Anyway?
All things being equal, if both teams were fully healthy then the defending champion Blackhawks should still be at least mild favorites, possibly mitigated by St. Louis having home ice. However, all things are not equal: Both teams have injured stars returning in time for the playoffs, but the Hawks' critical two stars (Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane) are much further along the path to 100% health than the Blues' stars. The home ice matchup opportunity won't matter if the key soldiers can't deliver.
So the question bookies should be asking is, even if several of the injured Blues players play, how healthy are they?
The Blues' injury list is long, but most importantly they lost David Backes and TJ Oshie very late in the season, and Vladimir Tarasenko is surely not going to be 100% whenever he does return from his hand injury.
(The Blues also lost their final six regular season games, which is certainly a red flag but not one I'd read much into beyond "decimated by injuries.")
While granting all NHL coaches are coy this time of year, including Hitchcock, his response about his lineup is pretty transparent, based on all info I have found:
"If we knew our roster like Chicago does, we'd let you know, and their roster is what it is and they've been able to practice with it for two or three days and ours is fluctuating," Hitchcock said. "I don't think you should read anything into our roster [Wednesday]. I think we are literally going to be game-time decisions every day for a little while here."
And even Toews and Kane, though further along their path to full health, remain at minimum to be re-injury risks. Backes and Kane's injuries were lower body, so watch for them having mobility issues. Toews' is apparently a shoulder via Brooks Orpik while Oshie's was a head shot by Michael Rupp.
All the talk about how the intradivisional playoff battles out West will be ferocious affairs with many casualties, and here we have two teams entering the playoffs with pre-existing conditions.
This is a series with two high-caliber teams where you can choose a number of different reasons and narratives for going one way or the other. (I haven't even mentioned the goaltending matchup, because we don't talk about goaltending.)
If the Blues hadn't lost Oshie, Tarasenko and even Backes while suffering that alarming season-ending skid, I think the popular narrative would give them the slight nod, what with home ice and what was looking like a division title and potential President's Trophy. As mentioned, even in that scenario I'm not sure that would be the right bet; Chicago, despite this season's hiccups, has remained a dominant possession team.
But now we have the playoff setting of muddled injury information, "momentum" swings as anxiety and fatigue feed fear, and the general dice roll that accompanies any series. It should be a good one.
What will be funny is the narratives that emerge after this series is over: If the Blues lose, they "choked again" rather than merely losing to the defending champs who have won two of the last three Cups. If they win, then they "got over the hump" rather than merely advancing to the second round thanks to a narrow victory.
Insert your own narrative to suit your needs.