NHL Picks: Blues Will Expose Blackhawks' Weaknesses In Game 1

Doug Upstone

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 9:07 PM UTC

Wednesday, Apr. 13, 2016 9:07 PM UTC

While the still newer adopted playoff format of the NHL promotes divisional pairing, not sure for the purposes of the Stanley Cup playoffs if this really the right or best solution.

Case in point, Chicago at St. Louis in the opening round of the postseason. Previously, the teams were seeded by points earned during the regular season and it was 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7 and so on. Though every year will be somewhat different, the teams with the three best records in the Western Conference were all from the Central Division, setting up the No.3 Blackhawks against the No.2 Blues. Too bad one team will be eliminated so early, but this is what the commish Gary Bettman wants, so let's move ahead.

Of the eight Stanley Cup playoff series, the NHL odds for the series are the tightest on this confrontation at sportsbooks like Heritage, with St. Louis at only -120. If ever a series looks like it should go seven games, it is this one. Here is what to look for in Game 1 which is set for 9:35 EDT on NBCSN.


Chicago Needs Fast Start to Overcome Weaknesses
The Blackhawks enter the playoffs as wobbly as a car without lug nuts on the tires. Goalie Corey Crawford has started one game (the last one) since March 15th due to injury, thus, it is not a stretch to think he will not be that sharp to start the series. The Chicago front office was making roster moves on Monday, deciding what defensemen to play after Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson, especially with Duncan Keith still suspended for lid-lifter.

However, this is Chicago we are talking about and they still have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and coach Joel Quenneville, which brings a wealth of playoffs experience and three Cups since 2010. The best strategy for the Blackhawks might be the military doctrine known as - Shock and Awe. Chicago comes out with their first three lines flying up and down the ice and places St. Louis on the defensive and if they can score a quick goal or maybe two, they could steal Game 1.

Must Read: Betting Tips Ahead Of Playoffs

St. Louis Defense Has to Take Control
The Blues ended up fourth in the NHL in goals allowed at 2.40 and will lean on goalie Brian Elliott and stellar collection of defensemen. Having been ousted in the first round the past three seasons, St. Louis has open wounds and the pressure will squarely be on Elliott to rise to the occasion, after leading the league in save percentage (.930) and was second in goals-against average at 2.07.

While the Blues defense is very important, the larger aspect might be their offense. St. Louis was seventh in puck possession this season and now has the ability to roll out three lines that can keep the pressure on Chicago and if they receive contributions from the fourth line, in Game 1 with the Hawks scrambling to find blue-liners, let alone those that can mesh together, this is area they could hound them into mistakes.

What to Expect and Winner
The odds in the opener have St. Louis at -125, with total of 5. At the moment I am firmly convinced this series heads back to Chicago tied at 1-1, thus the Blackhawks win one of the first two tilts. Given what Chicago is up against in the Game 1, cannot put together a scenario in which Quenneville's club can assemble a stable defense in two days with a goalie in a very difficult spot.

St. Louis is at home, as healthy as they have been all season and has the kind of defenders that can at least skate with the Hawks. Also, the Blues Vladimir Tarasenko has scored in four of past five contests, has five goals in five contests with Chicago and has found the back of the net 10 times in last dozen playoff appearances. For NHL picks, St. Louis moves to 13-3 against defensive teams allowing 2.55 or fewer goals a game in the second half of the season.

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NHL Picks: Blues -135
Best Line Offered: at Bookmaker

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