By Doug Halberstadt
The National Hockey League regular season has come to a close. The Chicago Blackhawks can now officially begin their attempt at winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.
The playoff matchups have been determined, and Chicago will open up their first-round series against their division rival, the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues finished the regular season with 111 points (52-23-7) and will have home ice advantage over Chicago.
The Blackhawks finished 4 points behind the Blues with a regular-season record of 46-21-15.
Both teams ended the regular season on losing streaks. Chicago lost their last two games of the year on the road. Last Friday night (April 11), they were shut out by the Washington Capitals 4-0 and then closed out on Saturday night (April 12) against the Predators in Nashville, Tenn. They got clobbered by the Predators 7-5.
The Blues were even worse. They finished the regular season with six-straight losses. They suffered a 3-0 shutout at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings on the final day of the regular season (Sunday, April 13).
The two teams will open up the series in St. Louis tomorrow night (Thursday, April 17). The Blackhawks went 2-1-2 against the Blues this season. The Blackhawks defeated the Blues 4-2 in Chicago April 6 and 4-0 in Chicago March 19. They lost to the Blues 3-2 in St. Louis Oct. 9, 3-2 in a shootout in Chicago Oct. 17 and 6-5 in a shootout in St. Louis Dec. 28.
The Blackhawks will be looking to rely heavily on team leaders Jonathon Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane to help them get past the Blues. Sharp appeared in all 82 regular-season games for Chicago and lead the team with 78 points. He had 34 goals and 44 assists. Kane added 69 points with 29 goals and 40 assists. Toews was 1 point behind Kane; he tallied 28 goals and 40 assists.
The winner of the Blackhawks/Blues series will meet the winner of the Colorado Avalanche/Minnesota Wild series in round two of the playoffs.
From the April 16-22, 2014, issue