With two regular season games remaining before the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blues control their own postseason fate. Four points over the final two contests means the team will clinch the fourth seed in the Western Conference, and home ice advantage in the first round. More than likely, with the four seed comes a date with Los Angeles or San Jose in the first round.
For weeks, there has been a sentiment from many Blues fans and analysts alike that the team might be better served as the Western Conference’s sixth seed. The idea is that the Vancouver Canucks are the most desirable first round matchup, and that the team should prefer to avoid taking a trip to California to open postseason play.
But what if the postseason opened at Scottrade Center next week, and a trip to California wouldn’t be immediately on the agenda? A scenario that seemed like an outside shot as recently as Wednesday morning is now completely in the hands of the team. It’s the Blues strong play in the month of April, plus some key losses from San Jose and Los Angeles, that has made the scenario a reality. And now it all comes down to the Blues winning on their home ice tonight and Saturday, if they want to spend another week in St. Louis before heading West.
“Highest seed is important,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “Nothing against what LA did, they did a great task, but those are rare breeds…Those don’t happen very often.”
What Hitchcock is referring to, what LA did, is win the Stanley Cup as the eighth seed in the West last year. So what about potentially facing the defending Stanley Cup Champions to open the postseason?
“Over the course of the last two weeks we’ve known that nothing’s been set in stone,” says Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. “We’ve just had that mentality the whole time; that we don’t know who we are going to play and we will worry about that when it comes. I think everyone in the league knew it was gonna shake down that way.”
When all is said and done, the Blues will finish the regular season with seven of their final eight games at the Scottrade Center. Blues forward Jaden Schwartz says they’ve enjoyed the extended stretch of home cooking.
“We haven’t been at home for too many long spurts this season with the shortened schedule. It feels like we’ve been on the road quite a bit. So it’s nice to be at home the last two weeks rather than being on the road and traveling and things like that. It’s nice to sleep in your own bed and look after your business here in St. Louis, so hopefully we can stay at home those first two [playoff games] as well.”
There are plenty of reasons why you could argue that having home ice advantage in the postseason can trump any potential matchup issue. But at the root of every scenario is playing your best hockey at the most crucial moment, says Hitchcock.
“I haven’t seen, in the last 10 years, very many teams who have limped into the playoffs. You kind of are what you are, and it usually manifests itself when the temperature of the game gets moved up. To me, if you’ve got holes in your game now, and you can’t get them corrected, they always manifest and come up in the playoffs.”
Who are the Blues right now? A team that’s enjoyed the taste of home cooking over the last two weeks, and doesn’t plan on leaving until Game Three of the first round of the playoffs. Hopefully that manifests itself over the next 72 hours, and there’s plenty more ‘business to look after’ in St. Louis over the course of the postseason.