Blues-Blackhawks Preview

While the St. Louis Blues were looking up at the defending Stanley Cup champs earlier this season, coach Ken Hitchcock’s team has taken control of the Western Conference behind a dominant showing this month.

The Chicago Blackhawks, meanwhile, can’t seem to get on track.

The visiting Blues try to squeeze out a fifth consecutive win over the slumping Blackhawks as these Central Division rivals meet Wednesday night.

NHL-leading St. Louis (47-14-7) has compiled an 8-0-1 record this month, with its only loss coming 3-2 to Dallas in overtime March 11. The Blues have allowed one or two goals in each of their other eight games in March while killing off all but two of 26 penalties.

St. Louis had another terrific defensive effort in Monday’s 3-1 win over Winnipeg, its third consecutive victory. Brenden Morrow gave the Blues a 1-0 lead early in the second period, and David Backes put them up for good with just under seven minutes left in the third.

Backes was awarded another goal with 1:11 remaining after getting pulled down while breaking in on the Jets’ empty goal.

"We’re obviously playing for points, and the rest of the way is going to be like this with every team," center Steve Ott said. "The parody in this league is tight, everybody wants it, and everybody wants to make that dance, so we expect it to be like this the rest of the way."

The Blues outshot Winnipeg 25-17, allowing just 10 shots over the final two periods. Recently acquired Ryan Miller made 16 saves, improving to 7-0-1 with a 1.61 goals-against average since joining the Blues on March 1.

"This is what that team does," Jets goalie Al Montoya said. "They get up by a goal and they hold the fort."

The Blues didn’t miss a beat in their first game since losing Vladimir Tarasenko to injury. Center T.J. Oshie also missed the game due to the birth of his first child, but he’s expected back Wednesday.

"We’re going to have little instances like that throughout the year, throughout the rest of the season, throughout the playoffs," Backes said. "Different guys stepping in to fill those roles, it’s good to see."

The Blues have taken four straight from Chicago, including three one-goal victories this season. They erased an early two-goal deficit to win 6-5 in a shootout Dec. 28.

Chicago (39-15-15) is coming off another tough loss, 3-2 at Philadelphia in overtime Tuesday. The Blackhawks went up 2-0 less than four minutes in but were shut out the rest of the way. Antti Raanta finished with 34 saves, allowing the game-winning goal with five seconds left in OT.

Four of the team’s last five losses have been by one goal, with the other a 4-2 result with an empty-net score.

Chicago hasn’t been atop the West since early January, and it’s now tied with Colorado for fourth place and second in the Central. The Blackhawks, losers in three of four, are 7-7-4 dating to Jan. 22.

"No excuses. I don’t care what you’re carrying into this game or this week, we got to find a way to be better," captain Jonathan Toews said. "If we play better and we sharpen up on little things, we got a lot of skill, we got a lot of ability, it will take care of itself."

The Blackhawks are mired in a 3-for-33 slump on the power play after going 0 for 3 against the Flyers.

Coach Joel Quenneville remains one win away from 700 for his career, a milestone he’d love to meet against St. Louis, the team he coached from 1996-2004.

"Obviously, it will be a huge game for us," he said. "It’ll be exciting for us to get to play these guys. I see our team responding and being excited.

"Maybe we can chip away and try to catch them, but right now it doesn’t look so hot."