Blues-Blackhawks opener: 'We might as well get right into it'
CHICAGO -- The St. Louis Blues knocked the Chicago Blackhawks out of the playoffs last season with a one-goal victory in Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Now, the Blues are back in Chicago to open the season against their division rivals.
"Starting off against St. Louis, it's a good reminder for us to not forget what we went through and how we went down in Game 7," Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews said. "They'll be hungry, too. Obviously, both teams want to prove themselves again.
"There's obviously a long way to go before we get back to playoff hockey again, but nonetheless, these games are always going to be important."
In last year's seven-game playoff series, six games were decided by a single goal. The same held true for three of the teams' five meetings during the regular season. Both teams topped 100 points during the regular season, but neither achieved its ultimate goal as Chicago was bounced in the first round of the playoffs and the San Jose Sharks eliminated the Blues in the conference finals.
This time around, some familiar faces will not be present for the rivalry. Former Blues captain David Backes signed a free-agent deal with the Boston Bruins, and St. Louis promoted defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to wear the "C" on his sweater.
Meanwhile, Blues goaltender Jake Allen will assume a clear-cut No. 1 role in net after the team shipped goaltender Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames.
Allen went 26-15-3 with a 2.35 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in 47 games during the 2015-16 campaign. He exited the Blues' final preseason game because of an apparent injury but said he felt fine heading into the season opener.
"A couple days off was nice just to get back to 100 percent and ready to go," Allen told NHL.com. "I knew in the back of my mind that I should be good to go on Wednesday. It was just doing the proper steps to be ready."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock decided to return for a final season behind the bench. His successor already has been named: former Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo, who will serve as Hitchcock's assistant this season before taking over next season.
The Blackhawks said goodbye to several key contributors during the offseason, including feisty forward Andrew Shaw (traded to Montreal) and young playmaker Teuvo Teravainen (traded to Carolina). Top-six forward Andrew Ladd left as a free agent to sign with the New York Islanders.
Veteran defenseman Brian Campbell, who won a Stanley Cup championship with Chicago in 2010, is back with the Blackhawks on a one-year deal. He will provide depth and experience on the blue line, which also will feature newcomer Michael Kempny.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is notorious for changing his line combinations at a moment's notice, but look for Toews to anchor the team's top line to start the season. He will be joined by Richard Panik on the left wing and Marian Hossa on the right wing.
The second line contains even more firepower as left winger Artemi Panarin and right winger Patrick Kane will try to replicate last season's dominance alongside center Artem Anisimov.
Goaltender Corey Crawford is back in net for Chicago and is expected to start against the Blues.
St. Louis likely will counter with left winger Robby Fabbri, center Paul Stastny and right winger Alexander Steen on its top scoring line. Next will be the combination of left winger David Perron, center Jori Lehtera and right winger Vladimir Tarasenko.
Toews said he and his teammates embraced the challenge of facing St. Louis in the season's first game.
"We might as well get right into it," Toews said. "We know there's going to be tough games all year."