As a group, THN elected to go with the St. Louis Blues as our Stanley Cup champion pick this season.
And, through three games at least, the group is feeling pretty good about it.
They knocked off Nashville 4-2 and Florida 7-0, but the jewel of their 3-0 start was Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the Blackhawks. It had a playoff atmosphere and pace, with plenty of back and forth jabs that didn’t get out of hand because both goaltenders were so spectacular.
It was the first of five meetings between the two and it’s the Blues, not the defending champions, who have set the bar. The Blues had both 1-0 and 2-1 leads and didn’t flinch when the Hawks nullified both before they were even a minute-and-a-half old. Some teams would have – Stanley Cup contenders are not among those teams.
Jaroslav Halak, who was limited to 16 games last season due to injury, was the biggest star. It’s hard to believe he had an .899 save percentage a season ago, because Wednesday night, and so far this young season, he’s looked like the guy St. Louis originally traded for – a hero, capable of lifting a team beyond where they’re capable of. And since St. Louis is already capable of so much without him, they’re almost unbeatable when he is on.
And even if Halak does slip back into his slumber, St. Louis has Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, so that won’t be a concern anyway.
It’s not easy – and often a reach – to seek out significant weaknesses among some of the league’s top teams, such as Chicago and St. Louis. But in debating the Blues and Hawks in recent weeks, the one knock on St. Louis was its lack of game-breaking scoring power. They even got that Wednesday. Vladimir Tarasenko scored a wicked wrister, but the difference came when Alex Steen converted a 3-on-1 with 21 seconds left, in what can only be described as an all-out blitz by the Hawks to get two points and deny their division rivals in regulation – and Brent Seabrook’s pinch backfired.
That opportunity won’t present itself in the post-season. But still, this was the first big test for the Blues this season and they answered the bell in every way. It was one of the best games yet and we have four more to look forward to. The next one is right around the corner, on Oct. 17, this time in Chicago. Another big test for St. Louis, but judging by Wednesday, they’re prepared and will come out swinging.
You have to figure the Stanley Cup is going to go through St. Louis, Los Angeles or Chicago and as the newest entrant to this elite group, the Blues have the longest list of doubters. But early, they are strutting around the NHL and not letting anyone forget they are indeed serious Cup contenders.
And if they do win it all in June, we won’t let you forget who picked them.