Blues must get back on path towards the Cup
Look at what happened in 2011. Sure, the Bruins had a decent regular season, but in the playoffs, they took the Eastern Conference and then the Vancouver Canucks by storm.
The same could be said of the 2012 Los Angeles Kings. The Kings ended up having a solid regular season, but when they won their first Cup in franchise history that June, they were the hottest team in the league.
Going into this year's playoffs, the St. Louis Blues are certainly not one of the hottest teams in the league. Rather, this Blues' hockey club lost their final six games of the regular season and looked dreadful doing so.
Because of their late season slide, they now have to take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs, which begins tomorrow night in St. Louis. While the Blues should be happy that they had the fourth best record in the league and have home ice advantage for at least the first round, they should not be thrilled with the fact that they need to take on the defending Cup champions.
For the Blues to get back on the right track, several things are going to have to happen. It all starts with the play of goaltender Ryan Miller.
The Blues went out and acquired Miller, 33, because they believe that with him between the pipes, this Blues' team can win a Cup. Miller's numbers in 19 games were solid (10-8-1 with a 2.47 goals against average, a .903 save percentage and 1 shutout), but they should have been much better considering the team he plays behind and the kind of goaltender that he is.
After losing his final five starts of the regular season, Miller needs to refocus his game on the playoffs. He needs to get back to being sound with his positional play and be a goaltender that can steal games, much like he did with Team USA in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver when he won a Silver Medal and was the tournament's most valuable player.
The team will also have to go back to playing a defense-first kind of hockey game. The Blues allowed 20 goals in their last six games and for a team that was third in the league in goals against per game, that number is disappointing.
While Miller will certainly need to do a better job of keeping the puck out of net, the defense in front of him needs to be a lot better. In the playoffs, the club's defense must make smarter decisions with the puck, do a better job of clearing the slot out, and more importantly, do what they can to give Miller every opportunity to stop the puck.
Lastly, this team will need to have a healthy line-up to defeat a powerful Blackhawks hockey club. For the last few weeks of the regular season, the Blues lost the likes of David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Brenden Morrow, Vladimir Tarasenko, and T.J. Oshie to various injuries.
Blues' head coach Ken Hitchcock said yesterday that he expects all of his currently injured playoffs to return to action by the end of the first round. Hopefully for the Blues, this will happen sooner rather than later because they will need to have everyone healthy to help beat the Blackhawks.
Remember folks, this Blues' team probably could have won the President's Trophy as the league's top club in the regular season had they been healthy and played better down the stretch. The team has what it takes to win a Cup this year.
If the Blues can get good goaltending from Miller, play better defense and get some healthy bodies back, there is no reason why the Blues could not be representing the West come June in the Stanley Cup Final.