Blackhawks, Blues to bring playoff-style clash?

Blackhawks, Blues to bring playoff-style clash?

In a possible first-round playoff preview, Central Division arch-enemies Chicago and St. Louis will trade blows beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Online sports book Bovada.lv gives the Blackhawks odds of -115 to protect home ice tonight. As for the Blues, with a money line of -105 to put a damper on their rivals’ late-season surge, they still have hopes of claiming the Western Conference’s top seed.

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Remarkably, neither team has succumbed to countless injuries down the stretch. Despite missing standouts such as Corey Crawford, Artem Anisimov, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, the defending Stanley Cup champs ride a three-game winning streak. Chicago has potted 17 goals over that span, including six with the man-advantage. Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane alone boasts five goals and eight points in those contests.

The Blues, meanwhile, rebounded from disconcerting injury news concerning captain David Backes and goalie Jake Allen to blast the Coyotes on Monday. They have won seven of eight, averaging 3.75 tallies with five in each of the last three tilts. Even role players are lighting the lamp in the clutch, with bottom-six forward Kyle Brodziak scoring twice in the squad’s 5-2 rout of Arizona.

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Candidly, though, Ken Hitchcock’s club will only travel as far as Brian Elliott carries it. The veteran netminder is 12-1-1 with a 1.74 GAA and four shutouts since the All-Star break. This evening, he must figure out a way to neutralize an organization that causes him fits. Elliott’s gone 1-3-0 against Kane and company in the past five meetings.

If the Blues want to pass Dallas this evening for sole possession of first place in the Central Division, they need to get on the board early and diminish the effect of the United Center crowd. Joel Quenneville may not risk putting Anisimov (upper body) out there in a bloodbath-style affair, but the Blackhawks still boast plenty of firepower – and a 2-0-2 mark vs. the Note this season – to prevail.

THURSDAY NHL FREE PICK: BLUES +1.5

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