Tarasenko, Blues to jump ahead of Blackhawks?

 Tarasenko's Blues to jump ahead of Blackhawks?

Having been eliminated in the first round three consecutive years, the Blues are on a direct mission to eradicate the ugliness of recent postseasons. The problem is that their toughest test in 2015-16 probably comes right out of the gate.

Third-seeded St. Louis hosts defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals tonight. The two archrivals will drop the puck at 9:30 p.m. ET, with oddsmakers at online sports book Bovada.lv giving the Note a slim edge to claim the early lead in the series. As for the Blackhawks, they net odds of +115 to spoil home-ice advantage.

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If ever there were a time for the Blues to overcome Joel Quenneville's club, it's in the here and now. Defenseman Duncan Keith is completing a six-game suspension for high-sticking the Wild's Charlie Coyle, and goaltender Corey Crawford's just rounding back into form after missing a month with an upper-body injury. Chicago also went without valuable forwards Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw for extended periods down the stretch.

Meanwhile, Ken Hitchcock hopes to have captain David Backes and netminder Jake Allen (lower body) at his disposal. Assorted ailments notwithstanding, the Blues finished the regular season with a fury, registering 107 points. Leadingscorer Vladimir Tarasenko potted three goals in the last two contests, too, exhibiting extraordinary chemistry with linemates Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera.

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Of course, the Note can confidently roll four lines. Paul Stastny's second-half rejuvenation coincided with an uptick in production from rookie Robby Fabbri (18 tallies) and Troy Brouwer. Then there's the Backes-led trio that features Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund as well. The Blackhawks, despite boasting perhaps the greatest player in the sport in Patrick Kane, simply fall short in the depth department. That's why it's so imperative for St. Louis to engage this evening's crowd quickly and apply a strangehold. Keith's absence should make such a proposition slightly more practical.

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