- Scott Powers, Reporter
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The Blues were beat up in many ways by the end of the regular season. They dropped their last six games and allowed the Colorado Avalanche to surpass them for first place in the Central Division. The Blues were also losing players on a near daily basis. They were without David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Barret Jackman, Brenden Morrow, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Sobotka and Vladimir Tarasenko because of injuries in the regular-season finale. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has said he expects all of the players back at some point in the series.
Tarasenko's return could especially benefit the Blues, who are struggling offensively. He missed the team's past 15 games because of a hand injury. Prior to leaving the lineup, he had produced points in eight of his last nine games, and the Blues went 8-0-1 during that stretch. Since his injury, the Blues went 6-9-0. Goals have been hard to come by for the Blues since losing him -- they were held to fewer than three goals in 12 of the last 15 games. Tarasenko finished the regular season tied for fourth on the team with 21 goals in 64 games.
The Blackhawks will return two of their top players for Game 1 with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane back in the lineup Thursday night. Toews missed the last six regular-season games because of an upper-body injury, and Kane was out the final 12 games with a lower-body injury. Kane is second on the team with 69 points and Toews is third with 68.
Both games between the Blackhawks and Blues in St. Louis went down to the wire. The Blues scored in the final minute of the third period to snatch a 3-2 win in their first game Oct. 9. They also had some late heroics Dec. 28 and scored two goals in the first four minutes of the third period to erase a 5-3 deficit. The Blues won 6-5 in a shootout. The Blues went 28-9-4 at home this season.
One-goal games are a common sight in the playoffs, and that's an area where the Blues excelled during the regular season. The Blues had a 24-5-7 record and .667 winning percentage, third best in the league, in games decided by one goal. The Blackhawks ranked 27th in the category with a 17-8-15 record and .425 winning percentage. The Blackhawks were 9-2 in one-goal games during the playoffs last season.
The Blackhawks were the first team to really get to goaltender Ryan Miller since he arrived in St. Louis in a trade in early March. He had a 1.63 goal-against average and .933 save percentage in his first eight games with the Blues and hadn't allowed more than three goals in any of those games. The Blackhawks lit him up for four goals March 19. Beginning with that game and ending in the regular-season finale, he allowed 33 goals and had a .883 save percentage in his last 11 games.
The Blackhawks' power play and penalty kill are headed in two different directions. They have killed off 57-of-66 penalties for an 86.4 percentage over the last 22 games since returning from the Olympic break. In that same span, they scored eight power-play goals on 67 chances for an 11.9 percentage.
The Blues allowed their opponents 56 power plays over the past 13 games, killing off 48 of them. The Colorado Avalanche had eight power-play chances against them April 5. By comparison, the Blackhawks allowed 32 power plays over their final 13 games.
ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues begin their Western Conference first-round series at the Scottrade Center on Thursday. Here's what to watch for: The Blues were beat up in many ways by the end of the regular season.