The Chicago Blackhawks will have a bigger challenge than usual in the first round of the NHL's Western Conference playoffs this season, starting the series without defenseman Duncan Keith as underdogs against the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues will host Game 1 on Wednesday and try to take advantage of a weaker Chicago defense that surrendered an average of 3.4 goals without Keith in the lineup the last five games of the regular season as he wraps up his suspension.
St. Louis is a consensus minus-125 home favorite (bet $125 to win $100) versus the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in Game 1 and minus-115 to win the series at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark.
The Blues finished the regular season as the second-best team in the Central Division, two points behind the Dallas Stars and four ahead of Chicago. Five teams from the division qualified for the postseason.
Keith, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy last year as the MVP of the playoffs, received a six-game suspension for swinging his stick at Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle in the first period of a 4-1 road loss on March 29. St. Louis was one of the teams that beat the Blackhawks during that stretch, earning a 2-1 overtime victory last Thursday to take the regular-season series.
The Blues earned three wins over Chicago, all in overtime, while the two victories for the Blackhawks were each decided by two goals, according to the Odds Shark NHL Database.
The goalies could make the difference in this series, as St. Louis netminder Brian Elliott turned in a stellar campaign between the pipes in going 23-8-6 with a 2.07 goals-against average—tied for second in the NHL—and a .930 save percentage, which ranked best in the league.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s Corey Crawford missed 11 of the last 12 games due to concussion symptoms and has allowed 10 goals in his past two starts.
The Blackhawks met the Blues in the first round two years ago with both teams in identical positions, and they were able to rally back from an 0-2 deficit by winning four straight despite playing without home-ice advantage.
Chicago was coming off its second Stanley Cup title in four years at the time and ultimately lost to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final before winning it again last season.