The Chicago Blackhawks already know they won’t be in the playoffs for the second straight year, but they can still at least hurt the postseason outlook for one of their fiercest rivals with a win tonight. The visiting St. Louis Blues have clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup tournament but still have plenty to play for, hoping to overtake Nashville for second place in the Central Division (and home ice in the opening round) while also trying to stay ahead of Dallas. The Blues have definitely turned their play up for the drive to the postseason, going 7-1-1 in their last nine games and holding six of their last seven opponents to 27 shots or less. Chicago’s still playing hard, though, collecting points in four of its last five games (2-1-2) and seven of 10 (4-3-3). The Blackhawks have also won three of the four meetings between these clubs this season, so the Blues shouldn’t expect an easy victory tonight in the Windy City.
The books took their time opening a betting line on this game, waiting until around 9 a.m. eastern on Wednesday. And when they did, sharp bettors were quick to pounce on a soft opener on the Blues, moving St. Louis from a -140 favorite all the way to -160 within a couple of hours. Part of that may have been in reaction to the news that Cam Ward might get the start tonight in net for Chicago, which would be a pretty big dropoff from the level of play the Hawks have received recently from Corey Crawford.
As I noted in the introduction, however, we shouldn’t be too hasty to write off the chances of the Blackhawks in this one. Even though Chicago’s already eliminated from playoff contention, that’s because of how poorly the Hawks began the campaign. They’ve gone 25-15-7 in their last 47 games, bringing strong effort even when their season appeared over in December. Just because they’ve officially been eliminated now doesn’t mean that they’ll just mail it in.
I lean towards Chicago based on the moneyline value, but I think the better play here is the Under. The Blackhawks have played lower-scoring games recently (seven of their last nine have gone Under the total) and St. Louis is committed to defensive-minded hockey as it looks to earn an important two points. I’m not sure we’ll see the same type of game we saw the last time these teams met in Chicago (the Blackhawks won 1-0), but with a high total of 6, there’s some wiggle room to play with. My pick for this game is the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks Under 6 at -110 odds.