By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) — With a quiet confidence, Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman stood at the Soldier Field podium March 1 and scoffed at the notion that the Blues’ trade for Ryan Miller would force him into making a another move before the trade deadline.
The United Center scoreboard Wednesday night reminded everyone why.
Blackhawks 4, Blues 0.
Miller didn’t even finish the game.
Wednesday night’s win over the St. Louis Blues was a perfect example of why the defending Stanley Cup champions will head into the playoffs next month as the team to beat, no matter what the final standings say.
And if the Blues had forgotten that, the 4-0 score proved as a not so subtle reminder of reality.
“Exactly,” forward Andrew Shaw said, before quickly gathering himself to compliment the Blues for being “a great team.”
Indeed, the Blues are a great team. That’s why they came into Wednesday night’s game with a ridiculous 20-0-2 record against Central Division foes like the Blackhawks.
But the Blackhawks always seem to come up with the big wins when they need them, and Wednesday night was undoubtedly one of those times. With another regulation win, the Blues would have increased their points lead over the Hawks to 10, seemingly closing the door on the division.
“It just shows what the playoffs are going to be like and how we have to rise to the occasion,” Shaw, who scored his 18th goal of the season, said. “They’re a great team and we got to go out there and out-work them and out-compete them. Just stay level headed and just keep going to the net.”
And that’s exactly what the Blackhawks did on their first goal of the night. With the Blues playing as physical as always, they tried to bait the Hawks into a silly penalty right after St. Louis defenseman Ian Cole was whistled for an interference penalty. The Blackhawks kept their cool though and Duncan Keith scored just over a minute later to give his team a 1-0 lead.
That turned out to be all the Hawks needed, as goaltender Corey Crawford earned his second shutout of the season and head coach Joel Quenneville earned his 700th career win.
Sure, the Blackhawks have their flaws. They tend to frustrate fans with lackluster performances at times, but they also seem to turn it on when it really matters.
And maybe that’s exactly what is happening with only 12 games remaining in the regular season.
So could the Blackhawks — who are now only six points behind the Blues — actually catch St. Louis?
“I think we could,” Shaw said. “Statistically we can. We got the team to do it and once we get hot, I don’t think there’s any team that can stop us.”
There’s some more of that confidence, albeit not as quiet as Bowman’s.
If the Blackhawks do catch St. Louis, they’ll have to do it without Patrick Kane, who will miss about three weeks with a left leg injury suffered Wednesday night. But if the 4-0 win over the Blues is any indication, the Central Division race won’t mean anything other than determining home ice advantage in a potential Chicago-St. Louis playoff series.
Excited, confident and admittedly sore, Shaw smiled at the mere mention of a Blues-Blackhawks playoff series.
“That would be exciting. It’d be fun,” he said.
Fun is not what the Blues want the Blackhawks to experience when they shove them around the ice. But Wednesday night served as an important reminder:
Push them all you want, the Blackhawks still have more.
Follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamHoge.