The Monday Morning Scrappy Utilityman

It took just two playoff games, but the Blues-Blackhawks’ rivalry that may have been slipping a bit over the last few years and the interest and passion of the St. Louis Area hockey fans that may have been waning over the March/April slump have both been reinvigorated.

This time last week, there was an understandable lack of enthusiasm for the playoffs and confidence in the team from many Blues’ fans, who watched their team play dreadfully in the final couple weeks of the season. But courtesy of two breathtaking games, Brent Seabrook’s hit on David Backes, and a 2-0 series lead that is about 111 seconds from being an 0-2 series deficit, St. Louis is consumed by reborn optimism for a Blues’ Stanley Cup run, consumed by hatred for the rival Blackhawks, and consumed by the sport of hockey.

After the thrilling comeback---again---on Saturday combined with the Seabrook hit on Backes, I would imagine Fox Sports Midwest would break some kind of playoff ratings mark tonight.

Will the Blues seek retaliation? Should the Blues seek retaliation…not just for the hit…but for Duncan Keith taunting Backes with the now infamous “wakey wakey, Backes” line? Will the Blackhawks be able to pick themselves up off the mat? Will the Blues capitalize on the lack of Seabrook’s presence to take a 3-0 lead?

So many questions with so much anticipation.

One question that was answered on the off day is how much time will Seabrook miss for his hit on David Backes. The answer? Three games. Something I’m rather surprised and confused by is that in the NHL Department of Player Safety’s video explaining the suspension of Seabrook, it never uses the word “head,” as in Seabrook’s hit was to the “head” of Backes. It’d be one thing if it was consistent with previous videos, but it’s not. In the video immediately following the Seabrook explanation, the NHL Department of Safety uses the word “head” seven different times in giving the reasoning for the four-game suspension to Mike Rupp for his hit on T.J. Oshie April 10th.

And what about Duncan Keith’s taunting of Backes as he gets up after the hit…and the “wakey wakey, Backes” comments?

Ryan Reaves---who may have a big night tonight---expressed his thoughts to Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

"I saw them talking to him,” Reaves said. "It makes it a little more gutless. I don't think there's any need for that when a hit like that happens. You don't need to be going after him when he doesn't even know where he is.
"I'm not happy about that. I don't think anybody in this organization is happy about it. To see that happen, I think is just embarrassing in that organization for that to happen."

It wasn’t just Keith’s taunting of Backes that got the attention of the NHL, its fans, and its analysts. It was his slashing of a number of Blues’ players Saturday. Hockey Night In Canada Don Cherry was all over Keith in this video:

The criticism wasn’t limited to St. Louis. The Chicago Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom, who I quoted last week after mocking the Blues and the franchise’s history and recent collapse down the stretch of the regular season, was all over the Blackhawks for their performance in Game 2, Seabrook’s hit on Backes, and Bryan Bickell’s shot to Vladimir Sobotka’s knee. Rosenbloom pulled no punches in describing the Blackhawks as “uninspired, unmotivated, lazy, inept, and just dumb.”

“Bryan Bickell stuck out his left leg and blatantly nailed Vladimir Sobotka’s knee. That’s not just dirty and stupid, that Canuck dirty and stupid.

The Blues went on the power play with less than five minutes to go in a one-goal game, and before the Hawks could kill it and get out of trouble and get out of St. Louis with a split, Seabrook launched himself into Blues captain David Backes and likely launched himself into a suspension.

Seabrook lined up Backes behind the Hawks’ net and drove his right shoulder into Backes’ face, drawing blood and a major penalty.

Again, Canuck-caliber dirty and stupid.

You cannot target the head. You cannot make the head the principal point of contact. And you’re an idiot to risk what happened while trying to kill a penalty and protect a late lead in a playoff game in a series you already trail by a game.”

The Blues have been here before…up 2-0 on the defending Stanley Cup Champions and heading to their building. Last year, it didn’t work out so well. Interestingly enough, in his postgame comments Saturday, Ken Hitchcock, when asked about losing that series to the Kings 4-2, said in all of his time as head coach of the Blues, he thought the team played their best two games in Games 3 and 4 of the 2013 Western Conference Quarterfinals against Los Angeles…games they lost.

He said they lost the series in Game 5, when, after losing Games 3 and 4 by a combined two goals at Staples Center, he felt like his team didn’t respond and play well.

Tonight is one hell of a situation for both teams. The Blackhawks have to respond to a similar situation…having lost Games 1 and 2 by a combined two goals…and even worse, losing two games that they led heading into the final two minutes and ten seconds, respectively. They’re missing one of their top defenseman. And, their season and defense of the Stanley Cup is on the brink.

The Blues, meanwhile, have to take on Chicago at United Center most likely without their captain. They have to send a message…yet balance that response by winning the game and not risking suspension of their own. With a win, not only would the Blues put the Blackhawks in a spot where they’d have to win four straight and two at Scottrade Center, they’d also put themselves in a hell of a spot in which they could possibly wrap this series up early and get even more rest for their injured players.

Game 3.

Pivotal? Absolutely.

Full of tension that could lead us back to the days of The Arena and Chicago Stadium? You better believe it.

Motherfucking playoff hockey.

The Cardinals

At the start of the road trip---with Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly set up to face the red-hot Brewers and their nine-game winning streak---I would have been thrilled with a 4-3 mark through seven in Milwaukee and Washington.

But, the truth is the Cardinals have left a couple of wins out there by playing really poor defense…and by once again carrying players who don’t belong on the active roster.
Michael Wacha
Michael Wacha pitched a gem---again---on Friday night against---again---the Washington Nationals, the same team he nearly no-hit last September. But, some dicking around defensively in the seventh led to two Washington runs and an eventual 3-1 win, wasting Wacha’s 7 IP, 5H, 7K, 0BB performance.

The defense was crappy a number of times in the later innings yesterday, but only one play was ruled an error. Daniel Descalso should’ve started an inning-ending double play in the 7th, but he flat missed the hard-hit ground ball off the bat of Ian Desmond.

In both games, Shane Robinson made appearances. He went 0-for-4 Friday night, and he went 0-for-1 yesterday with a strikeout. He’s 1-for-14 on the season and hitting .071.

Meanwhile, at Memphis, the Cardinals have four players crushing the baseball.

-Randall Grichuk hit another home run yesterday (3 on the season) and his hitting .338 on the season with 15 RBI’s in 17 games.

-Oscar Taveras had the walk-off hit for Memphis yesterday and is hitting .297 with 12 RBI’s.

-Stephen Piscotty is hitting .317 after a huge Spring Training.

-Joey Butler is hitting .419. Yes, .419.

The Cardinals are playing plenty of close games, and because some of the questionable middle relief options, it’s not a coincidence that the 7th inning has been a bit of a problem this year. Mike Matheny is limited in what he can do with pinch hitters and double switches if he has weak outfield bats off the bench. Jon Jay has taken over most of the starts in center, meaning the current outfield options off the bench are Peter Bourjos (.190 and the second highest strikeout total on the team at 16 in 42 at-bats) and Shane Robinson (.071).

Considering how beautifully played the Cardinal organization has handled the management of its prospects over the recent years, it’s difficult to be critical of their work here. But, I’m of the opinion that exposing this outfield bench situation is costing the team opportunities to win games. John Mozeliak told Derrick Goold in the Post-Dispatch yesterday that he wants the Memphis outfielders to continue to get daily at-bats.

“Right now, at their age, playing baseball everyday is the most important thing for them,” Mozeliak said. “There is going to be a time when we are looking for bench help, when we have to consider what they could bring in that role, but we’re not there, not at this point. They need to play. We need to see what we have.”

The Cardinals are 11-8 on the season. Of those eight losses, they were either tied or winning in the 7th inning or later. That’s on the bullpen and the bench. Jason Motte’s arrival should help the former. The frustrating element of the latter is that assistance for the latter is down at Memphis…but that’s where they will remain barring injury.

Quick Hits

-Not many knew Vladimir Tarasenko was even an option for Games 1 and 2…much less the best player on the ice for those two games. Tarasenko is the biggest difference between the slump and the revival.

-When Raffi Torres ran Marian Hossa in the 2012 playoffs, Jonathan Toews was furious with the Phoenix bench. Why? Because he thought some players were mocking the situation and laughing at it all. Sounds familiar.

-No team in baseball has played more road games than the Cardinals (13). They have four in more in New York before heading home Friday.

Log-in to post your comments, or you can email me at tmckernan@insidestl.com.

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# SookDeek
Monday, April 21, 2014 9:12 AM
The Blackhawks are bigger pvssies than Larry "Gay Sex For Life" Nickle

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