This is a strange situation in a couple ways. It feels like for most of the season, the Blues and their fans were salivating at the prospect of getting the Hawks in the playoffs. They’ve been a headache for the Hawks for years, even when they sucked, and as we all know victory over the Hawks would mean more to their hilljack fans than an actual Cup. It might even be that way with their players.
For the Hawks and their fans, we just didn’t want to deal with it. Some of it was fear. Mostly it was just the high level of annoyance that would accompany a series with St. Louis. The cheapshots, the bullshit, the yapping, and the drivel that tumbles out of the gaping maws of the unwashed of Missouri and Southern Illinois. Basically, I thought I would have to turn off the internet for this series.
Until lately. Now, it feels like there’s a sense of dread coming from the Southwest with their late-season collapse and the numbers correcting and here come the bitterest enemy to simply put them out of their misery. And we’re feeling pretty good, with how the Blues are playing and the Hawks somewhat snapped into gear since Kane and Toews got hurt.
It could be a careful what you wish for situation in either direction. I’m not sure which it is. But we’ll go do our normal playoff preview, and we’ll start with the biggest question down there, the man in the mask.
Season stats: 25-30-4, .918 SV%, 2.64 GAA
I’ll admit that when the Blues acquired Miller I was frightened. Not that I think Miller is a Lundqvist or Quick (or even Luongo, honestly) but he was a major upgrade from Jaro Halak and the thinking was he wouldn’t have to do all that much behind a stout Blues defense. It definitely started that way.
And then April came.
Miller has been terrible for two weeks now at least. The last time he gave up less than three goals in a game was April 1st against Philly. He’s given up at least three in nine of his last 11 starts. And the thing is, he hasn’t really been under that much duress. In that time he’s only faced over 30 shots twice, and one of those was when he shutout the Flyers. The other was when the Stars simply pumped them last Friday to the tune of 40 shots.
The problems are kind of all over the map. Miller’s movement has been wild at times, overcommitting when moving side to side and losing his net. That’s what happens when the confidence goes, you kind of scramble into position instead of gliding, sure that you will get there. Miller is also not the biggest guy at 168 pounds, and he can get caught up in traffic at times. Which is why he gets so bitchy about guys getting into the crease. This is something Andrew Shaw, Ben Smith, and whoever else (Morin?) should test as soon as they get a chance, because Miller has lost it before.
The mental side is another issue. Miller has had a tendency in the past to let things get on top of him in Buffalo, to pull a EMO-act when he feels he’s not being protected by either teammates or the refs, and be kind of a mope. He hasn’t really pulled that yet in this stretch, but if you feel like if Game 1 starts to go sideways, or Game 2, he could go full out goth and show up to the rink in eye shadow and ripped sleeves or something.
Miller’s playoff history isn’t all that impressive. There were two trips to the Eastern Final in his first two years out of the previous lockout. Since then Miller hasn’t won a series, and had mini-meltdowns against the Bruins and Flyers to keep from doing so.
Maybe Miller will look at the playoffs as a fresh start and put everything behind him. Maybe he can’t. Either way, the Hawks should get in his kitchen at first chance as well as move him side-to-side with passes through the slot. Something will almost assuredly open up if they do. A couple early goals, and there may be a call for…
Season stats: 18-6-2, .922 SV%, 1.96 GAA
We’ve made no secret how mediocre we think Elliot is. But his numbers are pretty good, though probably aided by the defense in front of him. But if the Blues had such high opinions of him they wouldn’t keep bringing in goalies to play ahead of him. Elliot is kind of on the opposite path as Miller, not giving up more than three goals in any of his last seven starts except for one. That one came here last Sunday. But Elliot just has a tendency to let in that one bad goal at the worst time. Slava Voynov’s OT winner in Game 5 last year springs to mind. You wonder though that with Miller’s and the Blues’ recent streak here just how long of a leash he’ll get before Hitch feels the need to change it up. Elliot has more size than Miller but doesn’t move nearly as well, which is how you get past him. Basically, if Elliot comes in for Miller at any point in this series, you’ll know it’s going the Hawks’ way.