(Photo: USA Today Sports)

It’s the time of year where my hockey superstition tendencies become borderline obsessive-compulsive. So, as media reports give Chicago an advantage with recent injuries to St. Louis stars, I curse them and their jinxing ways with all of the “bad juju” it brings.

But, juju doesn’t bring home the shiny chalice of Lord Stanley we hockey fans pray to.

It’s skill and talent; battles of (literal) tooth and nail; blood, sweat, and tears, (again, all literal); and maybe the tiniest bit of luck, that gets a team through the playoffs.

And, I have no doubt that this will be a battle based upon the crests on the front of the sweaters on the ice. I don’t think the names on the back will matter half as much. Each player goes out there knowing what he represents and that he has everything to win, and everything to lose.

The Blackhawks’ record is 46-21-15 going into playoffs. The Blues’ is 52-23-7.

The Blues are an aggressive team. The Blackhawks, instead, play with finesse. That worked for them last season, leading them on a 24-game point streak and, ultimately a C-U-P win against the Boston Bruins.

But to compete this year, they have to be prepared for a physical game. In the regular season, the Blackhawks have a 2-1-2 record against the Blues.

“They’re a team that loves to play physical against us and we have to expect that. There’s no reason why we can’t return that a little as well,” Captain Jonathan Toews said. “We’ll be ready to bring that type of effort and it’s going to be tough game and atmosphere to be a part of starting in St. Louis. We’ll be ready for it, but there’s no feeling of us facing a team that’s not going to give us their best. It’s going to take our best to beat them.”

The Blackhawks’ Toews and Patrick Kane as well as the Blues’ David Backes and T.J. Oshie are all expected to return for Game 1.

Despite the Blues being a top-10 team with an average goals per game of 2.92, they have had a six-game losing streak with an influx of injuries. Brenden Morrow, Vladimir Tarasinko, and Patrik Berglund won’t likely hit the ice right away for the Blues’ offense.

Offensively, the Hawks’ Toews and Kane will be shaking off rust from their injuries. Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa have been incredible. Chicago’s fourth-liners are racking up points. The Hawks are second in the NHL with a 3.18 goals per game average. The last six games they have had two regulation wins (one against the Blues), two overtime wins, and two losses.

Defensively, Duncan Keith should be a Norris Trophy candidate. Nicklas Hjalmarsson (a new father to baby boy, Theo) has been phenomenal; and Brent Seabrook is ranked second in the league.

Ryan Miller has had a shaky start with the Blues (in net for five of six of these last losses) but is an excellent goaltender with a .918 save percentage. Corey Crawford has let a few easy ones by him lately, as well, but has a .917 save percentage. Miller hasn’t made it to the playoffs in three years, while Crawford had a pretty good showing last year and surely remembers the pressure.

Against the aggressive Blues, the Blackhawks need to really pick up their special teams. Their power play is 10th in the league while the Blues’ penalty kill comes in second despite being shorthanded 293 times in the regular season.  (Conversely, the Hawks’ PK percentage is 81.4–19th in the league–and the Blues’ power play ranks seventh.)

It’s going to be a tough series. The wins will be hard-fought.

For the Hawks to win, the defense is going to have to protect the net. They need to help their goalie by blocking shots, or whatever it takes.

They need to play smart hockey and avoid time on the PK. They can’t afford to be shorthanded.

They need to stay energetic and high-speed. They need to make their passes, keep their heads up, come out strong and finish strong.

All we can do as fans is practice our own rituals: wear gear every game day; grow beards, for those who are able; try to protect those impending ulcers (maybe that’s just me?); and, cheer like we’ve never cheered before…

Because (and, this comes with goosebumps) … it’s the Cup.

Carly Mullady grew up needing to know more about icing than its deliciousness on cupcakes. She's the lone daughter of four children, with a father who was among the last cut from the Midwest tryouts for the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic team. And she knows very little matches the thrill that happens from puck-drop to handshakes. A rink didn’t return to her hometown until she was gone, but she’s been able to see two younger brothers on the ice. She's their feistiest fan. Her other hockey loyalty lies with the Blackhawks--whether it's meant seeing games for $8 with student IDs when the Madhouse didn’t have much of a temper at all, or dancing to Chelsea Dagger at standing room only--there’s something magical about a roaring anthem, the Indianhead sweater, and the Original Six. A former journalist and current editor, she carries a penchant for excitement (and maybe even fighting) with a resume that includes working for Chicago-area newspapers, and television, including The Jerry Springer Show, as well as NBCUniversal in New York. After East Coast living and a return to the Chicago area, the new Mrs. is giving Graceland a go with her Southern Gent, who now shares her adoration of the game, and their rescue dog, Doc Holliday. Other interests include Cubs, Bears, Illini, Crimson Tide, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, baking a mean pineapple upside-down cake, Kate Spade accessories, and a properly coordinated cardigan for every ensemble.

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