The Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes have done the St. Louis Blues a huge favor. The upstart franchises knocked off the traditional power Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, respectively. Detroit and Chicago have 15 Stanley Cups between them. The four remaining teams in the Western Conference playoffs have none.
That's good news for the St. Louis Blues. There won't be any knock-down, drag-out hate fests against the team's biggest rivals. Fights and bad blood won't get in the way in the road to Lord Stanley's cup. The Blues won't have to worry about seeing former head coach Joel Quenneville on the other bench coaching the Blackhawks. That was a distinct possibility if the Blues and Blackhawks had advanced.
More importantly, the 2012 Western Conference playoffs signify a changing of the guard. At the beginning of the season, Chicago and Detroit dominated the West alongside the Vancouver Canucks. Then St. Louis got hot the last two months of the season. Then the playoffs happened and teams that have no business advancing have dispatched clubs that were supposed to run away with the conference.
Detroit's NHL record for most home ice wins in a row means nothing. Chicago's prolific offense is vanquished. Robert Luongo's Canadian gold medal from 2010 won't earn him a Stanly Cup this year in Vancouver.
Now, one franchise from the Western Conference will have a chance to win its first Stanley Cup. As the best remaining team, there is a distinct possibility the Blues could have their year. They've already exorcised the demons in central California. Blues fans had nightmares in the 2000 Stanley Cup playoffs with the first round loss to the San Jose Sharks.
The tough task ahead is facing a great defensive team similar in style to St. Louis. The Kings are next. The Blues have home ice advantage. Hockey purists will love the defensive struggle and great goaltending. There will be tons of hits, guys flying to get in behind the puck and sprawling saves in front of the net.
It's going to be a great semifinals with the Blues and Kings. Hopefully the good guys will come out on top. Ken Hitchcock is a great head coach and knows how to win championships. Captain David Backes had led by example all season. Young guys like T.J. Oshie have stepped up to produce some solid games. Cagey veterans like Andy McDonald have been on fire.
This is Blues hockey. It's great to be back.
William Browning was born in St. Louis and has been a lifelong Blues fan.