The road back to the Stanley Cup Final for the Blackhawks has always seemed destined to go through St. Louis.
Well, that road just got a little steeper.
The Blues made the first big trade-deadline splash, acquiring goaltender Ryan Miller and center Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres. St. Louis sent goalie Jaroslav Halak, winger Chris Stewart, a prospect and two draft picks to Buffalo.
“Loading up, it looks like,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said.
Miller, a world-class goalie who’s been playing well while languishing for the last-place Sabres, solidifies what might be the best back end in the league.
“They’re going to be a dangerous team,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’ve been a dangerous team all year long, and one of the top teams in the league.”
The Blues are currently tied with the Hawks for first in the Central Division, with three games in hand. With the new divisional playoff format, the Hawks and Blues could meet in the second round of the playoffs. The Blues have won all three meetings against the Hawks this year, the last two in shootouts.
“They’ll be on our radar,” Jonathan Toews said. “We know they’re a pretty tough team to beat.”
Miller is 15-22-3 this season, with a 2.72 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage behind a lousy Sabres squad. The 11-year veteran has 47 playoff games under his belt, though, and backstopped Team USA to a silver medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, earning tournament MVP honors.
Ott, a two-way center, fits the Blues profile of being antagonistic and hard to play against. He’s fourth in the league in hits with 194.
“St. Louis was a good team before the trade, [and it] looks like they’ve improved their club,” Patrick Sharp said. “Doesn’t really change our point of view of St. Louis. We know they’re a good team.”
The trade deadline is March 5, but the Hawks have very little money to play with. Acquiring Peter Regin before the Olympic break might be the only splash Stan Bowman makes.
Of course, this group did pretty well last season.
“I like our team,” Sharp said. “I believe in these guys. We’ve played in some big games before, and I think we’re not focused on the trade deadline. I know that’s a distraction that pros have to deal with. But right now we just want to play as best we can and start winning some games.”