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Blackhawks draw the Blues in the first round of playoffs

Artemi Panarin celebrates his second goal of the first period Saturday night. (AP Photo)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The St. Louis Blues have finished first or second in the Central Division in each of the last four years. Their postseason results? Second-round loss. First-round loss. First-round loss. First-round loss.

Does that make the Blues easy pickings? Or motivated and dangerous? The Blackhawks will find out next week, likely starting Wednesday in St. Louis.

“It’s going to be a hard, physical series,” Patrick Kane said Saturday night after the Blackhawks’ essentially meaningless 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. “They’re a great team. For a little while here, they’ve been trying to get over the hump. And I know they have that in the back of their minds, too.”

The Blues’ fate was sealed with a 5-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday, giving the Dallas Stars the Central Division title and a first-round date with the Minnesota Wild. The Hawks, of course, handed the Blues one of those first-round losses, rallying from a 2-0 deficit to win in six games in 2014. The Blues beat the Hawks 2-1 in overtime Thursday at the United Center, and the series figures to be in that same grinding style.

“It might be the type of game that it was in the United Center — two good teams going at it,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “Maybe not as high-scoring. Just really tough hockey, and maybe not as many chances offensively.”

That wasn’t a problem in Saturday’s regular-season finale against Columbus. The game didn’t mean a whole heck of a lot, and the lineup reflected that fact. Jonathan Toews and Hjalmarsson took the night off, and the trio of injured Hawks — Marian Hossa, Artem Anisimov and Andrew Shaw — didn’t even make the trip. So nobody was too concerned that a 3-0 lead turned into a 4-3 deficit, and eventually a 5-4 loss on Scott Hartnell’s overtime winner, his second goal of the game.

But the game still meant something to Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Corey Crawford.

Kane finished off the best regular season of his career with a flourish, scoring nine seconds into the game and adding another goal and an assist to extend his massive lead in the scoring race. It’s been a foregone conclusion for months, but he’ll become the first American to win the scoring title, with 46 goals and 60 assists for 106 points.

“It’s one of those things I’ll probably look back on, I don’t know when,” Kane said. “Something I’ll really enjoy. I take pride in playing for the U.S. and being an American kid. It was fun to break the [American] point streak this year, and now to be the first American player to win the scoring title is pretty special in itself, too. It was an exciting year, and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.”

Panarin, meanwhile, had two goals and an assist in the first 15 minutes of the game to ensure he’ll hit his $1.725-million bonus. The fist pump that punctuated his second goal and put the Hawks up 3-0 was as fierce a celebration as the exuberant rookie has had all season.

“There was some ‘wow’ factor with the Bread Man and Kaner tonight,” Joel Quenneville said. “That was fun to see. They finished the year on an amazing note.”

Crawford struggled in his first game since March 14, making just 20 saves on 25 shots, but was happy to get a game under his belt before the playoffs begin.

The Hawks certainly will be icing a better lineup for Game 1, but the opponent will be a whole lot better than the last-place Blue Jackets, too.

“We know we’re going to have our hands full,” Quenneville said. “They’re as good as any team in the l league. We have to be at our best, and our A-plus game is going to be needed.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus