ST. LOUIS — The 2019 Stanley Cup -banner hangs directly above the benches, gazing down on the Enterprise Center’s new lower-bowl seats and new sellout streak and new hockey obsession.
For the Blues’ franchise, the banner has no peers. Two rows of comparatively insignificant division titles and retired numbers bookend its place in the rafters.
For the Blackhawks — and many of their current players — it would be a different story, no matter how much the old core wants to add a fourth title to their legacy. But for rookie Kirby Dach, there’s something a little special about the image of that silver trophy, even in a division rival’s digs.
“Every game you play as a kid is for a Stanley Cup,” Dach said Saturday. “Road hockey, pond hockey, anything you’re doing, it’s always for the Stanley Cup. It’s a dream of mine, and obviously I want to make that come true.”
“The way that St. Louis turned it around last year and where they were in the standings just shows how much parity there is in the league and [how] you’re able to flip-flop positions pretty easily. Once our group gets hot, we’ll get on a roll, and things will be -pretty good for us.”
That degree of optimism — “once” and “when,” not “if,” are always the words used when speculating about a season turnaround — permeates the Hawks’ dressing room. It’s what one would expect from the Blues, who are leading the Western Conference and well-positioned for a possible championship repeat, but not so much the Hawks.
To their credit, the Hawks haven’t let the recent blowouts and meltdowns and their spot at the bottom of the division — just one point ahead of last place in the conference — greatly affect their psyche.
“Considering we haven’t been getting the results, the morale’s pretty good,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “Ultimately, the way to get the results is to get better. We have to improve, and that’s been our focus, whether it’s been in practice or meetings [or] in the games.”
Of greater concern is how much tangible evidence supports that positivity.
Unlike during the seven-game homestand in October, when the Hawks were losing but playing pretty well, neither quality performances nor victories have happened much lately. Thanksgiving, a popular cut-off date for separating contenders and pretenders, is weeks into the rear-view mirror.
By now, the odds are bleak: Of the 15 teams outside the playoff picture on Dec. 15 last season, only four eventually qualified. But one of those was the Blues, who had limped to a 12-14-4 record by this date last year.
Their storybook ascent from last in the NHL on New Year’s Day to a postseason berth in April to a banner-raising ceremony in October continues to give hope to many down-and-out teams this season, including the Hawks.
“You’re never really out of it,” Alex DeBrincat said. “It’s so close in the standings. For a while there, from the bottom to a wild-card playoff spot was a few points. You get one good streak, and you get the confidence and can get rolling.”
The gap is no longer just a few points, at least for the Hawks. Their postseason chances, according to Moneypuck, had dropped to a season-low 14.5 percent by Saturday afternoon, and took another hit with the 4-3 loss Saturday night.
Yet it takes just one glance up from the Blues’ ice to see real-life proof that 14.5 percent is not the same as zero -percent.
“They showed it’s possible,” Colliton said. “But ultimately, we have our own situation. They improved, so that’s what we need to do.”
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