ST LOUIS – When the Chicago Blackhawks fell behind 2-0 in their best-of-seven series with the St. Louis Blues, many pointed to the defending Champions’ resiliency in tough situations as comfort in believing the team would respond at home in the United Center. After two more games, the Blackhawks tied the series and sent it back to St. Louis for a pivotal game which would give the winner the series lead.
After a 3-2 overtime victory in Game Five in which St. Louis missed numerous chances to win, it merely took one more game on home ice for Chicago to capture the series win with a dominating 5-1 victory over the Blues. Captain Jonathan Toews scored a game-winning, power play goal just 44 seconds into the second period and defenseman Duncan Keith had a goal and three assists as the Chicago Blackhawks now await the winner of the Colorado Avalanche-Minnesota Wild series.
The game started fast with St. Louis registering the first three shots on goal in the first two minutes including a blast by Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo from the right point deflected by Blues leading goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko. Chicago goalie Corey Crawford froze the puck for a face-off in what had been a threatening sequence.
Chicago opened the scoring early at 4:12, though, when Blues’ forward Patrik Berglund could not clear the puck at the left point inside the St. Louis zone. Duncan Keith held the puck in and slid it over to his right where Brent Seabrook was waiting. Seabrook fired a blast toward Blues’ goaltender Ryan Miller which was deflected by Bryan Bickell and into the net for the 1-0 lead.
St. Louis came close to answering just 30 seconds later when T.J. Oshie fired a snap shot from the slot which nearly beat Crawford. The Chicago goalie snared it at the last second preventing the goal.
Nearly eight minutes into the period, St. Louis had its’ first of many man-advantage chances. With Marcus Kruger off for hooking Tarasenko during his all-alone drive toward the net, St. Louis went on the power play, but failed to mount any sustained pressure, something which seemed to be a problem all series.
Chicago nearly added to their lead with about four minutes to play in the period when Blues’ forward Ryan Reaves could not exit the St. Louis zone along the boards with the puck. Bickell intercepted and went in on Miller who made a great save to deny the threat.
At 16:28, St. Louis finally contributed to the scoring when Alex Steen controlled the puck behind the Chicago goal. As we emerged to the side of the net, he found T.J. Oshie in front with a pass. The Blues’ right wing snapped a shot between Crawford’s pads for the goal. Initially, Oshie was unsure if he had scored, but the emphatic signal from the referee indicated the goal was good and the game was tied 1-1.
It also seemed as though St. Louis might add to their scoring when Marcus Kruger committed his second penalty of the period, this time holding Vladimir Sobotka just a minute later. While St. Louis mounted some pressure on the Chicago goal, it was never enough to light the lamp.
Despite St. Louis lead in shots 11-8, hits 13-11 and face-offs 13-9, Chicago was dominating the Blues at all ends of the ice, creating their own space and pinning their opponent into their own zone frequently.
At 3:50 of the second period, St. Louis began to assert itself more with sustained pressure on the Chicago goal. The Blackhawks were called for their third penalty of the game when Toews high-sticked Steen as he was crossing into the Chicago zone. The Blues put a barrage on Chicago with good drives from Jaden Schwartz, Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka. Crawford prevented them all.
At 7:15, Chicago sniper Marian Hossa high-sticked Steen, this time drawing blood and earning a four-minute penalty. St. Louis went to work, but quickly found themselves in the penalty box when Steen slashed Brent Seabrook, breaking the Chicago defenseman’s stick in the process. The 4-on-4 play opened up the ice, but failed to result in any scoring.
As the double-minor penalty to Hossa expired, Alex Steen had a magnificent chance with a blast from between the circles. Crawford snapped out his right pad to punt the puck away and out of danger.
At 12:20, Chicago’s Patrick Sharp drove to the net sending a shot toward Miller which the St. Louis goalie barely got his blocker on, turning it aside. A few minutes later, Blues’ defenseman Barret Jackman laid into a blast that was deflected in front, but Crawford caught with a brilliant glove save.
With just more than four minutes to play, Sharp took a penalty for tripping Schwartz near center ice and the Blues went back on the power play. St. Louis could not get any shots past Crawford on the man-advantage.
Late in the period, Jay Bouwmeester was whistled for holding Chicago’s Brandon Saad in a corner of the St. Louis zone. The Blackhawks could not score and the penalty would carry over into the third period.
St. Louis dominated the second period with a 17-3 lead in shots and a 31-16 edge on hits. The Blues were back in the game, though, giving Chicago fits as the defending Champions were hanging on in the middle frame.
The carryover penalty benefitted the Blackhawks as just 44 seconds into the period, Toews took over. Off a feed from Duncan Keith, the Chicago captain took advantage of Miller who was down on the ice. The shot went top left corner giving the Blackhawks the 2-1 lead.
While this was the go-ahead goal, the backbreaking goal game just 77 seconds later. That’s when at the left point of the Chicago zone, Kevin Shattenkirk attempted to fling the puck toward the net. Patrick Sharp blocked the puck with his shin pad and it went to Patrick Kane. The Blackhawks star fed the puck to a now streaking Patrick Sharp who rushed into the St. Louis zone with Shattenkirk in chase.
Sharp slipped the puck under Miller who attempted a poke check and in doing so, left the area under the sprawling goaltender exposed. The puck slid across the line just inside the left post giving Chicago the 3-1 lead. It was a puck which should have never gone in, but did and pretty much took the life out of the Blues.
At 7:30 of the period, Andrew Shaw tipped in a Duncan Keith drive from the left point to make it 4-1 and then with just less than three minutes to play, Duncan Keith converted a 2-on-1 with Shaw to make it 5-1.
Corey Crawford stopped 35-36 shots including all 17 in the second period. Ryan Miller allowed 5 goals on 27 shots to register the four straight loss after two overtime wins to open the series. At time, Miller played spectacularly, but Crawford had the much better series, largely on the heels of a heart-to-heart talk with his coach before Game Three.
St. Louis finished the game 0 for 6 on the power play and 2 for 29 in the six-game series. The series with Chicago ended up being nearly identical to the six-game loss to Los Angeles in 2013, both in sequence of game results, key scorers and results. Ultimately, the defending Champions had the upper hand in all areas of the ice.
The trade which brought Ryan Miller to St. Louis turned out to be less beneficial than first thought. And after standing in his crease pretty much alone with few teammates around him after Toews Game Five overtime goal, observers are left to wonder how confident the Blues are in the goalie intended to lift St. Louis’ playoff success.
Add to it St. Louis inability to convert key, even-strength scoring chances seems to call for better finishing ability. Perhaps the Blues also need a proven goal-scorer, something which was available at the trade deadline. One of those players, Tomas Vanek, heavily contributed to Montreal’s 4-0 sweep of Tampa Bay and the Canadiens now await the Boston Bruins in the second round.
St. Louis faces a critical off-season with two free-agent goalies to consider and the AHL’s top goalie under a one-way deal for the 2014-15 season. Still, the off-season brings with it a consistent theme for Blues’ fans; another Spring to watch other teams compete for the Stanley Cup, 46 seasons and counting without a Championship.
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