With a 5-1 victory yesterday afternoon, the Blackhawks will be heading to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as they took the series against the St. Louis Blues 4-2. It wasn’t pretty, nor easy on the heart, but in the end the Hawks were able to get the job done. Let’s recap the series and look at a few factors that helped propel the Hawks to victory.
Prior to puck drop, there were many questioned left to be answered. How would Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane fare in their first games in a couple of weeks? How do the Blues rebound from losing six straight to end the regular season. Will Bryan Bickell have the same impact as he did in last year’s playoff run?
Throughout the course of this series, these questions would be answered. At the end of a triple overtime affair, the Blues looked to be in much better shape than the Hawks.
After combining for five first period goals, the Hawks were able to hold the lead until 1:45 left in the third. An unfortunate theme that began to repeat itself throughout the series, the late goal proved to propel the Blues to victory. While the Hawks didn’t look terrible during this game, it was not the way they were looking to start the playoffs.
An already chippy series accelerated forward during the teams second matchup. Highlighted by the Brent Seabrook hit on David Backes, the game as a whole saw many post-whistle scrums and hard hits.
The Hawks play this game shifted from “how did this team make the playoffs” to “no one can beat this team when they are playing like they are right now” to “somewhere in the middle”. A mercurial game that the Hawks ultimately gave away. After Seabrook’s penalty, the Hawks essentially spent the last seven minutes of the game on the penalty kill. Yet again the Blues were able to strike while the clock was winding down with Vladimir Tarasenko evening it up with six seconds remaining while Barrett Jackman put home the game winner six minutes into the overtime.
The Hawks playoff hopes were bleak as they were set to head back to Chicago.
As the Hawks stepped on the ice for what was as close to a must win game as there was, their fortunes began to change. At the time, Jonathan Toews’ soft wrister that was able to sneak past Ryan Miller seemed like a fluke goal. In my opinion, that goal is what turned the tide for the Blackhawks and gave them a much needed boost moving forward.
A tight checking game ensued in which the Hawks were successfully able to fend off the Blues offense. Post-whistle scrums and shenanigans were held to a minimum this game and proved to be a benefactor to the Hawks success.
A Marcus Kruger empty netter with twenty second remaining sealed the deal for the Hawks and let out a collective sigh for Hawks fans as they avoided trailing 3-0.
The first 38 minutes of game four showed the dominance the Hawks have when they stick to their game. The final two minutes of the second and the first twelve minutes showed what happens when the Hawks are disengaged from their style of play, or simply outworked by the opponent.
After taking a 2-0 lead in the second, late goals once again were a burden to the Hawks as they gave up a Vladimir Tarasenko power play goal with 1:09 left in the period and a Maxim Lapierre goal with four seconds left.
It was a frustrating reminder that the Hawks have struggled with consistency all year long. When Tarasenko scored his second goal of the game with 7:35 remaining, it looked as if the Hawks had found themselves in a deep hole. Then, the Hawks did what they have done so well the past few years when faced with adversity.
Flip it upside down and put pucks in the back of the net. Bryan Bickell notched his first goal of the playoffs off of a Michal Roszival tip in with just under four minutes remaining to send the game into overtime. Patrick Kane’s overtime goal evened the series up and the Hawks headed back to St. Louis with another tough test ahead.
Facing their toughest test yet, the Blackhawks entered game five trying to take the first road victory of the series. Once again, this game saw the post-whistle shenanigans kept to a minimum with both teams realizing there was a much greater goal at stake.
The pace of game five was perhaps the best of the series with both teams seemingly swapping chances at each end. As if it was a surprise to anyone, the game ended in a tie at the end of regulation and was once again headed for overtime.
Jonathan Toews’ breakaway goal sealed the deal for the Hawks as he delivered a beautiful backhand through the legs of Ryan Miller. You could sense as if all of the air had been let out of the Blues balloon at this time as the Hawks took control of the series with a 3-2 lead.
“We don’t want to go back to St. Louis.” A sentiment echoed by Niklas Hjalmarsson and other Hawks prior to game six. Would they be able to back up their talk?
Another strong first period effort gave the Hawks control of the play despite heading into the intermission with a 1-1 tie. The Blues had three penalties (one four minute double minor included) in the second period and put seventeen shots on Corey Crawford. What did they have to show for it? A 1-1 tie heading into the final frame.
If Corey Crawford’s performance in game three left anyone with a seed of doubt regarding his playoff performance, the second period of game six will erase it. Crawford kept the Hawks in the game and perhaps was the largest reason why they entered the third period with a 1-1 tie.
I tweeted a few minutes into the third period, “if you can’t do it in 17 seconds, 1:17 will do just fine.” What does that mean? The Blackhawks came out firing in the third period scoring two goals in 1:17 to put the Blues on the brink of elimination. Instead of turning back and playing prevent defense, the Hawks kept on the attack and notched two more goals to seal a 5-1 victory. It was their finest period of hockey they have played yet this season.
At the onset of the first round I predicted the Hawks to win in six (alright!), but I did not foresee the series turning out this way. When the Hawks left the ice after game six, they had the look of a champion. You could feel that the team was hungry for more and their effort in the third period of game six leaves fans with a heightened sense of optimism.
The Hawks will have a few days off prior to hitting the ice again. As of now, they are set to face the winner of the Colorado/Minnesota series. Colorado leads the series 3-2 and has a chance to advance to the second round with a victory tonight. I will be back with a second round preview once the Hawks’ opponent is determined.
In the meantime, the league better take notice, the champs are back and are reeling.
Tags: Chicago Blackhawks