ST. LOUIS—So, what are we to call this so far? The “Be Careful What You Wish For” series?
Surely, the Blackhawks did not salivate when a assigned to begin defense of their Stanley Cup here because they were quite cognizant that the feisty St. Louis Blues garnered 111 points over six months by playing real games, not video games.
But a large segment of Blackhawks fans figured this was the place to be for fun and frolic. They noted that the Blues lost six straight to conclude the regular season with a depleted roster featuring a gaggle of emergency replacements from their Chicago Wolves American League farm club.
Experts also took the bait. The New York Times predicted the Blackhawks take this preliminary playoff round in four. Did anybody in Chicago pick the Blues? Did anybody in St. Louis pick the Blues?
Alas, on Saturday, the Blackhawks incurred another excruciating defeat, falling to the Blues, 4-3, on Barret Jackman’s goal at 5:50 of overtime. This chapter of shock theater unfolded after the Blues achieved a 3-3 deadlock on Vladimir Tarasenko’s power-play harpoon at 19:53 of the third period, just to remind the Blackhawks that their triple overtime 4-3 defeat Thursday night — facilitated by Jaden Schwartz’s tying tally with 1:45 remaining in regulation — was no fluke.
What is going on? It’s as though the hockey gods, at least those hovering above Boston, are heaping cruel and unusual retribution on the Blackhawks for their miraculous Cup clincher in the Final against the Bruins.
“Not acceptable… we aren’t going to win if I play that way,” whispered goalie Corey Crawford, between whose pads Jackman’s shot trickled into the net, prompting a rendition of “The Night Chicago Died” throughout the Scottrade Center, where the Blackhawks fell behind 2-0 on Kevin Shattenkirk’s score 1.8 seconds(!) from first period’s conclusion. Three defensemen — Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Michal Rozsival — responded with goals for the visitors, who again failed to close.
Seabrook was unavailable at the bitter end, having been banished after he stenciled David Backes into the boards with a blow resulting in a major and game misconduct. The veteran defenseman said it was not his intent to hurt Backes, but neither is likely to partake of Game 3 in the United Center Monday night. As it was, Tarasenko’s goal came on a 6-on-4 circumstance with St. Louis goalie Ryan Miller pulled and Seabrook showering, pondering his plea to league authorities.
The Blackhawks have been in worse situations. Last spring they were down 2-1 and 20 minutes from elimination in Detroit before rallying to win Game 5 against the Red Wings. We know how that movie ended. It was titled “17 Seconds.” In 1995, the Blackhawks dropped their first two games at home in the conference quarterfinals versus the Toronto Maple Leafs and won the next four.
A partisan crowd might incentivize the Blackhawks, as would a more productive power play. It could be said that the best chance during a Chicago manpower advantage Saturday was authored by Steve Ott, whose solo sortie Crawford halted after the Blackhawks got tangled at the St. Louis blue line.
If Seabrook is absent, the Blackhawks defense will be tested. But there is always Niklas Hjalmarsson, diving in front of pucks as though he has spare parts. Who knew that he and wife Elina’s baby boy, Theo, shall soon utter his first words? “Daddy, why do you have those bruises all over your body?”