ST. LOUIS—As Ken Hitchcock was saying, it is one thing to have skill, another to have resolve.
To witness both, we take you to the red line, where the puck found Jonathan Toews Friday night. The Blackhawks’ redoubtable captain snared it with eyes wide, room to roam, a chance to break serve in this remarkable series and perhaps crush the spirit of a worthy foe.
“My only thought... score,” recalled Toews, having just commenced his 32nd shift.
He did not miss. He beat goaiie Ryan Miller in close, then circled around the left boards at Scottrade Center with arms extended on horizontal hold. Like a bird, like the plane that would fly the defending Stanley Cup champions home, where they would dearly like to win and advance Sunday afternoon with Brent Seabrook freed from detention hall.
“Hardest thing of all in the playoffs is getting out of the first round,” said Chairman Rocky Wirtz after a touchstone 3-2 overtime triumph. “And as hard as we’ve played, we aren’t out of it yet. Amazing week.”
The St. Louis Blues stick with you like a garlic breakfast, contesting every possession, bumping twice when once will suffice. Yet, in a flash, they were caught in an awkward change when a rebound off Corey Crawford came to Duncan Keith, who turned to whip it up ice. The puck got a piece of Andrew Shaw, who still loves shinpads, and then skittered to Toews as if it asked of some mystical magnetic force, “take me to your leader.”
The Blues’ counterpart, captain David Backes, returned. He logged 21 1/2 minutes, including a stint on which Marian Hossa scored his first goal of this postseason. So did T.J. Oshie, on a backhand while tumbling to the ice. St. Louis teed up a handful of other premium chances, but failed to hit the net. Ben Smith did not, after doing grunt work on a backhand tally he deserved for another terrific game. Because two-goal leads are an aberration in this tournament, Alex Pietrangelo made it 2-2 early in the third.
The Blues did not relent. Oshie culminated another odd-man rush with a drive demanding a superlative save by Crawford, who supplied it. During the seventh minute of overtime, Barret Jackman ripped a slapper that Crawford turned away. Back and forth they went, sudden death for the fourth time in five games of an opening series that, were it a Stanley Cup Final, would already be applying for instant classic status.
Then, Keith gathered the puck deep in his end. Did he see Captain Serious lurking?
“Can’t take credit for that,” said the star defenseman. “I ain’t that good.”
Toews, on the backhand, was the last to touch the puck.
Miller, who tried but got only air, slumped before his cage.
It was Hitchcock, the Blues head coach, who talked about the skill and resolve of champions last week. Now, he must feel like Alfred Hitchcock, whose fertile mind envisioned all those frightening flicks.