With Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues, the Blackhawks effectively hit the reset button on the First Round series, now knotted at two games apiece. Game 4 was an extension of the first three contests, featuring sharp swings in momentum and multiple close calls at both ends of the ice. However, it was Chicago’s turn to recover from a deficit late in the game and win in front of their home crowd. With neither team giving an inch—either in the neutral zone or on the physical side of the game—it’s fair to expect even more heart-in-mouth moments going forward. Will this series mimic the 2012 Western Conference Quarterfinals, in which five of Chicago’s six tilts against the Phoenix Coyotes went to overtime? With the way things are going, one shouldn’t bet against it.
Patrick Sharp led the team during the regular season with 34 goals, but hasn’t found the back of the net yet through four games. Neither has Marian Hossa, who reached the 30-goal mark during the regular campaign. The good news is that they’ve put themselves in good positions offensively, and they’re more likely than not to break through soon. As of Thursday afternoon, Hossa ranks second in the league through four games with 21 shots on goal, while Sharp shares fifth with 18, including a couple great chances in Game 4 that were kept out by Blues goaltender Ryan Miller. If Chicago’s veteran scorers make a breakthrough, it could be the decisive edge in the series going forward.
After being held off the scoresheet for the previous two outings, Patrick Kane exploded for three points (2G, 1A) on Wednesday. Most significantly, he tallied his third career postseason game-winning goal at 11:17 of overtime and is now tied with Jeremy Roenick for the franchise record in that category. Kane’s first goal was a decisive finish off a beautiful cross-ice pass from defenseman Johnny Oduya, who picked up his second assist and third point of the postseason. The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner’s impressive showing prompted St. Louis bench boss Ken Hitchcock to remark: “He's the most dangerous player in the league.”
Kane led Chicago with five points (2G, 3A) in two games at Scottrade Center during the regular season and has been the only forward to score there in the postseason thus far, and on Friday he’ll try to help the team secure their first road win of the 2014 playoffs. As good as the Blackhawks have been at the United Center, they have yet to notch a win this season down Interstate 55—a pattern that must be broken if they want to advance to the next round. With two consecutive victories under their belt and an afternoon clash at the United Center inked in for Sunday, Game 5 might be their best opportunity to gain the upper hand in what has been a ferocious series battle so far.
Jonathan Toews was named a finalist for the 2014 Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league’s best two-way forward, marking his third career nomination. As Chicago’s first-line center, Toews regularly faces the opponents’ top players at even strength, while posting superior possession numbers: According to extraskater.com, the captain logged a 59.3 Corsi percentage (see widget) during the regular season, best among qualifying team forwards. Toews was also dominant at the dot, ranking fifth with a 57.2 faceoff win percentage during the regular season, and he leads the league through four playoff games with 68 faceoff wins—16 more than the next player—and 106 draws taken.
To put it simply—win, and the team can close out the series at home on Sunday. To do that, though, they’ll need to get past a St. Louis squad that’s desperate to regain the upper hand after squandering a prime opportunity to snatch a crucial Game 4 victory. The Blues could welcome captain David Backes back into the lineup (along with the balance and physical intensity that he brings), but that shouldn’t affect Blackhawks’ game plan. In order to win one on the road, they’ll need to apply the positives from Wednesday: play a smart transition game, attack the Blues defense with speed and convert important power-play chances.