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Blackhawks Buzz: Home win can send series to Game 7

by Emerald Gao / Chicago Blackhawks


1. RAZOR'S EDGE

Last June, Chicago and Tampa Bay contested one of the tightest Final series in Stanley Cup Playoffs history. Now the Blackhawks and Blues seem determined to replicate that template, having played five games that have all ended in one-goal margins, including two overtime contests (see sidebar). Chicago's Game 5 victory was a test of resilience and a testament to the team's ability to bend but not break, although there were some shaky moments in crunch time. After the Blackhawks built a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes, the Blues outshot the Blackhawks 14-6 in the third period, and goals by Robby Fabbri and David Backes gave them an opportunity to end the series on home ice. St. Louis also had the upper hand in overtime, outshooting the visitors 11-7 and spending long stretches in Chicago's zone. The Blackhawks know they'll need to avoid being hemmed in on Saturday if they want to win their first home game of the postseason and force a winner-take-all Game 7.

"I don’t know if that’s the way we drew it up," Duncan Keith said of the way Game 5 unfolded. "It would've been nice to just hang on to that lead."

2. KANE IS ABLE

Head Coach Joel Quenneville's big adjustment—reuniting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane—in Game 5 didn't exactly have its intended effect, as the two stars collected just one shot on goal each through four periods. They did successfully execute another set play late in the second period, as the Blackhawks had a faceoff in the offensive zone with 7.3 seconds left. Toews won a faceoff, and Patrick Kane found Artemi Panarin all alone in front of the net for a buzzer-beater that gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead. With Chicago struggling to gain momentum in sudden-death play, Kane broke through early in the fifth period with a dazzling individual effort, setting up and then finishing off the game-winner himself.

“I don’t think I was very good in that first overtime, or very good at all tonight," Kane admitted after the game. "It’s one of those things I tried to tell myself, just to get confidence going into that fifth period and try to make some plays.”

The play was vintage 88, as he deked around a defender, got a shot off in close quarters, then eluded his defender to circle around the back of the net to get his own rebound and backhand it into a vacated cage. It was Kane's first tally of the postseason to go along with five assists, and the Blackhawks hope their leading scorer can reach another level and be a difference-maker once more in Game 6.

3. FOR PIET'S SAKE

St. Louis blueliner Alex Pietrangelo has arguably been the most important player on a defensive unit that has been able to limit the Blackhawks' efficiency in the offensive zone. While the 2008 first-round pick is playing a largely shutdown role against Chicago's top forwards, he certainly possesses the ability to chip in offensively, and that aspect of his game was on full display on Thursday. Pietrangelo contributed primary helpers on all three St. Louis goals, finding his targets with pinpoint accuracy; his most impressive play of the night was on the Blues' tying goal in the third period, a heads-up shot from the high slot that was intentionally directed toward the stick of David Backes for a tip-in. Pietrangelo also skated a team-high 39:49, over six minutes more than any other teammate, led the team with five blocked shots and tallied nine shot attempts (five on goal). His all-around game has made him one of the most difficult obstacles for the Blackhawks through the first five games, and the Blues will need him to continue playing at a high level in order to try and wrap up the series on Saturday.

4. MARATHON MEN

The only skater to log more ice time than Pietrangelo in Game 5, unsurprisingly, was Keith, who played a whopping 42:00. Brent Seabrook also came close to the 40-minute mark, as the duo was double-shifted all night after Quenneville shortened his bench, utilizing four defensemen for most of the third period and beyond. Keith (52), Seabrook (54), Niklas Hjalmarsson (52) and Trevor van Riemsdyk all played more than 50 shifts in the game, holding down the fort in front of Corey Crawford. Chicago's blueliners accounted for 16 of the team's 18 blocked shots in the game; Seabrook (6) and Hjalmarsson (5) led the way, as they are accustomed to doing. While it's not ideal for any team to shorten their bench to this extent, the Blackhawks are no stranger to going top-heavy during the playoffs after leaning on their big four all the way to the Stanley Cup just a year ago, but is there any danger of reaching a point of exhaustion? Not according to Keith, who was asked afterward whether he could have played even more. "Sure" was his answer, and Chicago may need him to before the series is over.

5. CROW'S NET

Kane's winner on Thursday night—make that early Friday morning—would not have been possible without another stellar outing by Crawford, who faced 11 more shots than his St. Louis counterpart, Brian Elliott, and ended the game with 43 saves on 46 shots. Overall, the 31-year-old has stopped 138 of 151 shots for a .914 save percentage, but breaking down his work by danger level shows just how impressive he's been. According to war-on-ice.com, three starters (Crawford, Ben Bishop and Thomas Greiss) have faced 36 high-danger chances at even strength, which means opponents are getting clean looks from in tight during normal game states. Of the three, Crawford has stopped 33, most out of any goaltender in the playoffs. His concentration and lightning-quick reaction time was on display plenty of times in Game 5, and it's Crawford's overall steadiness that has kept games close at times.

"He was around the net and quick," Quenneville said of Crawford's Game 5 efforts. "They made side-to-side passes and from behind the net, [and he] challenged at the right time. He was big, and he was on top of it."

THE FINAL WORD

The Blackhawks accomplished some of their objectives in Game 5: Two of their top forwards—Marian Hossa and Kane—got back on the scoresheet, the Blues' top line was kept relatively quiet, and the team was able to overcome several St. Louis surges to extend the series. While Chicago is 8-0 in Game 6 since 2013, staving off elimination three times in that span, the specific circumstances aren't necessarily in their favor, as St. Louis has been smarter and more opportunistic in the series—especially on the road, where they've already won twice in the series. There are lingering questions about the Blackhawks' ability to withstand the Blues' full-court press and establish their possession game convincingly, but they can at least ask some questions of their opponents if they can win Game 6 with a strong team effort and put all the pressure back on on St. Louis.

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