1. EVEN KEEL
The Blackhawks evened their First Round series against St. Louis with a 3-2 win in Game 2 on Friday, but the victory wasn't without a few dramatic moments. The home team put forth a much-improved effort, outshooting Chicago 31-29, but the game didn't pick up until the second period, when the two sides combined for 32 shots on goal and 49 attempts. The intensity picked up further in a contentious third period, when the Blues had two goal reviews go against them—one taking away a potential go-ahead goal, the other confirming Chicago's own tie-breaker—and ran out of time before they could make a late push. Corey Crawford set a franchise record for playoff wins by a goaltender after a 29-save performance, surpassing the legendary Tony Esposito with 46 to his name. The matchup now returns to Chicago for the next two games, beginning with a matinee tilt on Sunday, where the Blackhawks will try to establish a series lead for the first time.
2. SO NOW WE GOT VLAD BLOOD
Vladimir Tarasenko, as he has been so many times this season, was a major protagonist for St. Louis in Game 2. He opened the scoring late in the second period off feeds by linemates Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera after that line pressured the Blackhawks into a defensive zone turnover. The Blues thought Tarasenko had given them the go-ahead tally as well with a snipe from the slot in the third period, but a lengthy video replay revealed that Lehtera had lifted his foot as he was crossing the blue line prior to the goal, rendering the play offside. A few minutes later, undoubtedly frustrated from the reversed call, the 24-year-old took a penalty, and the Blackhawks scored on the ensuing power play on their way to a final score of 3-2. Tarasenko's goal was his 11th in 15 career playoff games, and the Blues hope their 40-goal scorer can lead them to a bounceback victory on Sunday.
3. THE SHOW MUTT GO ON
If Tarasenko's moment of glory was short-lived, Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw didn't hesitate to pick up the baton and run with it. After drawing the fateful penalty late in regulation, Shaw parked himself in front of Brian Elliott on the power play and was in the right place at the right time to pick the puck out of a chaotic rebound situation and stuff home the puck at the side of the net. The goal required two separate video reviews to confirm, but eventually the refs confirmed Shaw's first of the postseason, which gave the Blackhawks a huge boost of momentum late in the game and broke Chicago's 0-for-7 stretch with the man advantage to begin the series.
"He's one of those guys you want to go to war with," Brent Seabrook said of Shaw on Saturday. "He's always right there in the mix."
4. SLAM DUNC
Unsurprisingly, Duncan Keith's return to the Blackhawks lineup paid dividends in several areas on Friday. The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner broke Brian Elliott's bid for a second consecutive shutout with a lancing shot from the point with 5 seconds remaining in the middle frame, as Chicago executed a set play off the draw following a late icing call. Keith tacked on an assist on Artemi Panarin's empty-net goal late in regulation and was visibly involved in the Blackhawks' offensive efforts: He was one of five teammates with four shots on net, and overall he was on the ice for 22 of the team's 43 shot attempts at even strength, tying Jonathan Toews for the team lead (via war-on-ice.com). With the jump that Keith exhibited in Game 3, Head Coach Joel Quenneville remarked that his top defenseman "probably could have played more" than the 30:59 of ice time he recorded, and the Blackhawks will need him to continue jumpstarting the offense from the blue line, especially in the next two home tilts.
5. SPECIAL INTERESTS
One reason Chicago was able to skate away with a win on Friday was the fact that they won the special teams battle. After going 0-for-5 on the power play in Game 1, the Blackhawks scored on their last of three opportunities with the man advantage in Game 2 to spark their late victory. On the other hand, they were shorthanded just once, as two of their three infractions were offset by St. Louis penalties; they allowed just one shot on the penalty kill and have now killed off all five shorthanded stints against the Blues to begin the series. As expected, Niklas Hjalmarsson (7:36) and Marcus Kruger (6:05) lead the way in shorthanded ice time for the Blackhawks, while Tomas Fleischmann has also been a valuable penalty-killer, posting 5:49 over two games as Kruger's partner. An airtight PK has been one of the hallmarks of the Blackhawks' championship teams under Quenneville, and they'll be expected to keep giving Chicago an edge against the Blues' top guns.
THE FINAL WORD
The Blackhawks can certainly say that they deserved at least a split from the way they played the first two games, even if the process didn't unfold as predictably as they would have liked. The Blues, on the other hand, may feel a certain sense of unjustness from the two video reviews that swung Game 2 in Chicago's favor, and they'll likely attack with even more intensity on Sunday in enemy territory. The Blackhawks will need to play a cleaner game in the neutral zone in order to limit that turnovers that their opponent is all too happy to take advantage of, but Quenneville can take advantage of having last change to establish favorable matchups for his star players. While Chicago's top six has played well against St. Louis' best checkers, they have yet to dent the scoresheet, and either of the top two lines should be due for big outing in front of a packed United Center crowd.