ST. LOUIS–Loud. Chicago’s boys of winter were loud as they headed toward the locker room. The Blackhawks as a rule don’t get too up or very down, but they made an exception after they got even Friday night.
As they left the ice, the defending Stanley Cup champions barked about their thoroughly zany 3-2 victory that squared this snug series against the St. Louis Blues. How strange? In the end, the difference was an empty-net goal by Artemi Panarin, but only because the Blackhawks' video coach, Matt Meacham, did his job well.
Mind you, so did Corey Crawford, who took a puck in the mask before registering his 46th playoff win, a franchise record. So did Duncan Keith, who returned to the lineup, consumed one second short of 31 minutes and scored the first goal of the tournament against previously impregnable Brian Elliott.
And then there was Andrew Shaw, who issued a group alert for greasy, ugly goals, then bagged one himself to bring the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead 15:41 into the third period, moments after the Blues did not go ahead 2-1.
When Vladimir Tarasenko beat Crawford from close range for his apparent second marker of the evening, Meacham zeroed in on tape from new cameras installed at blue lines for the postseason. It looked to him as though Jori Lehtera had preceded the puck over the blue line. His left skate, instead of straddling the paint, hovered inches above it.
Meacham, from his makeshift office, wielded his walkie-talkie and dialed assistant coach Kevin Dineen on the bench. Might want to challenge that. Head Coach Joel Quenneville did so, and while the Beatles’ hit “Let It Be” serenaded the anxious crowd, officials peered into a tiny monitor that could fit into your automobile’s glove compartment. Several minutes passed before the ruling: offside, no goal, score still 1-1!
The Blues questioned an icing call just prior to Keith’s arrow through commotion at 19:55 of the second period. The Blues lost out on the aforementioned Tarasenko tally that wasn’t. Then they took another whistle on the chin when, with Tarasenko off for slashing, Shaw did his thing from Elliott’s nest and survived a St. Louis challenge alleging goaltender interference. And that occurred only after it was determined how the puck crossed the goal line.
“Not the way we drew it up,” suggested Keith as the Blackhawks used the economy plan—one even-strength goal, one power-play goal and one empty-net goal—in two games to secure a split here. Speaking of which, did you know that in winning the regular-season series, the Blues led for just 4 percent of the time over five games against the Blackhawks?
Between Games 1 and 2, much of the intramural attention dwelled on a remark by Head Coach Ken Hitchcock after Wednesday night’s 1-0 overtime victory. Although somewhat pleased over the 41 hits issued by the Blues, he thought that they should aim higher, towards 70 or so.
Quenneville had a tart rejoinder. He said he couldn’t confirm the validity of Hitchcock’s quotation, but hoped it was accurate. Reason: That many hits, or finished checks, would mean the Blackhawks are playing their preferred puck possession style.
Attempting to wear out or wear down the Blackhawks has been a recurrent theme during their reign of three Stanley Cups in six years. Three adversaries, at least, come to mind: the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Final, the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Final and the Anaheim Ducks in last year’s conference final all reputedly packed the muscle to counter the Blackhawks’ finesse, skill and speed.
Recall Ryan Kesler’s warning during the seven-game struggle against Anaheim. No human, he quoth, could possibly take the abuse being absorbed by the Blackhawks. At the end of the series, the Blackhawks might have been sore, but it was the Ducks who nursed the big hurt.
The Blues, as promised, did come out throwing their weight around. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks went through more than half the first period—including yet another failed power play—before registering a shot on goal.
Still scoreless, and luckless, the Blackhawks picked up the pace in the second. Patrick Kane burrowed in, bothered from behind, but never gained control of the puck. Shaw had a glance, but the puck bounced off his stick. Panarin clanked one off the post.
With Elliott pulled and the Blues trailing 3-1, Kevin Shattenkirk clicked late, too late. The Blues fell one shy where it counts, and with only 41 hits, again.
More of this fun at the United Center on Sunday afternoon.