Ken Hitchcock was playing with the audience, and the facts, when he said he looked up on occasion Sunday to find he was coaching the Washington Generals, not the St. Louis Blues.
For those of you under 60 or so, the Generals were the famous foils for the iconic Harlem Globetrotters. The Generals traveled around the world as sparring partners who were supposed to lose and almost always did.
Here’s where Hitchcock’s story gets exposed. After yielding 24 shots in the second period and falling behind by one goal instead of, say, four or five, the Blues stunned the Blackhawks to win Game 3 of their first round playoff series, 3-2.
The Blackhawks almost never lose when leading entering a third period, but as Hitchcock also noted, this tournament feels like June in April, a Final instead of a preamble. To imply that one team has seized control–even though the Blues have a 2-1 advantage–is to set yourself up for a retraction. After all, it could be said that the better team in each of the three starts has been the losing team at the finish.
Sunday’s fork in the road unfolded with Patrick Kane’s stick in the eye of Alex Pietrangelo. Blood was drawn, and Kane took a double minor at 11:51 of the third period. In due time, on a fancy passing pattern, Jaden Schwartz beat Corey Crawford for the winner.
It was a clean shot, cleaner certainly than the Blues’ tying goal by Patrik Berglund some eight minutes prior. His drive grazed Michal Rozsival and bounced past Crawford to provide St. Louis a momentum change that did not appear feasible when the Blackhawks were doing their Globetrotters drill at the United Center for the edification of 22,207 who could not wait to go indoors on a spectacular afternoon, one of about three in our region this spring.
Yet for all the pretty stuff in the middle period, all the Blackhawks mustered was a score by Artem Anisimov on an all-Russian production. Artemi Panarin chased the puck to the boards, fished it out to his countryman, Anisimov took a mighty swing, and utterly faked out Brian Elliott, who was expecting heat instead of a knuckler.
The Blackhawks were up 2-1 and dominating. But as you might anticipate with two teams so comparable, it was Corey Crawford who stole the show at the other end. St. Louis mounted a three-on-one with Jori Lehtera emerging as the designated shooter. He fired from point-blank range and Crawford plucked the blur out of the air with his glove. Lehtera didn’t quite believe it, so he gathered his wits and, as if watching a bad movie for a second time, took the replay in on the scoreboard video.
With 46 shots–and Andrew Ladd’s missile that careened off both posts beside Elliott–the Blackhawks figured to separate themselves for once during a week of contests so close that even when there’s an empty net goal, as in Game 2, it winds up as a one-goal game.
However, besides Anisimov, the only man to solve Elliott was Brent Seabrook, who crackled a power-play rocket for his 20th postseason goal. That is more than any defenseman in franchise history, and the Blackhawks have employed a few. To name two: Pierre Pilote, who is in the Hall of Fame, and Doug Wilson, who should be.
Colton Parayko, who looks like a star waiting to happen, tied it on a power play. But the Blackhawks seemed to be in charge of the proceedings as they digested the aggressive ways of Steve Ott, who skated around as if he had missed the team meal, and the puzzling cameos of Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues’ most gifted offensive performer who toiled less than 10 minutes over two periods.
Andrew Desjardins was out of the Chicago lineup and Dale Weise in for Head Coach Joel Quenneville, who indicated he felt the Blackhawks let one get away on Sunday. But that was Hitchcock in St. Louis on Friday, when he alluded to bells and whistles that favor the defending Stanley Cup champions. Sunday, he talked penalties again, even in victory. His Blues took a half dozen, and he ventured that this is asking for trouble.
Especially when you’re up against the Globetrotters of hockey.