Does it feel as though the Blackhawks lead this series 3-3? Perhaps that is so in Chicago after the defending Stanley Cup champions faced the grim possibility of a handshake line on Saturday night, but opted instead to gather five straight goals for a 6-3 victory at the United Center.
Then again, if you are the vanquished St. Louis Blues, who always seem to detect the Blackhawks lurking in the rearview mirror, what they worked for all winter is what they shall have Monday evening—a Game 7 at home.
When the Blues scored three times just like that in the first period, a standing-room-only audience of 22,260 veered from joyous to jittery. But being down 3-1 after 20 minutes constitutes a minor annoyance to the Blackhawks, whose personality struck Dale Weise from the instant he joined the team at the trading deadline.
“Unwavering confidence in this room, a special group,” Weise said. “No panic. And it all starts with the captain, No. 19 (Jonathan Toews). He comes as advertised.”
So, it turns out, does Weise. When acquired from the Montreal Canadiens, he had a reputation for putting important pucks into enemy nets. Saturday night, off a return pass from Artemi Panarin, Weise roofed the tiebreaker over Brian Elliott at 16:18 of the second period to punctuate a return surge of three straight goals by the Blackhawks.
Now they led 4-3, and the building shook. And perhaps the Blues were a bit jumpy too. The Blackhawks have this penchant for avoiding elimination in eliminating circumstances and for improving as these best-of-seven series progress. Under Coach Joel Quenneville, their record from Games 4 through 7 is ridiculous. Reasons could be several: skill, poise, experience, and last but definitely not least, hockey IQ.
Weise, a healthy scratch earlier in this series as well as recipient of the Game 6 championship belt, was part of a deal for Philip Danault. Andrew Ladd, who opened the scoring Saturday night in the fourth minute, joined the Blackhawks at the trade deadline. Another star of the evening, Richard Panik, came to Chicago just after New Year’s from Toronto, where he wasn’t doing much with the Maple Leafs.
You would have to surmise that Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager, has to be proud of such maneuvers. Same for Quenneville, who opened with Andrew Shaw beside Toews and Patrick Kane, then put Panik back on that line. Shaw scored anyway, on a power play late in the third, for insurance, a rare policy between these two teams.
After five starts decided by one goal, it was now 5-3. Marian Hossa filled an empty net less than a minute later, and here came Corey Crawford to inform a “Hockey Night in Canada” postgame show that not for a nanosecond did he consider abandoning his cage after taking a puck just below the throat late in the second period. He went down in pain, then arose to a standing ovation.
The Blackhawks crashed the net for some greasy stuff in that stellar second period. Off a Hossa shot on a power play, Artem Anisimov bunted in the rebound to halve the St. Louis lead to 3-2. Anisimov has three goals in the series, all blue-paint specials.
Then off a clever feed by Panik, Toews carried forth down the left wing while Trevor van Riemsdyk, quite alone, burrowed in for the score. The crowd went bonkers. That made it 3-3 at 12:21 of the second period. At 16:18, it was Weise’s turn.
“I started to feel a little more comfortable the other night,” he said. “I’ve been a little snakebit here. It’s nice to contribute.”
The Blackhawks got off to a quick 1-0 lead. Marcus Kruger won a battle for the puck and provided it for Ladd, the teammate to whom he donated the No. 16 sweater. Andrew Desjardins had a glorious chance to make it 2-0, but he never did steady the puck or find an open net.
Seconds later, the Blues tied it 1-1 on a 2-on-1 rush, with Scottie Upshall converting. Then Alex Pietrangelo, a force this series, jettisoned from deep on the right side and beat Crawford through a screen. The Blues went up 3-1 when Vladimir Tarasenko cranked his patented shot past Crawford at 11:00.
However, apart from that five-minute foray, the Blues were contained. They have playoff scar tissue, but as Crawford cautioned earlier in the series, that’s a different team.
“Let’s go in there,” said Coach Q about Monday night, “and have some fun.”