There was almost a feeling of relief when the Chicago Blackhawks went into second intermission tied 1-1 with the St. Louis Blues.
After all, the Blues had six power plays through the first two periods. Six. Be it their missed opportunities, Corey Crawford’s goaltending or blocked shots, the Blues couldn’t capitalize.
Come the third period, however, the Blackhawks did. And after starting this series down 0-2, they’re advancing once again.
Jonathan Toews scored a power-play goal that proved to be the game-winner, his third of this series, and Crawford stopped 34 of 35 shots as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 5-1 in Game six of their first-round series. The Blackhawks won four in a row to eliminate the Blues and now wait to see if they play Colorado or Minnesota in the second round. The Avs are up 3-2 in their series vs. the Wild, with Game 6 slated for Monday in Minnesota.
Duncan Keith had a masterful game, recording a goal and three assists and finishing plus-3 in 25 minutes of ice time. Brent Seabrook, who returned after being suspended the past three games, had two assists. Andrew Shaw had a goal and an assist and Bryan Bickell scored his second goal of the postseason.
Through two periods, however, it didn’t look like the Blackhawks would be awaiting any second-round opponent. They were on the kill constantly, spending tons of time in their own zone trying to keep St. Louis from breaking through on the advantage. However, they withstood it all.
“As the series progressed we had to raise the level of battle and perseverance," coach Joel Quenneville said. "You needed every shift to get through this (Blues) team because they’re heavy, strong and relentless. Every game was more challenging and they played their best game today. We were fortunate to come out of it the way it ended up.”
They came out of it thanks to a third period in which, with penalties gone, they played their speed game again. Toews’ goal was a big one, coming on the first power play the Blackhawks got. Patrick Sharp broke away and, just after taking a stick to the face on a delayed penalty, pushed one past Ryan Miller for a 3-1 lead.
“You throw your head back when you get hit in the face with a stick. I did that, but I was pretty focused on getting a shot off,” Sharp said. “All the good shots I’ve had in the series, it’s funny that one kind of rolls off my stick and in.”
And that one proved crushing for the Blues.
“The goal was a backbreaker. It was a backbreaker,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “The bench was still fine. Our team had great spirit at the start, great spirit through the first and second period. To play as well as we’ve ever played in this building was the way we played the first two periods. And then (on) the third goal, the air went right out of the bench.”
The Blackhawks never looked back after that, with Shaw scoring 7:30 into the third and with Keith scoring on a 2-on-1 with 2:55 remaining in regulation.
The Blackhawks were never going to equal the Blues’ physical game. It’s not their game. There is built on puck possession and speed, and they ultimately controlled with those in the third period. This series didn’t start off well for the Blackhawks. It couldn’t have ended better.
“We constantly try to play the same way and keep the same game no matter what the score or series is. We try to keep the same mentality: stay positive, believe in each other and keep working,” Crawford said. “Not everything’s going to go your way in a playoff series. We’ve come to learn that when they don’t, we need to keep working hard and not shut it down.”