The Chicago Blackhawks were resting their weary and (likely) bruised selves on Monday and will do the same on Tuesday. Their hard-fought, first-round series with the St. Louis Blues is in the books and the Blackhawks are now playing the waiting game.
Will it be the Colorado Avalanche, who the Blackhawks – or at least coach Joel Quenneville and a few of us scribes – thought the team would play in the first round? Or will it be the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks’ first-round opponent last season who is giving the Avs quite a tussle? We’ll be finding out that in due time. The Avalanche, who lead the series 3-2, face the Wild in Game 6 in Minnesota tonight.
Before we look ahead, however, let’s take one last look back at the Blackhawks-Blues’ memorable first-round matchup.
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1. The Blackhawks’ stars aligned. By that, we mean that their best played accordingly. Jonathan Toews, who was quiet in last year’s first round and frustrated through part of the second, had the game-winning goal in three of the Blackhawks’ four victories. Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp all contributed their share. The Blackhawks have more depth scorers than the Blues, but it means nothing if they don’t score. In Round One, they did.
2. Vladimir Tarasenko has got a beautiful future ahead of him. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock praised his left wing for the work he did to return from a hand injury/surgery sooner than expected. We didn’t see that first-hand, but we did see the damage he can inflict on the ice. Tarasenko was mesmerizing, keeping the Blackhawks on their toes and providing the Blues with a consistent scoring threat. He was a pleasure to watch.
3. Corey Crawford won the goaltending matchup. No, Blues goaltender Ryan Miller shouldn’t take all the blame for the Blues’ elimination. But he was acquired prior to the trade deadline to be that difference maker, and he wasn’t. Crawford, meanwhile, had his shaky moments, his questionable goals allowed. He also made the big stops when necessary, recording a 34-save shutout in Game 3 and stopping 35 of 36 to claim Game 6. Crawford’s current postseason stats include a 1.98 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.
4. Give credit to Sheldon Brookank. These past two years, the defenseman has only made postseason appearances when someone’s been suspended. This time it was to replace Brent Seabrook, who sat three games for his hit on David Backes. Brookbank wasn’t expected to be Seabrook. He was expected to play solid minutes and help the Blackhawks’ defenseman rotation going, which he did.
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5. The Blues are right: they are close. Yes, St. Louis once again took a 2-0 lead to start a first-round series, only to lose it 4-2. But outside of the final game – make that the final 20 minutes of the final game – the Blues were right there. As easily as the Blackhawks could’ve won Games 1 and 2, the Blues could say the same for Games 3 and 4. The Blues are a talented group that gave the Blackhawks everything they had. As Toews said, “it doesn’t get any more difficult than that with the physicality in the series, the things that happened the first couple of games; there’s some hatred between those two teams. I can’t give them enough credit for how hard they played and for how bad they wanted it.”
6. Penalty kill trumps power play. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill nixed 27 of 29 Blues power plays through the first round, including six in Game 6. There’s a reason coach Joel Quenneville was putting the emphasis on the kill more than the power play: it ends up looming larger. Hey, the Blackhawks’ power play wasn’t so hot either, going just 3 for 20. But when you score well on 5-on-5 like the Blackhawks do (16 goals compared to the Blues’ 11) you can live with a so-so power play. The kill, however, was necessary.