ST. LOUIS — Playoff hockey is about endurance, playing hard and getting a lucky bounce or two. That goes double for overtime playoff hockey; it’s trying, it’s exhausting, and sometimes you need a little luck on your side.
A well-place shin pad and a player who’s stellar in finishing breakaways don’t hurt, either.
Jonathan Toews scored the breakaway backhand winner 7:36 into overtime, and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 3-2 in Game 5 of their first-round series on Friday night. The Blackhawks take a 3-2 lead in the series, which continues with Game 6 on Sunday in Chicago.
Marian Hossa and Ben Smith scored their first goals of the postseason. Corey Crawford, who looked to be ailing or laboring at times, nevertheless stopped 27 of 29 shots for the victory. Coach Joel Quenneville said Crawford was fine.
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The Blues had some good opportunities as overtime opened, with several missing the net. David Backes, who returned from injury after missing the last two contests, shot at Corey Crawford, with the rebound bouncing into the slot. Duncan Keith turned and passed it out of the zone. The puck hit Andrew Shaw’s shin pad and went to Toews, who slipped the backhand past Ryan Miller’s glove side for his second game-winner of the series.
Did Keith know Toews was breaking?
“I’m not going to give myself that much credit,” Keith said to laughs. “I just tried to get it out of the zone, tried to clear it. It’s lucky break by us.”
So was the puck hitting Shaw’s shin pad. It’s the second deft deflection for Shaw’s equipment, which redirected a goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final vs. Boston last June.
“Right place, right time I guess,” Shaw said. “I was back-checking, and good things came from it.”
For Toews, it was just about getting something on net.
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“Just score. Just get lucky, find a way to score somehow,” Toews said he was thinking as he skated toward Miller. “I wasn’t even sure where their D-men were. I was just got going as fast as I could and take advantage of a chance.”
The Scottrade crowd was understandably enthusiastic when Backes returned for the first time since getting hurt in Game 2. But the Blackhawks were the ones scoring first. Hossa, who had talked about looking for that first postseason goal, found it in the form of a Bryan Bickell rebound 16:11 into the game.
“It was a great play by Bicksey,” said Hossa, who had seven shots in the game. “He gave it to me and I just tried to take a shot and I saw the rebound and I tried to finish it.”
T.J. Oshie tied it midway through the second period, taking a backhand from his knees to beat Crawford. But Smith put the Blackhawks up 2-1 late in the second, backhanding the puck after Sheldon Brookbank’s shot hit him in the skate.
“Benny had a great game,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He had the puck a lot, hit the post on one and had quick hands on the goal he scored. So he got rewarded for a really good night for us.”
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Alex Pietrangelo tied it early in the third for the Blues, finishing a 2-on-1 just 1:42 into the period. But the final heroics belonged to Toews.
The Blackhawks return home with momentum, three consecutive victories and a chance to close out the first-round series. They’re expecting the Blues to bring everything they’ve got, and the Blues are certain to do that. It’s up to the Blackhawks to withstand the heat. But they’ve dealt with it plenty this time of year.
“We just take it one game at a time,” Toews said. “Even within those games, I think as four lines we’re just trying to go shift by shift and not look further ahead than that. We’ve done a good job of that so far. We feel we put ourselves in a great spot in this series. Time to take advantage of it and play our best hockey that we can play.”