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Kristi Loucks The Hockey Writers

Published on Thursday, April 14, 2016





Game 1 Loss Won’t Hinder The Blackhawks

After dropping Game 1 in St. Louis, there will inevitably be doubters who get that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs. The Fans who so quickly revert to the doom and gloom, but a loss to the Blues very well may have been just what the Blackhawks need to kickstart their campaign to a fourth Stanley Cup.

Of course, the Blackhawks never plan to lose, but in a game where Corey Crawford could have been rusty, the defense could have been over taxed, and the slew of late-season casualties were just regaining their legs, there were more positives to take away than negatives.

The Crow Rises in St. Louis

Corey Crawford had a stellar night given that he had missed twelve games and looked shaky in his one start to close the season. Some rust was to be expected, but Crawford came out of the gates with a fire in his eyes. He only faced 18 shots on goal all night. However, the shots he did face were not easy shots from a safe distance. Many of them came in at close range and in rapid fire succession, but Crawford was up to the task. At times, his defense let something through that looked like it was going in and every time Crawford turned the shots away as if they were gnats at a picnic.

In fact, the puck that finally eluded the Chicago netminder was more of a pass that deflected off of Trevor van Riemsdyk’s skate than a shot. But David Backes was credited with the solitary goal just over nine minutes into overtime nonetheless. It was a loss, but the Blackhawks outshot and outplayed the St. Louis Blues for the majority of the affair. Sure, the Blues had some stretches that looked promising, but at the end of the night, the Blues left the ice with more homework than high notes.

No Keith, No Problem

Duncan Keith was notably absent as he served his final game of a six-game suspension, but the remaining blueliners never missed a beat. Niklas Hjalmarsson and van Riemsdyk finished the night with a little over 28 minutes a piece, while Brent Seabrook logged 30 minutes and some change. Hjalmarsson racked up five blocks including a real stinger early in the game that had him crawling towards the bench before he had to resume his position as the puck turned back into the zone.

Most teams would gasp in horror at a hobbled defenseman struggling to get off the ice, but Hjalmarsson helped his team clear the puck and left the ice momentarily to chew on some nails before returning for his next shift. Hammer was stung again on a block later in the game, but never even attempted to leave the ice. TVR also added three blocks. There were 13 blocks all night for the Blackhawks, many of which seemed to break up plays just as the Blues began to look dangerous.

At the end of almost 70 minutes of hockey, many expected the Blackhawks to have given up a couple of goals, or at the very least appear to miss their defending Conn Smythe winning defenseman, but instead the game looked like a hotly contested series with two teams that matched up very well. A sign that may not bode well for the Blues. The two teams did match up quite well, and on Friday, Keith will return adding another layer to the Blackhawks defense and one more player the Blues will have to find a solution for.

For now, that solution appears to be hit them hard and hit them often. A method employed many times before by teams that are more skilled than the St. Louis Blues. More often than not, the hits proved more taxing for the players doling them out than the ones absorbing them in years past.

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

The Blackhawks came into Wednesdays game with their own approach. They fired the puck whenever they were within striking distance, and most were not that far off the mark. Jonathan Toews was blanked, be he fired off a game-high seven shots while Artemi Panarin and Marian Hossa added five a piece.

In fact, the trio alone accounted for 17 shots while the Blues registered just 18 collectively. They kept the Blackhawks stars off the score sheet for the night, but they got plenty of shots in with Patrick Kane also adding four shots, and Artem Anisimov three. No Blues forward had more than two, and only Colton Parayko and Kevin Shattenkirk bested that with three each from the blue line.

The Blackhawks held Vladimir Tarasenko to just one shot on goal. David Backes was also limited to one which accounted for the only goal of the entire evening. This game had that feel all night, the team that dented the mesh first was likely to be the only one to light the lamp, and it was going to come on an odd bounce or some stroke of luck. That was exactly what happened.

The Blues drew first blood, but it is unlikely they walked away from this win thinking the series would suddenly get easier. They won a single game with a single goal that many believed they should have run away with. With Keith’s return, the Blackhawks have an opportunity to sow the seeds of doubt by stealing back the one game deficit on Friday before returning to Chicago for Game 3 in front of what will undoubtedly be a raucous crowd at the United Center.

This was a loss for the Blackhawks, but the only Blues player who truly earned bragging rights was Brian Elliott, who was exceptional in net stopping all 35 of the Blackhawks attempts. The Blues outhit the Blackhawks 41 to 24 on the night, though hitting that often generally requires giving up possession of the puck as was indicated by the extraordinary number of shots the Blackhawks were able to put on Elliott.

Kane and Panarin Won’t Play Sleeping Beauty

The Blues may succeed in slowing down the Blackhawks second line for a time, but it will be no easy task to do so for seven games. Both players had a number of great opportunities on Wednesday, the only thing they lacked was a bit of puck luck. The trio of Kane, Panarin, and Anisimov made 96 pucks disappear behind netminders throughout the regular season, and they are unlikely to be hindered by a rough ride to the boards for very long.

All three forwards have a knack for finding or creating space when they have the puck on their tape, and Keith’s arrival is only going to help their efforts. In addition, Toews, Hossa, and Andrew Ladd aggressively pursued the puck in the offensive zone which forces the Blues defenders to focus on both lines instead of simply shutting down Kane. The Blackhawks are loaded with offensive weapons, and often times the one you take your eye off of will be the one to sink the dagger.

A player like Teuvo Teravainen can easily fly under the radar on the third line, but he has his own unique and dazzling skills that many teams wouldn’t dream of dropping into a third line role. Then, there is Tomas Fleischmann, a somewhat unassuming veteran presence that can easily be forgotten, but he can make teams pay with his unexpected speed and deft hands.

There is also Richard Panik, who will likely wind up beside Fleischmann and Teravainen at some point. He may slip by unnoticed as a young forward that has been passed on by a couple of teams, but he has proven that he has the skill to get to the net. These are the kinds of players that may get underestimated because of the bright stars that play ahead of them, but it only takes one shot to be reminded that they too have earned their spot with Joel Quenneville’s squad.

Kill The Penalties

One area that both teams would like to tidy up on is the penalties. The Blackhawks committed four minor penalties while the Blues committed five (including a delay of game in overtime). Neither team was able to capitalize on the man advantage, but these are chances that neither team can afford to give up. Especially, if all of the games are low scoring affairs. One goal may be all it takes.

The Blues have made it clear that they’d like to ramp up the physicality of the game doling out even more hits in game two and beyond. The one thing that the Blackhawks will have to do is avoid allowing the hits to dictate the way they play. When the Blackhawks try to go hit-for-hit, nothing good comes from it. Teams often try to force the Blackhawks to play their style of hockey, and the Blackhawks simply can not be baited into that type of game. As a possession team, that would be the kiss of death. No matter how many hits come their way, the Blackhawks will just have to muscle through.

The Blackhawks shouldn’t be feeling too bad about Game 1. If Crawford can bring this type of effort in Game two on Friday, and Keith can help drive possession the Blackhawks can come out and put the Blues on their heels a bit. They’ll be expecting a bruising effort from St. Louis, but better teams have gone that route and failed before. St. Louis won’t lay down and make it easy, but the Blackhawks know the Blues all too well, and the tables are just waiting to be turned.

Game on.

(Photo Credit: Amy Irvin)




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