Saturday April 16th, 2016

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Joel Quenneville might have a different take on the coach’s challenge now.

A vocal opponent of the video review process in the past, the Chicago Blackhawks coach won a pair of them on Friday night. The friendly calls swung the game Chicago's way, providing the Hawks with the edge in a 3–2 victory over the St. Louis Blues (highlights).

Vladimir Tarasenko’s apparent go-ahead goal late in the third period was overturned after a lengthy review determined that Jori Lehtera was offside ahead of the play. Less than four minutes later, Andrew Shaw’s power-play goal was reviewed not once but twice, with officials finally deciding he did not interfere with Blues goalie Brian Elliott.

The victory evens the series at one win apiece. Game 3 is Sunday afternoon in Chicago.

Here are three thoughts on Friday’s game:

Getting it right ... but getting it wrong

The two decisions made by the officials after the use of video review appeared to be correct, at least by the letter of the law.

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On the first, Lehtera’s back skate appeared to be over the leading edge of the blue line and slightly off the ice just ahead of the puck entering the offensive zone. According to Rule 83.1, that meant the play was offside, negating a potential go-ahead goal for the Blues late in the third period.

The problem is that the review process was designed to overturn the call on the ice only if the video provides conclusive evidence. And the fact that the process unfolded over nearly five minutes proves that it was anything but. This was the ultimate bang-bang call, with maybe an eyelash separating Lehtera from being on the right, or wrong, side of the line. To overrule a call and turn a game, and possibly a series, is a complete farce.

The purpose of the challenge was to make the best possible call. Not this. You can bet the rule and its implementation will be re-examined during the off-season.

The second review was far from a travesty, but illustrates the inconsistency of the goaltender interference ruling. Shaw’s stick clearly jabbed into Elliott’s left pad, pushing it toward the goal ahead of the puck crossing the line. Most reasonable viewers would see that play and recognize it as part of a legitimate, and legal, battle for a loose puck. The problem is, goals have been waved off for similar contact via review this season. And while the offside reviews are black and white down to a microscopic level, the interpretations of what qualifies as goaltender interference seems to change with the phase of the moon.

“I don’t know what the rules are anymore," Elliott said afterwards. "Every play is so different."

Hair-breadth or coin toss. Ultimately, both are lousy ways to decide a game, no matter which team you root for.

Keith’s return

The criticism of the six-game suspension handed to Duncan Keith after a vicious stick-swinging incident was that it basically afforded the Chicago superstar a two-week vacation ahead of the playoffs. He certainly looked well-rested in his return to action Friday night, skating a game-high 30:59 and making his presence felt in all three zones with his speed, poise and offensive flair.

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Keith got the Hawks on the board with five seconds remaining in the second period, taking a feed from Patrick Kane and sending a seeing-eye slapper through a forest of bodies that beat Elliott just below the crossbar. He also picked up an assist on the eventual game-winner, snatching a loose puck at the side of the Chicago net and sending it up to Artemi Panarin, who whacked it in the empty St. Louis net for a 3–1 lead with just under 90 seconds remaining.

But it was with his defensive work that Keith made the biggest impact. He was able to soak up the tougher minutes, which allowed Quenneville to shelter Michal Rozsival and Viktor Svedberg (both men skated about six fewer minutes in Game 2 than in the opener). He was a steadying presence who made the big plays with ease. For instance, racing off the bench to get a stick on an Alex Pietrangelo shot, preventing a certain goal just before it slipped past an out-of-position Corey Crawford.

It was the sort of performance that won Keith the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP last season. After tonight, he's on his way to claiming it again.

Missed chances

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The Blues were understandably unhappy about the calls that went against them. In fact, coach Ken Hitchcock may have flirted with a suspension with his post-game comments about what it takes to knock out the defending champs. But in end, they have no one to blame but themselves for this loss. They had this game completely in hand through the midway point of the second, dominating possession while limiting the Hawks to a single-digit shot total. But while they had control, they failed to take advantage on their chances against Crawford. He was good, racking up 29 saves, but for the second night in a row, the Blues made it too easy on him. Too many high-danger scoring chances either sailed wide of the net—Pietrangelo and Paul Stastny both missed open chances from the high slot—or were unsupported by screens or net drive. There weren’t as many opportunities completely passed up as in Game 1, but there were still too many soft decisions that led to passes rather than shots on goal.

“We did play a better game, but in saying that too we’re going to go into the blue area harder, we’re going to have to go into Crawford harder, we’re going to have to do a lot of things harder to find second and third opportunities,” Hitchcock said of his approach to Game 3. “There’s a lot of things we can get better at.”

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