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The St. Louis Blues took a 2–1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks with a 3–2 win Sunday afternoon in Chicago. Brian Elliott made 44 saves on 46 shots, and Jaden Schwartz netted the go-ahead goal after Patrick Kane committed a key high-sticking penalty halfway through the third period.
The Blues have retaken home ice from the Blackhawks. Game 4 is Tuesday night in Chicago.
Here are three thoughts on Sunday’s game:
Cooler heads prevail?
St. Louis had to be disappointed with the result of Game 2: the Blues had a goal overturned after a lengthy coach’s challenge, the Blackhawks had one upheld after two reviews, and a frustration penalty from Vladamir Tarasenko ultimately doomed St. Louis. In a crucial Game 3 on the road in Chicago, St. Louis had two choices. Either they could put Game 2 behind them and come out playing focused hockey, or they could continue to harp on the past and beat themselves.
At first, it looked like they may have been going with the latter option, as the Blues’ lack of composure was apparent early. Chicago spent nearly half of the first period on the power play. First, Kyle Brodziak was flagged with a four-minute penalty after fighting with Victor Svedberg just 1:49 into the first (and body-slamming the 6' 8" defenseman to the ice). Less than two minutes and a power play goal later, Jay Bouwmeester was whistled for hooking. And just as that penalty was about to expire, he played the puck before fully leaving the penalty box, resulting in the third power play for the Blackhawks within the first six minutes of the game. Carl Edmundson added a fourth penalty less than a minute left in the first, but an Andrew Shaw slashing penalty at the same time negated the power play.
But as the game wore on, St. Louis seemed to relax, and played a penalty-free third period. Chicago, meanwhile, got sloppy. With 11:51 remaining in the third period, Patrick Kane was called for a high-sticking penalty on Alex Pietrangelo. He was sent to the penalty box for four minutes on a double minor, and Jaden Schwartz beat Corey Crawford for the go-ahead goal during the ensuing power play.
For most of the game, Chicago played like the better team. But St. Louis held strong in a game where they easily could have curled up into a ball, and instead walked out of Chicago with a huge victory under their belts. The fact that this team didn’t fold under the circumstances has to be encouraging for a St. Louis Blues team that hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2013.
Brian Elliott, brick wall
Once again, Blues goalie Brian Elliott was the best player on the ice, and this time he didn’t get a lot of help from his defensive unit. Chicago repeatedly crashed the net without much resistance from white shirts and managed 46 shots, their highest total of the series so far. Artem Anisimov’s second period goal, which put Chicago up 2–1, came from directly in front of the St. Louis net without a defender within five feet (although Artemi Panarin deserves credit for finding him from the left corner). The Blues only blocked thirteen shots, and a defensive unit that looked nearly unstoppable in the first two games seemed overmatched in Game 3—especially against the Blackhawks’ top line in Kane, Panarin and Anisimov.
“We looked like the Washington Generals a few times,” coach Ken Hitchcock said after the game. “We need to find a different way to defend. They were going around and around, and we need to clamp down a little bit better…this was the most in any of the games, including the regular season, that that line was in our zone.”
But Elliott was not fazed, and put together one of his strongest games of the season amid a firestorm of Blackhawk shots. Coming into the series, Elliott had an underwhelming playoff history, with a .897 save percentage and a 6–10 record. And with a healthy Jake Allen on the roster, some speculated that Elliott would have a short leash.
But just as he earned the starting job throughout the season with his excellent play, it appears he’s earned the job for the postseason, as well. The Blackhawks have pounded Elliott all series, outshooting the Blues in each of the games. And he has not cracked under the pressure.
The Hawks had a brutal third period
The Blackhawks entered the third with a 2–1 lead and all of the momentum. Before Sunday, Chicago was 70–0–3 when leading after two periods since 2014, including the playoffs. They tallied 24 shots on goal in the second, and St. Louis only blocked two shots after redirecting ten in the first. It was one of Chicago’s best periods of the season, and St. Louis looked gassed from chasing red shirts all over the ice. All Chicago had to do was hold strong for another twenty minutes, and they’d claim a 2–1 series lead with another game to play in Chicago.
“We had more chances in the second than we had in any period all year,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after the game. “We put on a clinic there, it was fun to watch.”
Unfortunately for Chicago, the wheels came off in the third. Corey Crawford, who was excellent for most of the game, whiffed on a shot from Patrik Berglund 5:15 into the period. Kane’s high-sticking penalty was inexcusable and resulted in the go-ahead goal. Then, during the final minutes of the game, the Hawks were unable to get the puck deep enough into the St. Louis zone to allow Crawford a chance to leave the net. When they finally had the 6-on-5 with just 77 seconds left in the game, they didn’t have time to get much going.
All throughout the third, the Hawks looked out of sync. Several passes were misplayed deep into the Blues’ zone. Duncan Keith and Artemi Panarin both missed the net on shots within the final seconds of the game. Crawford was shaky after being highlight reel-worthy for the first two periods. They looked like a different team than the one that thoroughly dominated the second period, and now the Blackhawks face an uphill battle for the rest of the series.
All is not lost for the Hawks, though. Since Joel Quenneville came to Chicago, the team is 43–14 in Games 4–7. They have another home game on Tuesday, and if they can squeak it out, the series will become a best of three. But the Blues will be confident heading into Game 4, which may spell trouble for the defending Stanley Cup champions.