Stanley Cup Playoffs: Western Conference powers face risk of early elimination
1:24 | NHL
Stanley Cup Playoffs: Western Conference powers face risk of early elimination
Jeremy Layton
Wednesday April 20th, 2016

Vladimir Tarasenko notched two goals and Brian Elliott stopped 40 shots to give the St. Louis Blues a 4–3 victory and a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on Monday night.

Chicago’s comeback effort in the third period fell short when Andrew Shaw’s interference penalty with just 2:04 left in the game effectively ended the Blackhawks’ chances.

Shaw appeared to use a homophobic slur against the official after he was sent off the ice for a penalty. When asked about it, Shaw said, “Emotions are high. I don’t know what’s said …I was obviously upset with the call.”

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The series will return to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Thursday night, where the Blues will have a chance to eliminate the defending Stanley Cup champions from the playoffs.

Here are three thoughts on Tuesday’s game:

Wild second period

For the first 30 or so minutes, Thursday’s game was fairly uneventful. Tarasenko netted the game’s first goal at the 14:02 mark of the first period. Marian Hossa scored the equalizer just under halfway through the second. There weren’t many penalties or big hits. The United Center was quiet, especially for a playoff game.

Watch: Blackhawks goalie Crawford throw punches vs. St. Louis

Then all hell broke loose.

At the 11:48 mark of the second period, Blackhawks defenseman Trevor Van Reimsdyk turned the puck over to Alex Pietrangelo in the defensive zone. Pietrangelo sent it to Blues forward Robby Fabbri, who put two point-blank shots on the net, both of which goalie Corey Crawford saved in remarkable fashion. Then Chicago captain Jonathan Toews inadvertently shoved Fabbri into the goalie, who left the net and went after the St. Louis rookie. It’s not often that you see a goalie get into a fight, especially in a playoff game, but Crawford fired up the crowd in a big way.

The officials handed out five penalties, three to the Blues (Fabbri, Kevin Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo) and two to the Blackhawks (Crawford and Andrew Ladd), with the madness resulting in a Blackhawks power play. And after about 40 seconds of pounding Blues netminder Brian Elliott with shots, former playoff hero Duncan Keith finally broke through with a goal that put the Hawks ahead, 2–1.

Exactly four minutes later, Ladd was again sent to the box for interference, and Tarasenko launched a missile from 49 feet out to beat Crawford for the second time on the night and equalize the score.

Speaking of Tarasenko …

Tarasenko feels right at home in Chicago

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The Blues have played three games at the United Center in the month of April: one high-stakes regular season match to determine playoff seeding and Games 3 and 4 of their series. In all three contests, Tarasenko has been a one-man wrecking crew.

Tuesday was his second multi-goal effort in those three tries: He also scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in the Blues’ 2–1 win on April 7. In Game 3, he notched a key assist on Jaden Schwartz’s go-ahead strike, and in Game 4, his two goals came at times when the Blackhawks had the momentum.

“Tonight might have been the most complete game of his NHL career,” said Blues captain David Backes. “Not just because he has two goals, but look at him coming off the ice, he’s making the right play at the right time.”

The Blues’ identity is not built on offense. St. Louis finished 15th in the NHL in goals during the regular season, and relied on defense and goaltending to win a lot of games. But the young Russian gives the Blues an element they haven’t had in previous years: a player who is a threat to score every single time he touches the puck. He’s the reason why this Blues team has the potential to make a deep playoff run if it can close out this series, and the Blackhawks clearly need to defend against him better if they hope to orchestrate a comeback.

Unfortunately for Chicago, Tarasenko wasn’t the player who did the most damage to the Blackhawks.

Rough ride continues for van Reimsdyk

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The defenseman was already having a tough series coming into Game 4. With a thinner blue line unit compared to previous years, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville asked the rookie to play nearly 25 minutes a game for the first three contests. Unfortunately, that translated to a –3, the worst on the team during that span. He might have been a better option than Victor Svedberg, but TVR wasn’t making Blackhawks fans forget about ex-Chicago defender Johnny Oduya, who departed for Dallas.

Still, Game 4 was easily the peak of van Reimsdyk’s ineptitude. His turnover led to the Crawford-Fabbri scrum, which may have indirectly fired up the crowd but it also put his goalie in a dangerous spot. Then in the third, with the Blackhawks already down 3–2, he turned the puck over in the Chicago zone again, lazily floating a pass to Michal Roszival that Alexander Steen picked off. Steen finished the play by beating Crawford with an easy breakaway goal that put the Blues up 4–2 and sucked the life out of the United Center.

Van Reimsdyk now sits at –5 in the series, and Quenneville doesn’t have a lot of options as far as replacements go. Blackhawks fans are likely to blame the loss on Shaw’s penalty with 2:04 left in the game, but van Reimsdyk was the real goat.

The Blues have exposed how thin Chicago is in the defensive end during this series. Without Oduya as the number four blueliner, the Blackhawks had to experiment with the inexperienced van Reimsdyk, and so far he has failed. In the past, the Hawks have mustered just enough defense to get by in the playoffs. Now, Chicago is on the verge of first round elimination for the first time since 2012.

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