By Brian Cazeneuve
If the St. Louis Blues can survive a game such as the one they played against the Blackhawks on Saturday, then they could be heading to the franchise's first Stanley Cup. Forget their long history without a championship. Forget their six-game losing streak to end the season, which also dashed their hopes for the Presidents’ Trophy. Trailing 3-2 in the final minutes of the third period, the Blues cashed in on a huge opportunity after Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook received a game misconduct for leveling David Backes with a shoulder to the head. On the ensuing power play, Vladimir Tarasenko's clutch goal with 6.4 seconds left sent this one to overtime where Barret Jackman of all people gave the Blues a thrilling 4-3 victory and a 2-0 lead in their first-round series against defending champion Chicago. This St. Louis team appears to be maturing before our eyes.
Here are a few things we took away from a Game 2 that was full of bumps, thumps and lead changes:
Game recap | Box score | Highlights
• Game 2 had a lot more snarl to it than the opener. Referee Kelly Sutherland took the two captains, Jonathan Toews and David Backes, aside in an effort to calm things down.
• The Blues got a pair of goals in the first period thanks to some loose play by Chicago in its own zone. Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook blocked a shot from Jordan Leopold at the point, but nobody on Chicago picked up St. Louis’ Chris Porter, who had just joined the play after a change. This allowed Porter to proceed, unimpeded to the puck in the left circle, where he beat Crawford with a rebound shot for the first goal of the game, seven minutes into the first period.
• The Blackhawks must get better at helping Crawford. He made a prone save on Jaden Schwartz in the closing seconds of the first period, and despite Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa being within reach of the puck, nobody got to it before the Blues' Kevin Shattenkirk beat Crawford with a point shot with two seconds left on the clock. It was the first time in 15 games that St. Louis had gotten a goal from a defenseman.
• Chicago is struggling to make simple plays: With Blues goalie Ryan Miller up high in the slot, Patrick Sharp -- he of the 34-goal regular season -- took a deflected pass and shot at the net from seven feet out. Despite having a window of at least 10 inches, Sharp missed the layup, getting too much of the heel of his stick on the shot, which slid wide of the net across the open crease.
• Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith blew a shot past Miller with 2:35 to play in the second period to cut the St. Louis lead to 2-1. Chicago center Andrew Shaw was standing in front of Miller in the slot, but the decisive deflection had already taken place well before the puck reached him. It had caromed off Blues forward Derek Roy in the deep slot, dipping and fluttering on its way to the goal. Miller was trying to find the puck as it went past him.
• Seabrook, who seemed to be involved in every big play, evened the score at 2-2 five minutes into the third period with another screened shot. This one hit off Porter, who had gone out to challenge him. There was nobody in front of Miller this time, but the deflection fooled him all the same.
• The Blackhawks went up 3-2 just 1:40 later when Michal Rozsival drove a hard shot at the net from the right point. The puck was rolling as it came back to him, and he appeared to get most of the underside, causing it to take off as if it would soar high over the net. Instead, it deflected off Backes and dipped back down to the ice. Two players crossed in front of Miller, who didn’t get a great look at this shot, either. It bounced past him to his right side before he had a chance to react.
• Give Chicago’s forwards credit for causing distractions in front of Miller on all three goals. It takes desire to withstand all the chopping and the whacking that goes on in front of the net. It’s dirty work, but the goals from the Blackhawks' blueliners in the series have been the result of their forwards’ willingness to go into tough areas and pay the price. Chicago has also put the fine St. Louis defense on its heels by attempting a number of stretch passes. That’s nothing new for the Blackhawks, who often look up the ice to their speedy forwards. The Blues' defense was noticeably more careful about joining the rush this afternoon.
• Chicago forward Bryan Bickell was a physical presence, recording a game-high seven hits, but he went a bit too far in giving a knee-on-knee hit to Vladimir Sobotka. It was a crucial penalty to take with just six minutes left in the game. However, the biggest penalty of the game occurred a minute later when Seabrook nailed Backes behind the St. Louis net. Backes seemed to get knocked out momentarily on the play, which the NHL reviewed. Seabrook, who is now facing a disciplinary hearing and possible suspension, appeared to have his right skate on the ice when he made the hit, but the main point of contact was clearly Backes’ head.
• With his team down two men in the final minutes, Blackhawks defenseman Nick Hjalmarsson took a shot on the right ankle from Shattenkirk and was barley able to move. The gritty blueliner nevertheless stayed on the ice. His limited ability to move effectively gave St. Louis a 5-on-2 for 40 seconds...an advantage that Chicago was able to overcome. In all, Hjalmarsson was credited with six blocks. Keith had five.
• Ken Hitchcock pulled Miller with 1:46 to play, giving the Blues a 6-on-4 advantage. Hjalmarsson blocked two more tough shots, including another blast from Shattenkirk that left him somewhat doubled over again. Finally, Vladimir Tarasenko drove a shot past Crawford with less than seven seconds to play. Crawford was the picture of despair, turning to lean on the crossbar of his net and hang his head in frustration.
* Barret Jackman, who had scored all of three goals during the regular season, won this one with a shot that somehow snuck through Crawford's pads and over the goal line. No wonder Crawford was agitated in the dressing room after the game. This was another frustrating loss that sends the Blackhawks home in a considerable hole. Their character as the defending champs will now be put to the test.
• St. Louis has been here before: the Blues took a 2-0 first-round series lead on home ice against the Kings last year, but couldn’t advance. St. Louis needs to win one of the next two games in Chicago.
• Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were fairly quiet in Game 2. Granted, both players missed a good deal of time at the end of the season because of injuries – neither played a regular season game in April – but both will have to play better in Game 3. Save for a shot apiece, both were kept off the scoresheet on Saturday. Winger Marian Hossa had eight shots against Miller, but was also held pointless.
The Blues and the Blackhawks meet again in Game 3 at the United Center in Chicago on April 21 at 8:30 p.m. ET.