Blackhawks Buzz: April 19, 2014 at St. Louis Blues - Game 2
With just two days between contests, the Blackhawks have little time to dwell on their missed opportunities in Game 1—the focus remains on returning to Chicago with a series split. Fatigue could be a factor for both squads, however, as key players were on the ice for far more time than normal. The Blues’ top defenseman, Alex Pietrangelo, skated in a game-high 44:08, while both Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson passed the 40-minute mark. Among forwards, Jonathan Toews led the Blackhawks with 32:37 in his first game action since March 30, while five St. Louis players also logged more than half an hour. While losing Game 1 of a series hardly spells doom for Chicago, they’ll need to execute a tighter game plan on Sunday to avoid giving up any more ground to a re-energized St. Louis squad.
The Blackhawks activated their blue line early and often in Game 1 on Thursday, and it paid off on the first two goals: Johnny Oduya took a cross-ice feed from Brandon Saad and whipped in a wrist shot from the left faceoff dot to open the scoring for Chicago, and Brent Seabrook gave Chicago a temporary lead a few minutes later with a power-play bullet set up by Kris Versteeg. Seabrook also collected an assist on Patrick Kane’s tally late in the first period; he ranks 31st in franchise history with 33 points (10G, 23A) in 74 playoff games.
Alexander Steen led the Blues in scoring during the regular-season with a career-high 33 goals and 62 points, and the 30-year-old was in the right spot to net the game-winner at the start of triple overtime, marking his fifth career postseason tally. Steen collected six shots on goal and a team-high 12 shot attempts while skating in a career-high 35:33 to lead St. Louis forwards. The task of keeping Steen and his linemates—Steve Ott and captain David Backes—at bay will likely be assigned to Oduya and Hjalmarsson once again, providing one of the key battles in Game 2.
Hjalmarsson didn’t get on the scoresheet like some of his colleagues on the blue line, but he played a crucial defensive role for the Blackhawks, tallying a game-high six blocked shots and co-leading the team with 4:48 on the penalty kill, which went 4-for-4 in Game 1. Hjalmarsson also posted one of the game’s biggest hits, plastering Backes in the neutral zone in the third period. Hjalmarsson and Oduya led defensive pairings with just under half of their zone starts in the defensive end of the ice (per extraskater.com), shouldering their usual heavy load.
After allowing a combined five goals in the first period, both Ryan Miller and Corey Crawford settled into their nets. Miller, the Blues’ major trade-deadline acquisition, made several big stops, including one on a Patrick Sharp breakaway in double overtime; he saved Chicago’s final 35 shots after giving up three goals on seven shots in the first period. For the Blackhawks, Crawford fended off the surging Blues in the final two regulation periods, snuffing out prime chances from Vladimir Tarasenko and Ott, and stopping 48 of 52 shots by the home team. Both netminders will want to continue playing at top form on Saturday in order to give their team the vital edge.
While it looked like the Blackhawks had more goals in them after getting three pucks past Miller in the first period, St. Louis was able to shut down Chicago’s offense for the remaining four-plus periods. It was a game of ups and downs on the stat sheet: The Blackhawks won 57 percent of their draws, but went just 1-for-6 on the power play; both Kane and Toews looked sharp in their first games back from injury, but the team posted a -10 shot differential. Taking care of the puck in all three zones and fine-tuning just a few things should put Chicago in a good position to take Game 2.