It was to be one of the most anticipated series of the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs: the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, taking on a St. Louis Blues team that was nearly the President’s Trophy winners, save a late-season slump. Two of the biggest rivals in all of hockey were to play their 11th sereies all-time, but their first since 1997. Six games later, as we look back, it did not disappoint.
Game One of the series was nearly two games’ worth of hockey, after the two teams simply couldn’t decide a winner after three periods of play. The Blackhawks blew a late lead, and with less than two minutes to go, Jaden Schwartz tied the game at 3. Thanks to several fantastic saves by both Corey Crawford and Ryan Miller, it took 100 minutes of play until Alexander Steen sealed a Blues win with a point-blank goal.
It was the same script in Game Two, with another overtime necessary after the conclusion of regulation. This time, the Blackhawks were only 6 seconds away from evening the series, before Vladimir Tarasenko’s shot from the blue-line got through a screen in front, tying the game. It would only take five minutes to find a winner, as Barret Jackman was the hero with another screened shot from afar. The Blues took a 2-0 series lead heading into Chicago.
The other story from Game Two was Brent Seabrook’s hit on St. Louis captain David Backes, for which he was suspended three games. Seabrook had never been suspended before in his career, and Backes was already rumored to be playing injured.
Game Three was the beginning of the Blackhawks’ turnaround, which the home team did in dominating fashion. Corey Crawford was outstanding, earning a shutout as Jonathan Toews’ goal 4:10 into the first period stood as the game-winner. The Blackhawks blocked 24 shots in the game, while Crawford stopped 34 on the way to his third career post-season shutout.
The two teams squared off in a pivotal Game Four two nights later, in arguably the most hard-fought game of the entire series. The two teams were deadlocked at two goals apiece heading into the third period, and Tarasenko was the first to break the ice, putting the Blues up 3-2 with less than 10 minutes to go. Bryan Bickell’s first goal of the post-season tied the score with four minutes remaining, and the game was off to OT. Patrick Kane would score his third post-season over-time goal, with a beautiful shot over Miller, bringing the Blackhawks back to even in the series.
The Scottrade Center was the site for Game Five, with the winner taking control of the series. Chicago held a 2-1 lead heading into the third period, but a quick goal by Alex Pietrangelo tied the game, and the next 18 minutes were fruitless for both teams. For the fourth time in five games, the Blues and Blackhawks headed to overtime. After Corey Crawford fended off some golden chances by St. Louis, a clearing by Duncan Keith ended up on the stick of Toews, who scored on a break-away, giving the Blackhawks the 3-2 series lead.
The series shifted back to the United Center for Game Six, with the Blackhawks aiming to close out the series. Heading into the third period, it seemed another overtime was a possibility, after first-period goals by Bickell and T.J. Oshie had the game knotted at 1. However, the third was a one-sided affair from start to finish. Jonathan Toews scored just 44 seconds in, triggering an avalanche of goals from Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw, and Duncan Keith, as the Blackhawks’ dominant final period gave them the 5-1 win, and the series victory.
Corey Crawford certainly had the edge over Ryan Miller in the series, but the two goaltenders were virtually deadlocked heading into Game Six. Miller, a pending Unrestricted Free Agent, allowed 3+ goals in 15 games since the trade to the Blues at the trade deadline.
Neither team’s power-play got their wheels rolling in the series, with just five goals between the two clubs. Vladimir Tarasenko scored both of the Blues’ power-play goals in the series, which finished at a 6.9% rating. Both teams were excellent on the penalty-kill, with the Blackhawks holding a 93.9% rating, and the Blues with a solid 85%.
Jonathan Toews once again proved why he’s one of the best forwards in the game, with three of the Blackhawks’ four game-winning goals in the series. Only Duncan Keith kept up with the ‘Hawks captain in terms of offensive production, with 7 points each.
The series loss is just another tough pill to swallow for Blues’ fans, after a nearly identical series one year before against the Los Angeles Kings. In fact, the similarities are almost creepy, from Alex Steen’s Game One overtime winner, to Alex Pietrangelo tying the score in Game Five, only to lose in overtime. The Blues finished their 2013-14 season with only 2 wins in their final 12 games, after being a President’s Trophy favourite with just weeks left in the regular season.
The Blackhawks improved to 11-2 in close-out games since their 2010 Stanley Cup run, and now await the winner of the Colorado Avalanche/Minnesota Wild series, which could end on Monday night with a Colorado win.
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