The Chicago Blackhawks are the reigning Stanley Cup champions for good reason. They are young, extremely talented, and have a “never quit” attitude. They ran through the entire regular season with no sign of the “Stanley Cup hangover” that affects many winners the year after winning it all, showing remarkable consistency for a team as young as Chicago. After last night’s triple overtime game against the St. Louis Blues, however, there is cause for concern. The Chicago Blackhawks should be worried after their loss in Game One, because they have a long road to repeat, and the games will not come any easier as the series progresses.
The first period lived up to the expectations that many had going into this series. The fast-paced action and physical play were evident from the opening faceoff, and it did not take St. Louis long to fire up the hostile sell-out crowd. Just under five minutes into the game, Adam Cracknell tipped a shot past Corey Crawford, bringing the fans to their feet and putting all the pressure on the Chicago players. The Blackhawks would answer midway through the period, getting two quick goals from their defense, one from Johnny Odyua, the other from Brent Seabrook. St. Louis forward Vladimir Tarasenko responded shortly after Seabrook’s goal, capping off an exciting five minutes of play in the first period.
After killing off a cross-checking penalty on Patrick Sharp, Chicago would take the lead in the final minutes of the first. Sharp exited the penalty box and was replaced on the ice with shifty forward, Patrick Kane. Kane went unnoticed by the St. Louis defense until he received a rink-wide pass from Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, springing Kane on a breakaway and burying a shot past a helpless Ryan Miller. Chicago looked to be in command heading into the first intermission, shellshocking the St. Louis players and fans with their quick transition game.
The game would remain 3-2 until the final minutes of regulation, when the Blues did some shocking of their own. The Chicago defense was unable to handle the pressure from a strong forechecking shift from St. Louis, turning over the puck to Derek Roy. Roy found playoff rookie Jaden Schwartz alone in front of the net, who scored his first playoff goal with only 1:45 left on the clock. Regulation ended, leaving the game to be decided in overtime. Or, as was the case Thursday night, multiple overtimes. Alexander Steen scored on a wrist shot 26 seconds into the third overtime period, taking Game One for the Blues and making all the work Chicago put forth for naught.
The Blackhawks should be worried after Game One, not only because of the result, but because of the events in the game. St. Louis goaltender Ryan Miller is an excellent goalie, but let in some uncharacteristically weak goals on Thursday night. It is unlikely that he will have a similarly poor game for the rest of the series. In order to go far in the playoffs and eventually win it all, teams must take advantage when fate smiles upon them. Chicago did not. Another concern for the Blackhawks should be the health of their captain, Jonathan Toews.
Before Game One, both Toews and Kane returned from injuries that kept them out for multiple games at the end of the regular season. Kane seemed unaffected by the injury during the long night, but the same could not be said of Toews. Multiple times throughout the night, Toews was laboring on the ice or on the bench, pain clearly etched in his face. St. Louis is a physical team that is not above an occasional shot or two that may cross the line of what could be considered legal. It is a long-term game for them. If a two minute penalty in Game One can cause the Blackhawks to lose their captain in a game or two down the line in the series, the Blues will take it.
It will not come any easier for Chicago as the series goes on. With the triple overtime loss in Thursday’s game, the team failed to take advantage of some soft play by Miller and some mental mistakes by a normally solid Blues team. Each game they lose extends this series and makes it that much harder to become the first team to get back-to-back Stanley Cups since the Detroit Red Wings did it in the 1997-1998 season. It may not cause much worry now, since Thursday’s night game was just “one game”, but for the Chicago Blackhawks, it was one game they could not afford to lose.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner