Lighting the Lamp - with Rick Ackerman
The rivalry between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks intensified into a war on ice on St. Patrick's Day, 1991. The outcome of the game itself, a 6-4 Hawks' victory, was overshadowed by melees in the first and second period that resulted in 278 penalty minutes, including 24 minor, 12 major and 17 misconduct penalties. As Blues center Adam Oates, now head coach of the Washington Capitals, remembered, "It was weird. I was pretty scared, I'll tell you that. Let me rephrase that. Terrified. Grimson, Manson and Peluso..." A line brawl started when Blues' defenseman Glen Featherstone took exception to Hawks' star center Jeremy Roenick's hard hit on defense-mate Harold Snepsts. Keith Brown shoved Featherstone and the war was on. Roenick shoved Blues' tough guy Kelly Chase. Chicago's Michel Goulet tackled Chase and the Blues' Darrin Kimble came into the fray. Kimble pulled Roenick off the pile and pummeled him while Rod Brind'Amour held Roenick. Kimble broke several of Roenick's teeth and cut his lip. Steve Larmer high sticked Paul Cavallini and was ejected. Blues' defenseman Scott Stevens (HHoF 2007) cross-checked the Hawks' Wayne Presley in the face. Dave Manson then bloodied Stevens in a horrific fight. Stevens was suspended two games, while Chase and Mike Peluso sat out ten games each.
Thankfully, the two division rivals would not meet in the 1991 playoffs, yet they would meet again for post season play in 1992. Led by GM and Coach Mike Keenan, the Blackhawks edged the Blues out for second place in the Norris Division by four points and had home ice advantage in the opening round. Roenick, defenseman Chris Chelios (HHoF 2013), Larmer, Brown, Goulet and goaltenders Dom Hasek and Ed Belfour (HHoF 2011) helped the Hawks dominate the Brian Sutter-coached Blues and took the series 4-2, despite the presence of stars such as Brett Hull (HHoF 2009), Oates (HHoF 2012), Brendan Shanahan (HHoF 2013), Nels Emerson, Jeff Brown, Garth Butcher and Curtis Joseph. Chicago would go on to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to be swept, 4-0, by the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins, led by Smythe Trophy winner and current Pens' owner Mario Lemieux (HHoF 1997).
The Blues gained a measure of revenge the following year when they swept the Blackhawks in the opening round of the 1993 playoffs. Although they finished fourth to Chicago's first that season in the Norris, St. Louis took the first two games at Chicago Stadium by scores of 4-3 and 2-0 behind the stellar play of goaltender Joseph. Hull, Craig Janney and Brown led the offense. Cujo earned another shutout in game three at the Arena, making 34 saves, while Emerson, Hull and Janney scored for the Blues. In game four, Hull scored twice and Shanahan added a goal for St. Louis while Chicago countered with goals by Jocelyn Lemieux, Brent Sutter and Roenick in regulation time. That set the stage for overtime and arguably the second-best goal ever scored in Blues playoff history.
Brett Hull dumped the puck into the Chicago end of the ice and as a Hawks' defenseman played the puck, Dave Lowry hit him and the puck squirted behind the net. As Belfour tried to play the puck, he was jostled by a hustling Hull. Meanwhile, the puck was sent up the boards by a Hawks' defenseman, where the Blues' Janney was waiting. He one-timed the puck straight into the net as Belfour attempted to get back and the Blues won the game and the series. An irate Belfour rushed to protest the goal, claiming goaltender interference. When told it was a good goal, "the Eagle" smashed his stick on the net and went on a rampage in the locker room, breaking everything he could get his hands on, including a hot tub, coffee-maker, and television, causing thousands of dollars in damage. The Blues would go on to lose to Toronto in the next round in seven games.
Chicago and St. Louis would not meet again in the playoffs until 2002. The Blues finished fourth in the Western Conference, two points ahead of the fifth place Hawks.
In game one, Chicago's Jocelyn Thibault (35 saves) out-dueled Brent Johnson (19 saves) and shocked a jam-packed Arena crowd as Kyle Calder and Alexander Karpotsev scored, while only Pavol Demitra could light the lamp for the Blues. Johnson returned the favor in game two, making 26 saves in a 2-0 win. Doug Weight and Scott Mellanby scored for St. Louis. In Chicago, Johnson's magic continued as he shut-out the Hawks again, 4-0. He only had to make 12 saves. Demitra, Mellanby, Scott Young and Jamal Mayers all scored goals. Johnson made 27 saves in game four and Demitra's goal was the winner in the 1-0 victory. Johnson's three straight shutouts in the playoffs tied an NHL record shared by three other goalies, the most recent being Maple Leaf Frank McCool in 1945. Back at the Arena, the Blues took game five, 5-3, and the series, four games to one. However, they would lose to the eventual Cup champion Red Wings in the next round.
It is likely that the 11th playoff series meeting between these two fierce rivals is destined to go to overtime in game seven with both the Blues and Blackhawks availing themselves of home-ice advantage, with three of the four games going into overtime. Three of the four games were decided by one goal; the fourth would have been but for an empty-net tally.
You just knew it would be this tight from the beginning.