With the Central Division's top three spots all separated by two points, tonight's game in Chicago between St. Louis and Chicago would be a big factor in determining who gets home ice. The Blues have been awful in Chicago as of late and couple that with playing on National TV and starting your back up goalie and you had the makings of another big time let down.
Coach Hitchcock decided to start Jake Allen in goal tonight and many questioned the decision as to why not start your number one against the team your likely to face in the first round after a day off. But just five minutes in, Allen gave us a glimpse as to why he was the answer tonight. The Blues had been playing patient and getting some good shots on Corey Crawford but Ryan Reaves got a little giddy and dropped a pass just inside the offensive zone to nobody and sprang Chicago.
Allen has shown recently his willingness to learn from Martin Broduer and you can tell in his acrobatic save attempts to his left. The period continued at a good pace as both teams put good rushes together, The Blues caught their first break of the game half way through the period when Crawford cleared the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty but the Blues could not capitalize.
As the first entered the final six minutes the Blues got impatient and sloppy again as TJ Oshie would clear the puck up the middle of the ice that was intercepted by Marian Hossa, a player you just can't give the puck to.
The worst part of this play is that Robert Bortuzzo was injured leading up to the goal and was trying to get to the bench to change. Bortuzzo would not return for the rest of the game and its unclear as to what his status is. As the period wound down the hitting intensified and would be a clear indicator that the teams were just getting warmed up.
The second period would bring more pain then the first as the hitting and physical play would pick up. Chicago would get its first chance on the power play as Alex Pientrangelo would take a slashing penalty to prevent a clear shot at goal. Chicago maintained good position in the Blues zone but then would inexplicably put Andrew Shaw on the ice and he would change the game in a big way for the Blues.
Shaw came around the net as Barret Jackman was clearing the puck and left his feet to propel himself into the Blues defensemen. Jackman wasn't hurt but the obvious cheap shot just reminded the Blues what sort of team Chicago can be. Shaw went off for charging and the Blues started to take the game over. Nothing came from that short power play but then Michael Rosival boarded Pientrangelo behind the Chicago net and the 4th best power play in the league finally got what it wanted.
The Hawks weren't going to just go away, though, as they stuck to their game plan and earned a couple of near odd man rush attempts but Allen stood tall and kept the score tied. After a missed stretch pass led to an icing against Chicago, an unlikely goal scorer would emerge. A face off win to Pientrangelo led to a shot hitting Ty Rattie in front of the net and the careening puck happened to find much maligned Olli Jokinen.
After gaining the lead the Blues seemed to settle into their defensive game and as the rest of the period progressed you didn't get the normal oh crap we are going all turtle and will lose this game. There was a quiet, calm confidence in the play of the Blues and it showed in the way they protected the lead at the end of the second.
The third period was the quickest, most boring, yet exciting third period in awhile. The Blues continued to block shots, clear pucks deep and generally keep Chicago from getting any sort of foothold on the game. Sure there was a chance here and a chance there but this team looked confident in winning in a hostile environment with a first place spot on the line. Allen stopped every shot thrown his way and kept his rebound control solid, Chicago rarely had a second chance opportunity.
Crawford was pulled with a minute and a half remaining and Chicago was rewarded with consecutive icing calls but could get nothing to let alone by Allen. The Blues blocked a total of 24 shots in this game with a majority of them coming in the final minutes of the game. In the end the Blues were just to much for Chicago tonight minus Steen and Tarasenko but come playoff time it could be a much different story as Patrick Kane will be returning for Chicago as well.
For tonight, though, we can celebrate in the fact that this Blues team just won a meaningful game in Chicago on National TV. The Blues now sit in first place in the Central, a point ahead of Nashville with all three teams having three games left to play. St. Louis finishes with Winnipeg, Chicago and Minnesota at home, Chicago hosts Minnesota and travels to St. Louis and Colorado, while Nashville heads to Colorado, hosts Minnesota and travels to Dallas. Any team can take the top spot but for one night the Blues are back on top.
#3 - Corey Crawford: 31 saves
#2 - David Backes: GTG Goal and 6 Hits
#1 - Jake Allen: 38 saves, .974% Save