Opinion 1 from Minton: The Blues out played the Hawks
The analysts at NBC seemed to think that the Hawks were the better team who simply got unlucky when it mattered most. Nothing about their opinion surprises me, as NBC is the National Blackhawk Channel. I never feel like their talking heads have any real insights into the game and only offer up rehashed bar room opinions from drunk fans. I will admit that I missed the first half of the first period thanks to the idiotic scheduling on NBCSN. I can't comment on how the first 10 minutes of the game played out. What I did see was that one team was visibly trying harder than the other. That team was the Blues.
The argument was that the Blues were out shot 35 to 18, which means they were obviously out played, right? Not entirely. Shots at the end of the 1st were 11-4 in favor of the Hawks. There is a lot wrong with only putting up 4 shots on goal in a period, as well as allowing 11. Where this stat is deceiving is that the Blues spent a majority of this period in the box. They had minor penalties at 13:17 (Bouwmeester), 15:24 (Steen), and 16:49 (Gunnarsson). Bouwmeester and Steen are both major players on the Blues PK. Meaning players like Shattenkirk were out there killing penalties. (By killing penalties I mean tackling people who got too close to Moose) The offensive dynamo that is the Hawks PP wasn't even able to score when they faced a 5 on 3 situation. Killing off a penalty is one of the most physically draining tasks in hockey. The Blues killed one off for almost 6 minutes straight. I would say any team who shut down the league's 2nd ranked power play for that long out played the team they were facing.
There is possibly a rhyme and reason to the style of game the Blues played. The Blackhawks haven't played their best games when teams played them physically this season. Their 2 star players are Kane and Panarin, neither of whom are very physical players. The Blues threw out 41 hits compared to the Blackhawks only registering 24. The notion that a high hit total means you don't have the puck is only true to a point. No, you can't hit while you have the puck, but if you hit them every time they have the puck your hit total will be higher than if you simply let them move the puck with ease. Very little looked easy on the ice for Chicago.
One major difference I see compared to last year came in the form of Ryan Reaves. Last season we watched Steve Ott rodeo clown his way through the Wild. He rarely made powerful hits, and usually entirely took himself out of the play attempting to make contact. Ryan Reaves was using his shoulder as a deadly weapon last night. His hits were clean, powerful, and painful. One one play I watched him hit or check 3 hawks in a row, taking all 3 out of a play. The Blackhawks shot total dropped every period they played. The Blues simply wore them down.
Think back to our last meeting with the Hawks in the playoffs. Anytime Pietrangelo touched the puck he was hit. There was a goon on the ice with him every shift who would simply try to make his life hell. The deeper into games and the deeper into the round it went, Pietrangelo became less and less effective. You could physically see him not want the puck. I think the Blues are using the same technique against the Hawks. Especially with Keith out in game one, we had to physically dismantle the Hawks.
Let us not forget another area where the Blues out played the Hawks, the faceoff. We won 54% of the draws. The best way to keep players like Kane, Toews, and Panarin from scoring is keeping the puck out of their hands. Being winners in the faceoff circle is step 1 in that plan.
The Hawks got a few odd man breaks. They seem to do this every game to every team they face. It is a major part of their game. In my opinion their fast break offense is the best in the league. The difference was how well defended they were. There was an early 2 on 1 break Toews and Kane vs Gunnarsson with Elliott in net. Nothing sounds more typical playoff Blues than that. The difference was Gunnar completely took Kane out of the play. Leaving Moose to square up completely to Toews and deny his shot. Should the Blues have let the Blackhawks into some of the scoring situations they had, no. With a team as offensively dynamic as the Blackhawks, they are going to get those chances. The best thing you can do is shut them down when (not if) they happen. That is where the Blues out played Chicago. When push came to shove, the Blues never gave up. They fought off every scoring chance the Blackhawks had. It wasn't luck that kept the Hawks off the board. It was determination by the Blues and Brian Elliott.
We have some offensive talent of our own, but we still don't match up for a shootout style game against a team like Chicago. The way we beat them is to try harder, and play harder. From the eye test last night, one team was visibly defending harder and trying harder. That team was the Blues. One thing that David Backes has done so well during his time with the Blues is will them to win. In situations when the team is down and it looks like people were giving up, Backes would take the ice. Sometimes he ended up drawing dumb penalties, but often he simply pulled the team behind him and dragged them kicking and screaming back into a game. Not by scoring goals, but by wanting it more than anyone on the ice. Being willing to do anything to get it. The entire team played with that vigor all night. The whole team looked like Backes off the bench after allowing a goal. It was a clenched jaw and a head of steam towards anyone wearing the wrong color. It was only fitting that after playing with the heart their captain showed so often that the captain himself would net the lone goal.
Hunger and determination will only take a team so far. The question is do we have the talent and togetherness where our obvious hunger and determination will lead us to beat what is arguably one of the best playoff teams in all sports. In situations like this you have to lean on your best player. Right now our best player is Brian Elliott. We leaned on him, and he stood tall. The Blues are notorious for playing weaker in front of Elliott for reasons unknown. I don't know if I have seen them play harder in front of any goalie than they did for him last night. When his number was called, he did what he does best. Keep it out of the net.
Opinion 2 from Buffa: The Hawks outplayed the Blues
Sometimes a win disguises a less than stellar style of play from a team. In the playoffs, you'll see this a lot. For the Blues to keep winning in this series, they need to play better than they did in Game 1.
The Hawks put twice as many shots on Brian Elliott as the Blues did on Corey Crawford(who was returning after three weeks of baseball cap wearing bench warming). 35 to 18 and I believe the Hawks had the better opportunities. They had more scoring chances to the naked eye. This was one of those games where it could have been 3-0 Hawks in the third period if it weren't for Elliott being squared up perfectly for each attempt and shutting down rebounds. Moose played out of his mind and once again, as he has done several times this season, saved the other players ass for letting the Hawks get way too many clean looks.
The Hawks had more odd man rushes as well, which is a breakdown in the Blues defensive setup and neutral zone lockdown. You give Jonathan Toews a few more breaks and Elliott won't stop him in Game 2 and 3. This is the second time in a week Elliott has rescued the Blues. During the 2-1 Blues OT win last week, Elliott had to act like Mr. Fantastic to keep the game in check and allow the Blues to come back and win it. He can't keep doing this against stellar players like Toews and Kane.
The Hawks had 22 blocked shots to the Blues 20 and I could count on two hands how many shots Colton Parayko missed from the point. The Blues missed a lot of shots and Alex Steen was basically missing for the entire game The Backes line was quiet until the overtime winner, which went in off a Hawks skate.
Each team came away with zero power play goals in nine total chances but the Hawks had the better setups and zone pressure of the two teams. If you walked away from this game and was asked who got lucky, the answer would be the Blues. How many deep breaths did you take through three periods? The Hawks overall Corsi For of 68 bested the Blues 60. The Blues had a better faceoff night, but it wasn't by a landslide.
The Blues gave the Hawks big sticks too many chances. As I pointed out earlier, Toews gets seven shots in Game 2, the man will score at least one goal. Toews, Panarin and Hossa had a combined 17 shots and came away with nothing. How many times did that happen during the regular season? Don't go look it up friends. Take another drink of beer and trust me when I said it was a rarity.
Look at what my friend Art Lippo had to say after the game on the overall play of each team.
Everyone knows the Hawks outplayed the Blues. Hope this Blues team doesn't show up Friday— Art Lippo (@ArtLippo) April 14, 2016
The Blues were solid early in the first period but gave the Hawks too many chances to score throughout the game and into overtime. They outhit the Hawks but even Ken Hitchcock wants more aggressive cowbell in Game 2.
In the playoffs, you will have those games where one team outplays another and loses. Time runs out or its sudden death and one tiny mistake ends the game. The Blues won Game 1 because they had a nice puck circulation and caught the Hawks when they were tired and received a lucky bounce off a skate. That game continues and the Blues may be down 1-0 in the series this morning.
The Blues could be catching some luck finally but that luck is tedious and changes day to day. In Game 2, the Blues will need to be sharper to seize the day. Get more shots on net, score early, keep hitting hard and don't let Toews/Kane get that many open looks on Elliott. Even a Moose doesn't have eyes in the back of his head.
What do you all think? Vote in the poll below and tell us in more detail in the comment section. Thanks for reading this counter argument Blues-Hawks STLGT special.