Full disclosure before you read this, I literally hit the roof when this game was over so my bias may be a bit much.
Game 3. Chicago. United Center. Probably the worst combination for a Blues team tied at one game apiece. The Hawks are ridiculously good at home and the Blues hadn't won a playoff game there in 14 years. With the way the first period started it didn't seem like it would get any better.
The game started well for the Blues, not only did we push deep into the Chicago zone we got a few good looks on Corey Crawford as the Hawks D overplayed a few pucks. It didn't last to long, though, as Chicago would benefit from an interesting call on Kyle Brodziak.
After a Crawford save a scrum, go figure, would break out at the side of the net with Brodziak and Viktor Svedberg getting very heated. Brodziak seemed to throw a few extra punches which may have led to him receiving a double minor for roughing with Svedberg only getting a single. Not a good way to start a game with Chicago's power play being one of the best in the game at 22.6%.
It didn't take long for the Hawks to capitalize on the man advantage. A face-off win led to Jonathan Toews having the puck on his stick,he would get it to Patrick Kane who fed Brent Seabrook for his rocket shot. Brian Elliott never even had a chance on it as Andrew Ladd was doing a great screen job in front. Just over two minutes in a Chicago was already playing that damn song.
Things went from bad to worse a minute later as Jay Bouwmeester would take back to back penalties putting the Blues backs against the wall. The first penalty was a "hooking" penalty which seems to be a loosely defined term in the NHL these days. While his stick was in between the legs of Artemi Panarin there didn't seem to be any hooking motion to my eyes.
To the Blues credit they took this in stride which in years past would not have happened. They would clamp down on their defensive play and not allow much of anything on the power play. As the penalty expired the puck was right next to the box as Jay was stepping out and he played a pass up the zone much to the chagrin of the Chicago players who began gesturing wildly.
According to rule 56.2 of the NHL rule-book " should a player about to come onto the ice, play the puck while one or both skates are still on the players’ or penalty bench, a minor penalty for interference shall be assessed." SO just as one penalty kill was ending we would go right back to the kill. It was an unfortunate play by Bouwmeester but he is a veteran and should know his whereabouts and how it can affect a game.
In recent years, back to back penalties such as this would have been the death knell for the Blues, they would have rolled over and let Chicago score another one furthering the whole they were in. But this team bounced back with some resiliency and shut down the Hawks for 4 straight minutes. It wasn't pretty but it was effective.
The Blues would continue to push the attack and eventually it would prove worthwhile. Svedberg would take a high sticking penalty against Vladimir Tarasenko and even I can admit that it was a bit of a phantom call. His stick did graze Vlad on the follow through but i was surprised they called it after seeing the replay. Maybe it was due to Hitch bitching to the refs after the three straight calls against his team. Whatever it was it worked and the Blues had a shot to get back in the game.
When I say shot, boy did the the Blues take the to heart. Colton Parayko has been compared to a young Shea Weber and he backed that up on national television with his rocket shot. A face-off win, this is becoming a theme isn't it, led to possession in the zone and Parayko was set up perfectly for Alex Pietrangelo's pass. With no hesitation he fired the puck stick side on Crawford, beating the Hawks goalie cleanly. It was a collective breath for Blues fans, we could actually score in Chicago.
The teams continued to trade chances throughout the period but both goalies came up with huge saves to keep the game tied. The physicality of the series also continued but it wasn't like two years ago when the Blues were just throwing their bodies at anything that moved in a Hawks sweater. Hits were timely, scrums were well portioned out and if a penalty was taken a Hawks player went with him. Overall it was almost the perfect way for the Blues to play an opening period in Chicago.
The second period was where it almost slipped away from us yet again though. The start of the period continued 4 on 4 play from the end of the first and it wasn't long until the Hawks used there brains to take the lead.
Paul Stastny was battling Panarin on a face-off in the Blues zone and Panarin seemed to know he wasn't going to win the draw so he positioned himself to help Stastny win in. The puck went right to the corner for Parayko but Panarin was on him quickly since Statsny didn't tie him up. Panarin out-battled Parayko and with a quick glance over his shoulder found Artem Anisimov wide open and alone in front of Elliott. The puck was perfectly placed by Panarin and even though Anisimov whiffed a bit on the shot, it was enough to throw Elliott off and allow the puck to beat him for the lead.
With the lead once more, Chicago continued to pour the pressure on the Blues, recording 6 scoring chances in the first two minutes of the period. The Blues battled through it by blocking shots and Elliott staying poised in net when a puck did get through. The tide started to turn with half the period over and the Blues got back to what has made them successful this year, the fore-check.
What can I say about Corey Crawford though, man oh man have he and Elliott put on a show for this series. After Elliott's sprawling saves earlier in the period Crawford one-upped him with not just robbery of Jori Lehtera on a terrific feed but on the ensuing face-off he couldn't even see the puck and stopped Tarasenko while seemingly on his back. The United Center was roaring and you could sense that lingering dread in the pit of your stomach, you just knew Chicago was going to score again.
Unlike past seasons, though, Brian Elliott was in the net and just like Gandalf in LOTR, he went all You Shall Not Pass. The absolute workhorse for the Blues turned aside 23 of 24 shots in the second period giving the Blues a chance when it came to the third. The one thing going against the Blues was the fact that Chicago has 37 wins when leading after the 2nd period, second in the league this year. It was going to be an uphill climb again.
The climb started off well for the Blues as they came out in the third with a renewed energy and it showed right away as they stuck with their game instead of taking chances like they would have in years past. It almost seemed like they were waiting for the right time to strike or for a lucky bounce.
Well we got the lucky bounce first about 5 minutes into the period. Robby Fabbri would knock a dump in pass down at his own line and slide the puck over to Kevin Shattenkirk. Shatty found Berglund in the middle of the ice and Berglund pushed for center lane drive as he entered the zone. Just after clearing the line he fired the puck on with the hopes of a frozen puck and face-off.
A funny thing happened on the way to the goal though, the puck deflected off of Michal Rosival, dipped to the ice and skipped right past the outstretched glove of a sprawling Crawford. This was a bounce the Blues haven't gotten before and it couldn't have come at a better time for the team or Berglund as he hasn't had the strongest of starts to this playoff series.
At this point you're thinking this is just setting us up for another heart-breaking goal at the end of the game to break our spirits and with Chicago you know it could happen. This is a team that doesn't let adversity get to them, hell they've won three Cups. But this isn't the same Blues team as years previous and we continued to push just as much as the Hawks did and this time we won out with the break.
After some sustained pressure in the Hawks zone the puck was cleared out to center where Pietrangelo and Kane were stationed. During the quick scuffle for the puck, Kane's stick would catch Petro, drawing blood and a 4 minute minor. The best player on the ice would sit for four minutes in a crucial time of the game, eerily reminiscent of Tarasenko in the box during Game 2, though this was definitely more unintentional of a penalty.
The power play would start inauspiciously with the Blues having zone control before the Hawks were able to break out and almost get a shot on net. I was thinking, that would just be what the Blues would do, give up a shortie with a win on their sticks. But the team rebounded and reentered the zone putting more pressure back on the Hawks PK. Yet another face-off win would lead to some quick passing and the puck laying on Tarasenko's stick. Everyone in the building and watching was probably thinking he was going to shoot and he very well could have. But the play-makerthat he is found David Backes to the side of the net who one timed a pass to a waiting Jaden Schwartz in front of the net. Schwartz didn't have to think as he fired the puck past Crawford for the huge 3rd goal of the game.
Now the waiting would begin. I wasn't alive to witness the 1980 US hockey win against the Russians and this had nowhere near the implications of that game but I could feel something close to what those watching that game must have felt. One second seeming like 20, every shot making you jump, your heart pounding with anticipation. This series could kill me.
As the period wound down, the Blues made the safe plays when it was needed, not taking unnecessary chances and keeping Chicago racing back to their zone to retrieve pucks. It was textbook and not something we normally have seen with this team. When Crawford went to the bench for the extra attacker there was still a quiet calm about the Blues play. The only scare came when Alex Steen failed to clear a puck and it was sent rink wide to a wide open Hawk, but Elliott would redirect the puck with his stick before it reached its target.
As the seconds clicked down the excitement within rose to the surface and when that horn sounded you could feel the collective city of St. Louis yell out in excitement. This was the Blues first playoff win in Chicago since 2002 and it broke and Hawks 70-0-4 record when leading after two. But what we as fans have to remember is that it is only one game, this series is far from over and we know Chicago is going to throw everything at Elliott on Tuesday. But for one glorious night the Blues overcame playoff demons and came from behind against a great team to take a 2-1 series lead and gain home ice advantage back.
So celebrate this win tonight boys but lets get right back to what won us this game tomorrow so when Tuesday rolls around we are ready. LGB!!!
#3 - Colton Parayko: 1st career playoff goal couldn't have come at a better time for the Blues.
#2 - Jaden Schwartz: GWG Power Play Goal. Been waiting for him to break out this series.
#1 - Brian Elliott: Stopped 44 of 46 shots and `05 of 109 this series. Its nice to finally have the hot goalie.