Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
Sunday afternoon’s amazing come-from-behind triumph by the St. Louis Blues over the Chicago Blackhawks may have been the most important game the NHL club has ever played. The Blues’ players took Coach Hitchcock’s words to heart and forgot about the one-sided rulings by NHL officials both on and off the ice and overcame adversity to snatch a hard-earned victory from the favored Blackhawks and take the lead in the hotly contested series, two games to one. Once again Brian Elliott starred in the nets for the Blues and Patrik Berglund and Jaden Schwartz scored impressive goals in the third period to power St. Louis to an improbable win and disappoint over 22,200 partisan fans at the Madhouse on Madison.
Thank you, hockey gods!
And then the Blues outdid themselves Tuesday night in Chicago,working hard to snatch a 4-3 victory from the now-numb Hawks. Vlad Tarasenko and Alexander Steen were the scoring stars in arguably the second most important game in Blues’ history. Steen would have had two goals, yet another Chicago coach’s challenge from Joel Quenneville resulted in another successful offside call negating Steen’s empty net power play tally.
There were other officiating mysteries in this wild match, especially when Hawks’ goaltender Corey Crawford lost his cool and attacked Robby Fabbri after a collision with the pesky Blues’ winger. Of course, Jonathan Toews bumped Fabbri into Crawford, yet that was apparently not seen by any of the officials. Crawford was only assessed a two minute minor for roughing, rather then the mandatory penalty called for by NHL rule 51.3: "Match Penalty - If, in the judgment of the Referee, a goalkeeper uses his blocking glove to punch an opponent in the head or face in an attempt to or to deliberately injure an opponent, a match penalty must be assessed." Nor was there even an instigator penalty (46.11) assessed to the frustrated, agitated goaltender. Instead, the Blues ended up shorthanded with minor roughing penalties to Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo. Yes, Fabbri was indeed nabbed for goaltender interference. Nevertheless, once again, Elliott put on a masterful display, stopping 39 of 42 shots against and the Blues prevailed, 5-3, oops I mean 4-3.
Anyway, once again, thank you, hockey gods!
So, it all comes down to tonight’s game five, now the most important game in Blues history, a match in which the Blues can eliminate the previously favored Blackhawks, just like they did in 1993, sweeping Chicago in four games and causing another Hawks’ goaltender to have an epic meltdown. Eddie Belfour smashed his stick on the goalposts and then went on a rampage, tearing up the locker room in his frustration and impotence, just like Crawford lost it Tuesday night. The 2001 playoffs featured a gritty 4-2 first round series win over San Jose and a sweep of the Dallas Stars, yet the Blues lost the Conference Finals to a red-hot Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche, 1-4. In game one, Sakic scored on a penalty shot when Blues’ goaltender Roman Turek was ruled to have thrown his stick. The Blues only victory was in double overtime of game three. (Bonus points to those who remember that Scott Young scored the decisive goal.)
With a win tonight, the Blues can begin preparations for the series against either the Dallas Stars or the resurgent Minnesota Wild. Of course, if St. Louis strays from the game plan and stops hitting (170 hits in four games, over 40 per game), then instead the Blues can prepare for game six in Chicago Saturday. So, the Blues big hitters (Brouwer 24. Backes 17, Schwartz 12, Reaves 10 or Ott 9 in two games each) must keep the pressure on and the Blues’ sharpshooters (Tarasenko 3 goals, Schwartz 2) must keep shots on goal while others pass sharply and block Crawford’s view.
One area upon which to improve is curbing shots against. The Blues have now allowed 152 shots on their potential Conn Smythe Trophy winner, an average of 38 per game. Elliott has stood up to the challenge, though, with a save percentage of .954 while only allowing seven goals against. Otherwise, the special teams are humming quite effectively and efficiently and the Blues are playing a very smart game, containing Chicago’s "super stars" (neither Kane nor Toews has scored) while potting timely goals at just the right time.
Yes, this is definitely not the same Blues team we have seen during the past five post-seasons, a fact even Hawks’ goaltender Crawford has stated publicly. The Note is following Coach Hitchcock’s mantra by being a gritty, hard-working blue-collar team and playing with a blue-collar effort, maintaining focus and overcoming any and all adversity, including the Blackhawks, the referees and linesmen and the NHL War Room if need be. No matter what has happened both on and off the ice, the Blues have maintained their composure, kept calm and have played it very, very cool.
The Blackhawks are up against the wall tonight facing elimination, so they will battle hard and play tough. Their true character was revealed Tuesday by the actions of Crawford and forward Andrew Shaw. Crawford had a serious (unpunished) meltdown and Shaw was running around looking to agitate and stir up trouble rather than play hockey. At one point Shaw "accidentally (on purpose)" ran the Blues’ goalie, going skates first into Elliott’s pads. A wild melee instigated by Chicago players ended the game.
The proper disposition for the entire frustrated Blackhawk team would be a tee time of seven a.m. tomorrow morning.