The Chicago Blackhawks were less than two minutes from taking a 1-0 lead in their first-round NHL playoff series with the St. Louis Blues. Dropping the opening game to the Blues in a 4-3 triple-overtime marathon wasn't the start the 'Hawks wanted.
However, it's not time to count out Chicago.
Thursday's loss is a tough pill to swallow. It isn't a reason to concede the series, though.
Being so close to swiping a victory in the Scottrade Center and coming up short after over 40 minutes of extra hockey is going to sting. This was a contest in which Chicago had ample opportunity to pull away in regulation. The 'Hawks also had power plays in each of the first two overtime periods.
Fans who figured on Chicago cruising through a slumping, injury-riddled Blues club got a jolt of reality via Alexander Steen's game-winner seconds into the third extra frame.
There's a reason St. Louis managed to win a few games this season. The Blackhawks are going to get a real good look at what makes their opponent tick.
As expected, the Blues struck a physical tone Thursday. There were big hits on the part of both teams, as Chicago took a 3-2 lead in a wild first 20 minutes. The 'Hawks put the clamps on St. Louis in the second period, though they failed to convert several good scoring opportunities.
The Blues pressed hard as the sands ran out in regulation, taking advantage of a poor exchange behind the Chicago net. Derek Roy swiped a Niklas Hjalmarsson pass and set up Jaden Schwartz for the equalizer with 1:45 remaining in the third period.
Putting in two periods of extra work with nothing to show for it makes it hard to find positives in Thursday's loss. However, there is a lot to feel good about heading into Saturday's tilt.
Most importantly, injured stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane reentered the lineup and got right into the mix. Toews shrugged off big hits by Ryan Reaves and David Backes to assist on two Chicago goals.
Toews hit a streaking Kane coming into the Blues' zone after the 'Hawks had killed off a penalty late in the first period. Kane five-holed Ryan Miller on the breakaway to give Chicago the 3-2 advantage it would hold until the waning minutes of regulation.
The Chicago penalty kill stopped all four Blues power plays, including one in the second overtime. Corey Crawford faced 52 St. Louis shots and turned the Blues away time and again with several highlight-reel saves.
The Blackhawks took the expected pounding from St. Louis and managed to give a little back without letting the game develop into a brawl.
Saturday's matinee may catch both teams a bit sluggish after most players logged big minutes on Thursday. 'Hawks coach Joel Quenneville and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock have the option of shuffling their lineups.
Chicago may choose to use forwards Jeremy Morin and Peter Regin as well as defenseman Sheldon Brookbank. T.J. Oshie is one of several Blues who could see action Saturday.
This is playoff hockey, so don't be surprised to see the second game of this series unfold in a similar fashion to the first. Chicago didn't get the result it worked for Thursday, but there is still a good chance that it can even things up before heading back home.
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