Biggest Takeways from Start of Chicago Blackhawks' 1st-Round Playoff Matchup

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2014

Biggest Takeways from Start of Chicago Blackhawks' 1st-Round Playoff Matchup

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    The Chicago Blackhawks spent the most critical moments of Game 4 of their playoff series with the St. Louis Blues balancing on the precipice.

    With one good break, they were in position to get right back into the series. With one mistake or bad break, the Blues would have had them down by a 3-1 margin.

    The fates smiled kindly on the defending Stanley Cup champions, as Patrick Kane blew a hard wrist shot by Ryan Miller midway through the first overtime to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 victory. That squared the playoff series at 2-2.

    The series has reached a critical point, and here are the biggest takeaways thus far from this first-round matchup.

Kane Is the Best Big-Game Player in the NHL

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    Patrick Kane has proven to come up big when it matters most for the Chicago Blackhawks. 

    When Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2010, it was Kane who scored the no-look goal in overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers that clinched the championship. Nobody in the Wells Fargo Center knew where the puck was except Kane, and his celebration told his teammates that they had indeed won the title even if nobody could find the puck.

    Last year, it was more of the same. Kane scored the decisive goal in double overtime in the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings. Kane took a cross-ice pass from Jonathan Toews and drilled a shot past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.

    In the Stanley Cup Final, Kane scored two goals in the pivotal fifth game at the United Center that put the Blackhawks one win away from the title. In that game, it seemed that every other skater on both teams had to fight for every square inch of territory. However, Kane went wherever he wanted to and dominated the game.

    He was up to his old tricks against the Blues in Game 4. Kane scored the winning goal in overtime, totaling two goals and an assist as the Blackhawks tied the series. 

    It seems that Kane can do whatever he wants with the puck when his team competes in the biggest games.

Corey Crawford Is Up and Down

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    Corey Crawford was under the gun after the first two games of the series.

    He had given up overtime goals in both games, and the Blackhawks were in a 2-0 hole. While Alex Steen's winner for St. Louis was a nearly unstoppable shot, Crawford appeared to let in an easy goal in the second game when Barret Jackman's drive from the boards got through him and into the net in overtime.

    Crawford admitted he needed to play better after that goal, and head coach Joel Quenneville agreed with him. 

    The goalie was able to put his shaky Game 2 performance behind him, as he shut out the Blues 2-0 in Game 3.

    He was good enough to get the win in Game 4, but he appeared to be a bit shaky in giving up three goals.

    Crawford has shown the ability to rebound from poor performances in the past with excellent games. Right now, Quenneville and the Blackhawks need Crawford to play consistently in the remaining games of the series.

Vladimir Tarasenko Is a One-Man Wrecking Crew

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    The Blues were scoreless for nearly 99 minutes after Jackman's overtime goal in Game 2.

    It appeared the Blues might suffer through a second consecutive scoreless game after the Blackhawks had taken a 2-0 lead late in the second period. But just when it looked like the Blues were about to capitulate, Vladimir Tarasenko stood up and refused to let that happen.

    Tarasenko got the puck about 35 feet from the net and whipped a hard shot just inside the post. Crawford could not react to it until the puck had hit the twine. That goal at the 18:51 mark of the middle period gave the Blues life, and they tied it up just 1:05 later on a a goal by Maxim Lapierre.

    The Blues dominated the action for much of the third period, and Tarasenko scored again at the 12:26 mark. That goal looked like it would be the game-winner until Bryan Bickell tied it up later in the period.

    Tarasenko has scored four goals in the series, and it appears that he can threaten the Blackhawks any time he gets his hands on the puck in the Chicago zone. 

    If the Blackhawks are going to survive this opening-round series, they need to find a way to contain Tarasenko.

Sharp and Hossa Need to Stand Up

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    One of the reasons the Blackhawks had some trepidation about this opening-round series was the health of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Both had missed the final games of the regular season with lower- and upper-body injuries, respectively.

    While the reports indicated both were skating well prior to the series, it was a stretch to think that either player would be in top form early in the postseason.

    The Blackhawks needed veteran stars Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa to carry them in the early going. Both players had excellent regular seasons, particularly Sharp, and they appeared to be prepared to play their best games.

    However, Sharp has not scored a point through the first four games, while Hossa has just one assist. Even though Toews and Kane each scored the game-winning goals the last two games, the Blackhawks need Sharp and Hossa to step up if they are going to win this series.

It's Tough to Slay the King

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    After winning two Stanley Cup titles in the previous four seasons, there is no doubting the Blackhawks' championship pedigree.

    You may be able to knock them down, but it's difficult to knock them out—and it's almost impossible to kill them. 

    The veteran Blackhawks have known too much success to go down easily. They are confident they will make plays when the series is on the line. They certainly did in Game 4, when Bickell tied the game late in the third and Kane won it in overtime.

    On the other hand, the Blues have known a lot of heartbreak in recent years. In 2012, they were swept out of the playoffs in the conference semifinal by the soon-to-be champion Los Anglees Kings.

    Last year, the Blues won the first two games of their opening-round series against Los Angeles before dropping the final four.

    It's difficult for St. Louis to win in the playoffs. Head coach Ken Hitchcock would never admit it, but his team may lack the confidence to win the biggest games and make a deep playoff run.

    Chicago appears to have a snoot full of confidence, while the Blues are still searching for theirs. That means that the Blackhawks could ultimately steal this series away form the hard-luck, woebegone Blues.