Game 1: at Blues 4, Blackhawks (3 OT)
Game 2: 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Louis, Ch. 5.
Game 3: 7:30 p.m. Mon. at United Center, CSN.
Game 4: 8:30 p.m. Wed. at United Center, CSN.
Game 5: 7 p.m. Friday at St. Louis*, CSN.
Game 6: 2 p.m. April 27 at United Center*, Ch. 5.
Game 7: TBD April 29 at St. Louis*, CSN.
Best of seven; *-if necessary
Updated: May 20, 2014 6:13AM
ST. LOUIS — The post-whistle skirmishes grew larger and more vicious. The hits were harder and more dangerous. The conversations between captains Jonathan Toews and David Backes and referee Brad Meier grew longer and more animated.
Gradually, the game was unraveling. Suddenly, the Blackhawks’ season might be, too.
The St. Louis Blues took a 2-0 series lead with Saturday’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Hawks. For the second straight game, the Blues scored a last-gasp equalizer — this time, Vladimir Tarasenko’s power-play goal with 6.4 seconds left in regulation. For the second straight game, the Blues won it in overtime — this time, Barret Jackman’s shot squeezing through Corey Crawford’s pads at 5:50 of the extra session. And for the second straight game, the Hawks found themselves straining to focus on the positives, and keep their ever-defiant, ever-confident mindset.
In the wake of another gut-punch in St. Louis, Duncan Keith was asked if it was a heartbreaker.
“My heart’s still kicking,” Keith said. “It’s not broken, that’s for sure.”
Heartbroken? No. Frustrated? Disappointed? Maybe a little bit angry? No question.
How about concerned?
The Hawks now need to win four of the next five games to advance to the second round. They need to do it with a disjointed power play that has come up empty nine straight times, with just seven shots on goal. They need to do it against a physical team that appears to be in their heads a bit, goading them into uncharacteristic post-whistle skirmishes and foolish penalties.
And they likely need to do it without Brent Seabrook, who’s staring down a suspension after he left Backes dazed and weak-kneed with a devastating head shot late in the third period.
“It’s hard to think about what could have been these last two games,” Toews said. “But what are you going to do? We’ve got a great opportunity to go home and turn this thing around in our own building, and take that momentum and find a way to not let it go.”
Hanging on to things — like leads, and composure — has been a problem through two games for the Hawks. Seabrook’s hit and the fallout from it — Backes was “not good” after the game, according to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, and certainly could miss extended time — dominated the postgame, and obviously the five-minute charging major Seabrook was assessed contributed to the tying goal. But the big picture is that the Hawks had both games in their grasp, and let them both slip away.
“It’s frustrating right now,” Keith said. “We had the game. It’s two games now where we just need to find a way, but it’s not there.”
That the Hawks even had the lead was remarkable, given how poorly they started.
The Hawks power play was a disaster, slowly paced and sloppy, simply rimming the puck around the end boards to a lone forward who routinely got outworked for the puck by one or two Blues defenders. On one, Keith and Patrick Sharp ran into each other on the blue line, leading to a Steve Ott breakaway (which Crawford stopped). It was one of three times in the first two periods that two Hawks collided.
Meanwhile, the Blues took a 2-0 lead through one on goals by Chris Porter and Kevin Shattenkirk, the latter coming with two seconds left in the first period.
The second period started even worse for the Hawks, who didn’t put a shot on net for the first nine minutes. Meanwhile, they were coming unglued — taking three straight penalties (their penalty kill and Crawford were the only reasons they were still in the game) and getting drawn into post-whistle extra-curriculars at nearly every stoppage. At one point, Crawford shoved Ryan Reaves, which led to Kris Versteeg taking out Derek Roy and earning a roughing minor. That’s what the Blues can do.
But thanks to the PK and two Blues shots that drew iron, the Hawks were still within striking distance when Keith beat Ryan Miller from the point through an Andrew Shaw screen with 2:35 left in the second period. The goal ended a scoring drought of more than 118 minutes, and seemed to snap the Hawks back to life. Seabrook scored at 4:53 of the third to tie it. Then, less than two minutes later, Michal Rozsival’s knuckler from the point hit Backes and beat Miller for a 3-2 lead.
The Hawks needed to protect (or extend) that lead for 13 minutes and 22 seconds. They made it 13 minutes and 6 seconds before Tarasenko ripped a shot that beat Crawford at the near post.
The Hawks had killed 4:45 of the major penalty — with Miller pulled for an extra attacker the final 100 seconds — when Tarasenko scored.
“Brutal,” said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville. “Did a great job killing — outstanding job. And you’re right there, six seconds away. The other game was tough, it was tough losing with a buck and change [left]. But tonight was brutal.”
The Hawks have been down before. Just last year, they overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Red Wings in the second round en route to the Stanley Cup. The situation right now isn’t quite as dire — but it’s getting close. Game 3 is Monday night at the United Center. And it’s now a must-win.
“We’re a resilient group,” said Seabrook, who very well might not play another game this season if the Hawks don’t rally to win the series. “It’s been a close series, and I think anything can happen. It’s still up for grabs.”