After a tough 3-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 2 on Friday, the St. Louis Blues find themselves at an important crossroads.
While past Blues teams may have lost their focus a bit following two critical officiating rulings that went against them on Friday, captain David Backes said he thinks this club is constructed a bit differently.
“We were an inch or two inches or a half-millisecond away from a couple calls there and we’re on the top side of this,” Backes said as the series heads back to Chicago for Game 3 at 2 p.m. Sunday knotted up at one game apiece. “It’s a tied series going into their building in a tight-checking, hard-fought, heavy-hitting type of matchup. This is going to be a fun next five games to see who’s going to come out of this series.”
Despite each video review clip from Game 2 analyzed frame by frame by Blues fans like the Zapruder film from the John F. Kennedy assassination, the bottom line is there is no going back.
The offsides call on Jori Lehtera that negated a goal by Vladimir Tarasenko and the goal by Chicago’s Andrew Shaw that some felt may have been the result of goaltender interference are now ancient history.
It’s a tied series going into their building in a tight-checking, hard-fought, heavy-hitting type of matchup. This is going to be a fun next five games to see who’s going to come out of this series.
Blues captain David Backes
Still subject for much discussion to be sure, especially regarding the vague nature of the NHL’s offsides rule and the length of time it took for the video reviews, but the series moves on.
It still takes three wins to get it done, by either team.
“If we expect to beat Chicago we’re going to have to fight through more than just Chicago,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They’re a hell of a hockey club. They’ve got a lot of information on how to win. If we expect to beat them we’re going to have to be better in a lot of elements and know we’re going to get calls that aren’t going to go our way.
“The approach is one thing but we need the mind-set we’re going to go deep. We played a very good game and we lost. And the calls didn’t go our way, the calls at the end of the game, the penalties that should have been that ended up being our penalty, we’re going to have fight through that stuff.”
The Blues find themselves at a pivotal juncture at an important time in franchise history, especially given three straight years of first-round playoff exits.
On the positive side, they have stood toe-to-to with the defending Stanley Cup champs and arguably could have won both games. Conversely, they got a fluky goal off a defenseman’s skate to win Game 1 in overtime and continue to have trouble scoring goals in the playoffs.
In their past 20 playoff games, the Blues have been held to one goal or fewer eight times and have gone 13 games with two goals or fewer. Seven of the games have gone to overtime and the Blues have been shut out three times.
Don’t blame Vladimir Tarasenko, who has 11 goals in 15 career playoff games. He would have had his 16th Friday if not for the controversial offsides ruling that took what would have been his second goal of the night away.
We played a very good game and we lost. And the calls didn’t go our way, the calls at the end of the game, the penalties that should have been that ended up being our penalty, we’re going to have fight through that stuff.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock
The Blues need to create more traffic in front of Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, need to generate more high-quality scoring chances and find a way to cash in some power plays. They are 0-for-5 with the man advantage in the series and were 2-for-29 against the Blackhawks during the 2014 playoffs loss.
“We did play a better game (Friday), but in saying that we’re going to have to go into the blue area harder, we’re going to have to go into Crawford harder, we’re going to have to do a lot of things harder to find second and third opportunities,” Hitchcock said. “There’s a lot of things we can get better at.
“We’re not going to go into Chicago and score one goal and expect to win a hockey game. We’ve got to score more. We’re going to have dig as deep as any of these guys and as deep as any coaches have ever have dug, to beat this team. We’re not playing just a playoff team, we’re playing a champion - and that’s the way it is.”
Not to be overlooked with all the third-period controversy was the sequence that led to an emotion-lifting goal scored by the Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith with 4.4 seconds remaining in the second period.
Lehtera lost a faceoff to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane tipped the puck back to Keith at the point, whose shot through traffic in front eluded Blues goaltender Brian Elliott.
The reason there was a faceoff deep in the Blues zone was an ill-advised clearing attempt by Backes that led to an icing call.
“We made a mistake on the icing, we tried to long-pass it out,” Hitchcock said. “We had three centers out there, lost the draw, we didn’t get in the shot lane. Goal. They gave us a push in the second and we weathered it and then we really came on, had about four great shifts there. I thought we made a couple mistakes and it ended up in our net.”
Upon further review
NHL.com hockey writer Amalie Benjamin spoke with NHL senior director of hockey operations Kay Whitmore following Friday’s game regarding the video reviews and coach’s challenges.
Whitmore felt the fact there are television cameras along the blue lines during the playoffs allowed the video review staff to catch what he felt was an offsides call on Lehtera.
A regular-season telecast likely would have not turned up enough evidence either way to overturn the goal that occurred following Lehtera entering the offensive zone. Especially since the puck seemed to be hidden behind him as he entered the zone.
“The blue-line cameras situated right on the blue line gives you a true sight line of what’s actually happening,” Whitmore told Benjamin. “Without those cameras, this would have been a tough call to make. You could probably say that the skate might have been in, but if there’s any doubt on the ice, then the original call has to stand.”
How close was it?
“To be honest, this was one of the closest ones we’ve had,” Whitmore told NHL.com. “You’re looking at a puck not just when it enters the zone. You’re actually looking at when the skate comes off the ice and if it stays on the ice when the puck enters the zone.
“So there was two different things. It wasn’t just — we always have ones where the skate’s in the air, and that’s difficult enough — but this was one, where’s the puck? And the puck is coming just at the split second, so the two things were going hand in hand, and you try to look at reverse angles — some were a little bit clearer than others — and you try to make sure that you can determine that the skate was in the air, and the linesmen both determined that that was the right call.”
As a result, Tarasenko’s potential go-ahead goal with 6:12 remaining was wiped out. It also created a healthy dose of momentum for a Blackhawks team that could have been down 2-0 in the series.
“Absolutely,” Toews said. “It feels good (when that happens). At the same time, you can get complacent, you can get relaxed. It’s easy for them to use their anger and emotion the right way, too, and come back flying. We didn’t get comfortable for one second. We obviously responded the right way.”
On Shaw’s goal with 4:19 remaining, the veteran forward appeared to make contact with Elliott’s pad and push him back from the goal line. After a video review, and a coach’s challenge by Hitchcock, the goal stood.
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks
First-round playoff series
Wednesday, April 13
Blues 1, Blackhawks 0, OT
Friday, April 15
Blackhawks 3, Blues 2 (series tied 1-1)
Sunday, April 17
Game 3: St. Louis at Chicago, 2 p.m. (TV: KSDK Channel 5)
Tuesday, April 19
Game 4: St. Louis at Chicago, 8:30 p.m. (TV: Fox Sports Midwest; NBCSN)
Thursday, April 21
Game 5: Chicago at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m. (TV: Fox Sports Midwest; NBCSN)
Saturday, April 23
Game 6 (if necessary): St. Louis at Chicago, TBA
Monday, April 25
Game 7 (if necessary): Chicago at St. Louis, TBA