ST. LOUIS – Two years ago when the Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues met in the first round of the postseason, their respective roles were defined.
The Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions entering that series too, were the unruffled ones. They were the ones shrugging off deficits. They were the ones keeping their cool.
Fast forward two years later and the roles seem to be reversing. The Blues, once skittish, have become stalwart while the Blackhawks are showing signs of frustration and, considering all their line changes onTuesday, some desperation.
So have the roles reversed so much that the Blues finally get over the hump and eliminate the Blackhawks? If the current trend continues, the defending champs could be finished playing hockey in April for the first time since 2012.
In the past the Blackhawks have played some great hockey when their backs were against the wall. They’ll find out if they still do on Thursday night, when the Blues host them in Game 5 of their first-round series. But again, things just seem different this postseason. In this series the Blackhawks lost Games 3 and 4 at the United Center – they only lost two home games through four rounds last spring.
Usually the masters of the comebacks, the Blackhawks have watched the Blues beat them at their own game in the last two contests. Their frustration showed several times in Game 4. While they took the lead on an inexplicably earned power play in the second, their penalty kill failed them twice more.
“You look at the first three games, we played pretty well. There were stretches [Tuesday] night where we weren’t as good as other games,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “At the end of the night we still had more chances but we had some areas we can be better in. Some other areas we found a way to get to the net, we got rewarded."
These are not the Blues of two years ago. They’re no longer just trying to beat the Blackhawks with hits, which never works on its own.They’re now beating them with hits, and their power play and more forward depth and, to single out one guy, Vladimir Tarasenko.
These also aren’t the Blackhawks of two years ago, or even of last year. Can they come back from a 3-1 deficit? Considering their recent track record, you don’t rule anything out. But these Blues seem to have taken a page out of the Blackhawks’ playbook, and getting it back is going to be that much tougher.
“We've just got to look back to what's made us a successful team over the last number of years,” Jonathan Toews said. “There [are] some details that are present, and there are some that haven't been in these games that we have lost.
"Part of that is things that happen after the whistle; stuff that we've always done a good job of just staying away from and keeping it between the whistle, and just focusing our energy and our emotion in to the play that we bring on the ice. That's what we're going to need tomorrow night.”