Blues beating Blackhawks at their own game

Blues beating Blackhawks at their own game

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."

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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.”

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut


Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!