ST. LOUIS – It really shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, right?
The Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues played close hockey games all regular season. Plus going to overtime in Game 1 seems to be a Blackhawks habit – this marked the fifth consecutive season their first game needed extra time.
But just like two years ago in their Game 1 matchup here, the Blackhawks came up short.
David Backes scored the deciding goal 9:04 into overtime and Brian Elliott stopped all 35 shots he saw as the St. Louis Blues beat the Blackhawks 1-0 in Game 1 of their first-round series on Wednesday night.
Corey Crawford stopped 17 of 18 shots in just his second game back from an upper-body injury. Backes’ shot, from an angle, hit off Trevor van Riemsdyk’s right skate and past Crawford.
“Yeah, obviously not what you want there. Tough break,” van Riemsdyk said afterward. “But we just have to come back ready for the next game.”
It was a tough ending for the Blackhawks but not a debilitating one. They didn’t allow much – the Blues had just 18 shots in the game, including 16 through regulation. Their defense, minus Duncan Keith for the final game of his six-game suspension, played well overall.
“Well there are a lot of positives. I thought we did some good things, certainly had some good looks in the third period, some quality rush chances,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a tight game. But we played exactly the right way and what we’re looking to and didn’t take advantage of the chances we had.”
Yes, some of those chances were on 5-on-5 and others were on the power play. You could’ve looked at both teams’ power plays in two ways: either the power plays failed or the penalty kills were great. It was likely a mix. Quenneville was OK with most of the power plays but didn’t like the last one, when Blues defenseman Colton Parayko sent the puck into the stands just seven seconds into overtime. The Blackhawks barely broke into the Blues’ zone and created nothing.
“I mean I think we saw some pretty good penalty killing by bot teams. Give them credit. But we can move the puck quicker, take our shots and take our chances when we have them and try to generate off the second efforts. That’s how we’ll score goals in the series,” Jonathan Toews said. “When the pucks were lying around we didn’t find them. It’s about settling down and calming down on that power play and just playing with more composure and with our heads up. When we start making those plays things will start happening more.”
The Blackhawks liked a lot of what they did on Wednesday: except the ending. They realize they had ample opportunities to turn that finish to their favor. They wanted to try and sweep the Blues on the road these first two games. Now that opportunity is lost, they’ll go for the split. And to do that, they’ll need the finish in Game 2 that they didn’t have in Game 1.
“There’s not a big difference playing St. Louis (in Round 1) and playing Tampa in the finals. It’s so even nowadays — all eight playoff teams are so close to each other. It’s like a Stanley Cup Final right away,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “St. Louis is one of the best teams in the league. We’re up for a big task here.”