Blues' season will be defined by Game 7: 'It's our turn to answer'

Blues' season will be defined by Game 7: 'It's our turn to answer'

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said before Game 6 that he doesn't care when or where they beat the Blackhawks in the first round. He just wants it to happen, period.

Kevin Shattenkirk agreed but obviously preferred to end it in Chicago because there's no point in giving the defending Stanley Cup champions another day to fight.

Well, they did, and now the series is headed back to St. Louis for a Game 7 on Monday night in perhaps the most important game in St. Louis' franchise history to date.

"It's important that you take the positives out of this and you realize what went wrong and you fix it, and you focus on the task ahead," Scottie Upshall said following Saturday night's 6-3 loss to the Blackhawks. "It's a big game Monday. We're excited. It's going to be a big game for our organization, for our team, we're all going to step up."

The Blackhawks got on the scoreboard first Saturday thanks to an Andrew Ladd goal, his first of the playoffs. But it was a short-lived lead, as the Blues responded right back like they have all series long.

Upshall scored less than three minutes later, which opened the flood gates for the Blues. Alex Pietrangelo — his first of the series — and Vladimir Tarasenko — his fourth of the postseason — each found the back of the net, capping off a three-goal unanswered spurt in a span of 4:42.

The surge had a sellout United Center crowd of 22,260 thinking they'd be packing it in early for the summer, something Chicago isn't used to.

But that thought didn't last too long.

Artem Anisimov scored his third goal of the postseason on the power play to cut the Blackhawks' deficit to 3-2, and they didn't look back. 

Trevor van Riemsdyk and Dale Weise each netted their first goals of the playoffs to put the Blackhawks back on top, and it was enough to take the wind out of the Blues' sails.

"There's a reason they've won a lot of hockey games and championships," Hitchcock said. "They raised their level a little bit in the second period. They were desperate, we didn't match it. They got that advantage, that fourth goal that got the lead, and they were able to keep us pretty much on the outside in the third period.

"That's what you've got to fight through if you're going to win, you've got to fight through that stuff."

The entire television timeout that followed the game-tying goal evoked a standing ovation, pumping energy back into the building and, most importantly, the Blackhawks.

"I think it was the loudest I've ever heard the United Center," said Andrew Shaw, who returned from his one-game suspension by potting a third-period goal. "We built off that and came out and had a few more goals."

Shaw's power-play goal with 3:07 remaining in regulation put the game out of reach, and Marian Hossa's empty-netter sealed the deal, putting the Blues in a backs-against-the-wall situation the Blackhawks have already been in for the last two games.

"They played great, but we were hesitant in our game," Upshall said. "We just didn't do the simple things, and they jumped on us. They had a great second. They played desperate, they did what they had to do and now we're in a spot where we got home ice Game 7 to determine our season."

The Blues' season will be defined by how they respond in Game 7.

They've been eliminated in the first round in three straight postseasons, and a fourth straight first-round exit would be enough to justify a drastic change in the offseason. A series win would indicate a break-through mentally and push the ball closer to a Stanley Cup.

This is their best shot to make it happen, and it's all up to the Blues to prevent history from repeating itself.

"They raised the bar for a period. OK? So now it's our turn to answer," Hitchcock said. "We've worked hard all year to get to this, and we've got an opportunity in front of us. I really want to see us take advantage of it, but we're going to need people to play better. We need our whole team to play better. If we do that, then I like our chances."

And what better way to do it than in front of their own fans?

"We worked 82 games this year to get that home ice," Pietrangelo said. "If there’s a time to use it it’s right now."

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks


Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade


Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

COLUMBUS — The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets blockbuster trade from the 2017 offseason is always a hot topic in Chicago when things aren't going great. It especially is when the two teams square off against each other, like Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the first time this season.

If it wasn't already apparent in Chicago, Artemi Panarin has emerged as a real NHL superstar and is set for a giant payday when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He set a Blue Jackets record with 82 points in a single season and has nine points (three goals, six assists) through six games this season.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, had a challenging first year back with the Blackhawks in 2017-18 after netting only 35 points in 82 games and is off to a slow start this year as well with zero goals and two assists through six games. After a demotion to the fourth line, he was close to being a healthy scratch on Thursday, which only magnifies where things are at as the two get ready to clash.

But Saad was never going to be able to replace Panarin's offensive production. Everybody knows that. Yet, the offensive comparisons will always be there as a barometer and that's something Saad doesn't think about, no matter how much fans talk about it.

"I don't think I do it," he said. "We're different players. He's a great player. Fans are going to do whatever comparisons they want, but at the end of the day you've got to be true to yourself and do what you bring to the table. He's a great player around the league. You can see his highlights and his goals, he's definitely a special player. But at the end of the day I've got confidence in my abilities too. We both bring different attributes, but they're going to make comparisons regardless."

A big reason why the Blackhawks reacquired Saad, other than his ability to play a 200-foot game, is because he carries a $6 million cap hit through 2020-21, which is two years more than Panarin at the same cap hit. (It's also important to note that the Blackhawks hoped they were getting a reliable, young backup goaltender in Anton Forsberg, but the injury to Corey Crawford thrust him into a role he wasn't exactly prepared for.)

It's not all rainbows for Columbus right now regarding where things stand with Panarin, who has made it clear he's not ready to sign a long-term extension. All signs point to the 26-year-old winger hitting the market, putting the Blue Jackets in a tricky situation ahead of the trade deadline. The Blackhawks very well could have found themselves in this position, too, had a deal not been made.

Both sides are dealing with their own challenges of the trade. Saad is still a key piece to the Blackhawks' puzzle and they're hoping to get more out of him, for no other reason than the team's overall success.

"You want to have success regardless of who you're playing for, who you're traded for, things like that," Saad said. "Naturally, just as competitors, you want to bring that excitement and you want to have success with the team and personally."