As far as Mondays go in Chicago, this one is pretty darn good. Yesterday, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks decisively beat the St. Louis Blues to win their first round playoffs series 4-2, and move four games closer to raising Lord Stanley’s Cup for the second straight year.
No doubt adjectives like “nail-biting” and “heartbreaking” will be used quite a bit when this playoff series is chronicled in the storied rivalry between the Blues and the Blackhawks. The Blues were certainly a tough team for the Blackhawks to beat four times, and the Hawks’ advancement to the next round is certainly cause for elation in Chi-town, but until the Hawks win a playoff series that results in raising the Stanley Cup, we still need to be critical and look and pluses and minuses of each post season victory.
Here are the pros and cons of the Blackhawks 4-2 series win over the Blues
Con – Lack of Discipline
This has been brought up by multiple talking heads in multiple NHL circles, but the amount time the Blackhawks spent in the penalty box this playoff series was atrocious. In their series against the Blues, the Blackhawks spent a total of 85 minutes on the penalty kill, which puts them at the fifth most amongst all post-season teams thus far in the playoffs. Had this series gone the other way, the amount of needless penalties racked up by the Hawks certainly would have been cited as the biggest contributing factor. Yes, the Blues are a physical team, and it’s great that the Hawks pushed back, but in the playoffs ill-advised penalties are mental lapses that can sink a team fast.
Pro – Corey Crawford
Ever since he took over the starting goal tending role, I’ve always subscribed to the argument that Corey Crawford is only as good as the Blackhawks make him, and if he were donning another team’s jersey between the pipes he certainly wouldn’t be turning many heads. This past series against the Blues however, he’s definitely given me reasons to shut up. Crow started this series by letting up a last minute and last second goal and two OT goals in the first two games that cost the Hawks wins. Like a true champion however, Crawford took full responsibility for his failings and immediately atoned for his short comings by shutting out the Blues in Game 3. From then on out Crawford was consistently solid, finishing the series with a .935 save percentage. That aside, this series against the Blues showed us a Corey Crawford that seems to be coming into his own as a goalie. Crow’s display of crease acrobatics is showing us a Crawford that has a confidence and comfort in the playoffs that we didn’t see last year. If Crawford is trying to prove to everyone last year’s Stanley Cup win wasn’t a fluke for him as a goalkeeper, he’s on the right track.
Con – Kris Versteeg
When Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup champion Kris Versteeg was brought back to the team this season, many Hawks fans hailed the return of an alumnus that helped make Blackhawks history. However, once the nostalgia wore off, Steeger began to emerge as a non-existent forward, and unfortunately this has carried over into the post-season. I’m sure when he was brought back to Chi-Town, it was with the intention that Versteeg would once again be lower line anchor, like he had been in 2010. However, this season, and more importantly this post season, Steeger has become more of a liability than an asset, which culminated into him watching Game 6 from the press box. While Versteeg had 2 points in this series (Patrick Sharp only had 1- FYI), Steeger’s habit of trying some Patrick Kane-estque shake and bake in the corners or in front of the net when he has the puck all too often resulted in a turnover, bad pass, or weak shot. Versteeg needs to find his role and start playing it to a T otherwise I doubt we’ll see him much more in the second round.
Pro – The Defensemen
The Blackhawks defensemen were a force to be reckoned with this series. Not only did they prevent the Blues’ top tier offense from gaining any kind of momentum or mojo, but they played a pivotal role on offense, and the numbers show it. Duncan Keith finished this series leading the team with 7 points, with Brent Seabrook placing third with 6 points, and Johnny Odyua and Michal Rozival both notched 3 points as well. Furthermore is his substitution role for the suspended Seabrook, Sheldon Brookbank tallied two assists in the three games he played. Suffice it to say the D picked up when the O was lacking for the Hawks, and that made the difference in the series.
Con – Physical Series
The St. Louis Blues have a reputation of being a physical team, and they delivered on it this series (248 hits – third highest in the post season). The Blackhawks knew going into this playoff series the Blues were going to throw their weight around. Obviously the Hawks fought back and let their superior skill do the rest of the talking. The downside of a black and blue series right off the bat in the post season is that it can take a lot out of a team, and one has to worry a bit about the lingering after effects from the battering the Hawks endured physically against the Blues. History however, gives us a bit of encouragement. In 2010, also an Olympic year, the Blackhawks played a physical first round playoff series against the Nashville Predators and went on to win the Stanley Cup. That was four years ago however, which can be a lot is hockey years. The Blackhawks have repeatedly surprised us with their resilience however, so here’s hoping the Hawks have the same kind of fuel in their tank they had in 2010.
Pro – A Decisive Series
Winning a playoff series is a great accomplishment, but how you win the series can also be important. With the Blues and Blackhawks being so equally matched on paper, this series could have easily been a see-saw affair, with each team going tit-for-tat in the win/loss column through a full seven games (as many analysts predicted). This would have been extremely emotionally and mentally taxing for the Blackhawks, and would have left their ability to win somewhat dubious in the second round. However, once the Blackhawks go their playoff legs under them, they hit the ground running. Stringing together four straight wins in the regular season is hard enough and it can be darn near impossible in the playoffs. Yet the Blackhawks were able to tally two key comeback wins at home and the all-important third W on hostile St. Louis ice (I know, I was there) to gain the lead in the series. To prove once and for all they were better than the Blues, the Blackhawks blew the doors off in their fourth consecutive victory of the series with a 5-1 blowout on their home ice. The Hawks not only won the series, but gained some potent momentum in the process, making their prospects in the second round a lot more promising.
The good, the bad, and the ugly of this playoff series all take a back however to the ultimate outcome, which is what really matters at the end of the day. Our beloved Chicago Blackhawks are a step closer to reaching the Promised Land that is the Stanley Cup Finals after a great start to the post season, and I can’t wait for the next round.
FOR THE DAGGER!