In the last two games, the Blackhawks have taken four minor penalties. Two of those were a delay of game penalty on Rundblad and a too many men on the ice penalty, with both of those coming in Game 5. The other two were an Anisimov trip Thursday and a TVR hold Saturday.
This is a fantastic change of pace for the Blackhawks, who were being very Blues-y in the first four games. The discipline was totally lacking, and it culminated in the Game 4 Shaw situation I discussed above. The Blackhawks committed four minor penalties in Game 1, three in Game 2, four in Game 3 — including Kane’s horrid high-sticking double-minor — and nine (!) in Game 4. Add six game misconducts to the end of Game 4, and you make the argument the Blues were in the Blackhawks’ heads.
But someone must’ve spoken up in the locker room after Game 4 or ahead of Game 5, because the Blackhawks have been much more under control, not giving the Blues’ potent powerplay group many chances to dent a beleaguered Chicago penalty kill. More of this in Game 7, please.
In my breakdown of the Blackhawks’ potential first round opponents a few weeks back, I noted Dallas had an edge over St. Louis in coaching despite Blues coach Hitchcock having won a Stanley Cup and Stars leader Lindy Ruff currently Cup-less. Well, there’s a reason I felt that way, and we’ve seen it the last two games.
This line of thought sits in two points: Ice time distribution among the St. Louis forwards, and strategy in Game 6. We’ll hit the latter point first, because the former is just insane. With the Blues coming out last night like they were at risk of relocation, they tallied three goals while the Blackhawks got their chances but mostly couldn’t convert.
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So what did the Blues do to follow up on this obvious advantage? Nothing at all. They mustered just six second-period shots while permitting 19 Blackhawks bids. And while they had a third-period push, it wasn’t nearly as strong as previous efforts, despite the 11 shots tallied. It almost looked like the Blues thought the Blackhawks would just roll over, as the Blackhawks may have thought of the Blues in previous games. And while the Blackhawks played probably their best period of the playoffs in last night’s middle frame, the Blues gave them a hand by backing off. That was certainly at Hitchcock’s ordering.
Now, the time on ice issue.
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This is gaining traction because of this embarrassing (for St. Louis)
. That came at the end of last night’s second period, after Tarasenko got a whopping eight seconds of action on what would be the Blues’ lone powerplay. And while beefing in public is never a good look, Tarasenko is right to be mad about his ice time, if that’s indeed what he’s upset with.
In Game 5, which went to a fifth period, Tarasenko managed just 21:28 of ice time. His linemates Schwartz and Jori Lehtera were around the same. What about some of the other forwards? Robby Fabbri netted 22:38, David Backes notched 22:30, Alex Steen hit 29:31, Troy Brouwer had 30:11 and Paul Stastny hit 31:17.
This is absolutely insane. How can a coach honestly value the on-ice presence of guys like Backes, Brouwer and Stastny more than Tarasenko? The guy has done nothing but light up the Blackhawks defense and goaltending. He has four goals and six points. Schwartz has three goals and six points. But Hitchcock declines to play them more than less-effective offensive players. The Blackhawks will certainly take that.
Six of the Blackhawks’ 10 goals over the last two games came in the middle period. This isn’t necessarily a coincidence or fluky fact. The Blues have made no secret of their playing style through this series, which has mostly been high-pressure on both ends of the ice.
That’s why the Blackhawks’ found second-period success in Game 5. On the long change, it’s more difficult to play a style like that and not give up some chances the other way, or at least get tired from constantly being aggressive and then getting off on the opposite side of the ice.
That’s not exactly what happened in Game 6, though. As I mentioned above, the Blues backed off in the second period after their go-go-go style netted them three first-period tallies. Were they afraid of tiring again? Did they think they could play defensively for 40 minutes and stop the Blackhawks? That “knowledge” rests in Hitchcock’s mind, but the Blackhawks certainly benefited.