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Chicago Blackhawks Top St. Louis Blues, Force Game 7

By Colin Likas
Apr 23, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw (65) celebrates scoring a goal during the third period in game six of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the St. Louis Blues at the United Center. Chicago won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 23, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw (65) celebrates scoring a goal during the third period in game six of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the St. Louis Blues at the United Center. Chicago won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /
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Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues Will Play A Game 7

Saturday’s game was probably one of the more fascinating events the Chicago Blackhawks have been involved in for some time. And that’s coming on the heels of five one-goal finishes between the Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues earlier in this Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series. What could top that?

How about a 6-3 Blackhawks win in Game 6, extending this series to seven games, after falling behind 3-1 11 minutes into the game? Yeah, that’s something else.

This game started off as a wild-paced affair in which both teams tried to offensively overwhelm one another. The Blackhawks were highly aggressive in their offensive zone, while the Blues continued applying an early-game formula that had garnered them consistent scoring chances, though at the risk of wearing down as any given game went on.

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After the Blues got sloppy in their own zone and gave Andrew Ladd a chance below the circles, one on which he converted less than four minutes in by beating Brian Elliott glove side, things went off the rails. The Blues tallied three times in a less-than-five-minute span after Ladd’s marker, silencing a very good United Center crowd. And St. Louis would take that advantage into the locker room.

But then … something happened. And I’ll discuss it more down low, but the big story was the Blackhawks being able to turn things around in the second period for the second straight game, striking three times on an absurd 19 shots. They actually fought fire with fire in the third period as St. Louis pushed, netting two more goals while the Blues were left wondering what hit them.

We’re going back to St. Louis, folks. How’d that happen?

— Yup, Space Jam. Great movie. Well … it’s not actually a good *movie*, but I grew up with it, so shut up.

Anyway, why did I leave this Space Jam clip here? Well, I’m pretty sure this is what happened in the Blackhawks’ locker room after the first period Saturday. While offensive aggressiveness was certainly a deciding factor in Scottie Upshall tying the game for the Blues early on, the Blackhawks defense pretty much fell off a cliff after that. The Blues’ zone entries became as easy as we’ve seen, and they just cycled the puck around the zone — even finding time to make line changes while controlling possession — and did as they pleased. It led to some embarrassingly easy chances, two of which the Blues converted.

And then the Blackhawks defense came out of the locker room and actually started doing things. They started breaking up plays and not giving the Blues 90 feet of space, and the offense was able to capitalize. No, things weren’t perfect, but this was a nice step up. (Also, Duncan Keith is Michael Jordan in the above video, and Brent Seabrook is Newman from Seinfeld).

— There are two things I really can’t stand that the Blackhawks do quite a bit: They rely an intense amount on stretch passing, and their defensemen pinch to such an extent they’ll get lost in the offensive zone.

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These two things came together to create the tying goal tonight, but they were done well.

Niklas Hjalmarsson

tossed a perfect pass from behind

Corey Crawford

to

Richard Panik

at the Blues’ blue line. Panik did a good job maintaining possession while waiting for

Jonathan Toews

and …

Trevor van Riemsdyk

.

Now, van Riemsdyk loves to pinch in on plays, but he often does it at inopportune times. This was not one of those. He burned Troy Brouwer, who is quickly becoming a massive defensive goat among Blues forwards, and finished a really pretty play from Panik to Toews, and then from Toews to TVR. If you’re going to do something dangerous, do it right.

— If Crow wouldn’t have come out for the third period … I have no idea what that would’ve meant. When he took a shot straight to the chest late in the second period and crumpled to the ice, a major part of the Blackhawks still playing was possibly injured. Thankfully, Crow checked out fine and finished the game.

After a slow start that wasn’t helped whatsoever by the defense in front of him, Crow buckled in and stopped everything that came his way. That was especially critical in the first period (after the third goal) and the third period, when the Blues were going bombs away.

— Ken Hitchcock. Hoooooo boy, Ken Hitchcock. How do you justify playing Vladimir Tarasenko less than 17 minutes in that game? And eight seconds on the Blues’ lone powerplay? Those are insane statistics, and the Blackhawks should hope Hitchcock doesn’t see the error of his ways Monday. He can play matchups just fine at Scottrade Center, but if he’s still going to roll Tarasenko less than Paul Stastny, David Backes and Alex Steen, it’s advantage Blackhawks.

chicago blackhawks
Apr 23, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (57) is congratulated for scoring a goal during the second period in game six of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the St. Louis Blues at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

— The Blackhawks have scored six goals in their last two second periods. I think this has something to do with the Blues’ super-aggressive physical style causing some weardown with the long change. The Blackhawks seem to have that second wind, while the Blues are kind of skating in place until they can perform their inevitable third-period push.

— Is Elliott broke now? Putting up five goals on him certainly doesn’t hurt the effort to make it so.

— That Dale Weise shot from almost even with the goal line was a sick little snipe. Look, everyone, it’s 2016 Antoine Vermette!

Andrew Shaw certainly had to feel great after his icing-on-the-cake goal late in the third period. The UC certainly got behind him, although I imagine there’s a fair number among that group who weren’t just cheering the scoring effort.

That powerplay was also a fantastic use of man-advantage time by the Blackhawks, although it looked like the Blues had pretty much given up once Jay Bouwmeester went to the box for hooking Panik with less than five minutes to go.

Next: Andrew Shaw On Top Line Makes Sense

— Speaking of Panik … wow. He was the forward of the night for the Blackhawks, for my money. Even though he ended up slightly negative (minus-1) in Corsi-for, he posted four shots, six hits and two blocks. He had the secondary assist on van Riemsdyk’s goal, drew a penalty on a breakaway late in the third period and was just generally everywhere. He was re-promoted to the first line mid-game, and it’s easy to see why. Joel Quenneville has gone from scratching Panik to trusting him a good deal. Keep doing that, please.

— The Blackhawks are 2-0 in this series with David Rundblad in the lineup.

— A deciding Game 7 will be held Monday at 7:30 p.m. In years past, I would expect the Blues to roll over. But this Blues team seems to have something a little beyond its predecessors. Tonight, St. Louis was actively in this game until Bouwmeester’s late hooking penalty, and the Blues didn’t start going rogue until after Marian Hossa‘s empty netter. They’ll be coming full bore again Monday.

For the Blackhawks, it’s all about surviving that onslaught and pushing back. They need to find a balance between pushing back and giving the Blues ample 2-on-1s, as they did tonight (16 giveaways in a 6-3 win is kind of amazing, in a bad way), and if they can do that, they’re probably in good shape. Should be an entertaining game.

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