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Good read from Bernie of the Post-Dispatch:
Many thoughts about the brouhaha after Game 2, and a look-ahead to Game 3 of this increasingly poisonous Blues vs. Blackhawks series ...
As the Blackhawks continue to traffic in absurd comments, it's really important for the Blues to maintain their cool going into Game 3. The Blues lead this best-of-seven series two games to nothing. If the Blues can win one of the next two games at United Center, they can bring a 3-1 series lead back to Scottrade Center for Friday's Game 5.
The Blues have gained an edge in this series by maintaining their plan to barrage the Blackhawks with hard but mostly clean hits. I say “mostly” because the Blues aren't saints; they've certainly taken their runs.
But this is a matter of proportionality. A borderline cheap-shot run doesn't come close to being as reckless and irresponsible as attacking a player's head or knees. And the Blackhawks have openly engaged in such filth. If the Blues start doing the same stuff, they'll lower themselves. And they'll be blasted in this space.
The Blues still have a lot to prove. Their nucleus handled adversity poorly in last year's playoff ejection by the Los Angeles Kings, and these players are working for a franchise that's never won a Stanley Cup -- or even reached a Cup final since 1970. These guys have no room to talk. And they surely have no reason to believe they're home free in this first-round series. But the Blues can continue building on their 2-0 lead.
Somewhere along the line, the Blackhawks inexplicably decided that getting hit by Blues forecheckers is against the rules and can't be tolerated. Yes, even though Chicago knew the series would be physical. Yes, even though Chicago knew the Blues' entire system is based on strong puck possession, which mandates a heavy forecheck that leads to turnovers and extended possession time in the offensive zone. This is Hockey 101, but for some reason the defending champions are offended by it.
The Blues have outhit the Blackhawks 68 to 45 in the first two games, and that's a prime factor in St. Louis having a 2.67 takeaway-giveaway ratio compared to Chicago's 1.08.
The physical play is a primary factor in the Blues having the puck enough to take 166 shots in the first two games compared to the 'Hawks' 137 shots. (This count accounts for all shots: the shots on goal, the shots that are saved, the shots that miss the net, the shots that are blocked before reaching the goaltender.)
The first two games were decided by the slimmest of margins; it can't get any closer than two one-goal contests that stretched into overtime. But even if the Blues have barely gotten by with their two wins on home ice, it reaffirms that their strategy is working. And we also know that the plan is working because the Blackhawks lost their cool in Game 2, and made the foolish decision to try and do bodily harm to Blues players even if it meant blowing a one-goal lead … which they did.
That's why it's essential for the Blues to maintain their approach, and keep a lid on the extra mustard. I fully expect the Blackhawks to recollect themselves and play a more intelligent, controlled game Monday night at UC. The shift of the series to Chicago's ice gives the Blackhawks a chance to reopen the series, and play the game more on their terms. And when the Blackhawks play on their terms – and do what they do best – they're formidable.
Frankly, I'm stunned that the Blues have been able to unnerve the Blackhawks so easily. I did not expect that. And though I expect the Blackhawks to clean up and go back to playing disciplined and opportunistic hockey, the Blues can make them snap again.
That's why it's imperative for the Blues to stay clear of the garbage that will pump up the Chicago home crowd, give the Blackhawks additional motivation, and prop the 'Hawks up with power play opportunities.
Chicago is too skilled and talented to keep misfiring on the power play and the Blues will eventually regret giving their rival too many setups with the extra man. The Blackhawks are 1 for 10 on the power play so far, and the Blues have killed the last nine PP. But the more the Blues on the power play, the more they risk getting burned.
It's probably a good idea for Ryan Reaves (and others) to stay silent instead of referring to the Blackhawks as “gutless.” In the media, we like it when players yap; it's good for business. But to flip this around, maybe Reaves knows there's a chance that his words will inflame the Blackhawks all over again, and cause another Chicago meltdown. Who knows?
The focus, however, should be on hockey. And keeping the Blackhawks pinned down. The Blues' mission is to stay the course, and avoid getting sidetracked. The Blues may not win one of the next two games in Chicago, but the worst thing they can do is lose for the wrong reasons.
Moving On ...
Let's take a look at the stuff being said on the Chicago side, and really, it's better than cartoons:
* Chicago winger Bryan Bickell actually said this on Monday: “I’m not a guy that’s going to be throwing my knees out or hitting guys high. I’m pretty honest.”
Yeah, except for the fact that he tried to take out Alex Pietrangelo's knee, and later Vladimir Sobotka's knee, in Game 2. Other than that, great point by Bickell, the last honest man.
* Have to laugh at Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith, who bravely taunted a discombobulated David Backes after Backes suffered the concussion on Brent Seabrook's dirty hit late in Game 2.
Keith was the guy who trash-talked Backes with the juvenile “Wakey, Wakey” crowing. Yeah, it takes some real toughness to heckle an injured opponent who can't respond. But on Monday, Keith wouldn't stand up and take ownership of his words. He didn't deny them; he just wouldn't admit that he said them.
“There are lots of things that get said out on the ice in the course of a hockey game--especially in the playoffs,” Keith told reporters in Chicago. “I’m an emotional guy, it’s an emotional game. I don’t remember everything that gets said out there.”
Oh, he doesn't remember. Got it. A real profile in courage there. Then again, when's the last time anyone saw Keith drop the gloves? It's a lot less painful to yap from a safe distance when you refuse to physically engage an opponent the old-fashioned way.
* And then there's Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who went all Pinocchio when asked why he yapped at a disoriented Backes following Seabrook's elimination of the Blues' captain.
"I didn’t say anything really," Toews told reporters. "I don’t know what he was feeling or going through. I guess you can imagine kind of seeing what he was like against the boards there. I think he was pretty fired up and he asked me to fight. That’s the only reason I started talking to him there. I don’t really remember what my words were. I think maybe some of their players thought we were trash talking them after the big hit, but I think we were just trying to clear everything and make sure we can move on from that play,”
Sure. That's it. Toews was trying to restore the peace. Send the man the Nobel Prize.
* I was surprised by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. I like and respect Coach Q a lot, but when he says (with a straight face) that he has no complaints about Seabrook's hit, then you know he's also off his game. The Blues apparently have gotten to Quenneville, too. There was the crotch grab in Game 1, his screaming at the officials for penalizing the indefensible Seabrook in Game 2, and now the shrugging off of Seabrook's damaging run. No complaints? Seabrook cost you Game 2, Coach.
Moving On ...
In our free-market system there is profit in controversy.
Exhibit A, for Blackhawks fans.
Exhibit B, for Blues fans.
* No Backes for Game 3. But look on the positive side... Patrik Berglund is back for this one, as if Brenden Morrow. And T.J. Oshie, who returned in Game 2, should be better tonight. Obviously it's a bad break to have Backes out – especially with how it went down. happened. But the Blues have enough horsepower to play the system and put themselves in position to win.
* Seabrook's three-game suspension leaves a hole. He's an excellent player who served as a mainstay on Team Canada's gold-medal Olympic squad. Seabrook averaged 30 minutes of ice time in the first two games. He's an important piece in all three components: even strength, power play, penalty kill. Averaging 22 minutes per game, he had seven goals and 34 assists during the regular season. And in the postseason he's given Chicago 11 goals and 24 assists during his career.
* The Blackhawks know that Sobotka's knee was softened up by Bickell's leg whip, so keep an eye on that in Game 3. And Bickell tested Oshie's head in Game 2, so there will likely be more of that in Game 3. That's playoff hockey. Backes delivered a crunching hit on Toews in Game 1 to see how Toews' mended shoulder was doing.
* Keith got away with repeated slashes in Game 2; I'd have to think the NHL “Department of Player Safety” has advised the officials to watch that.
* The Blues need Tarasenko and Schwartz to continue to playing at a high level. The two young forwards have made that jump in experience – finding the gear that's required for impact play in the postseason.
* The Blackhawks went 11-2 at home en route to the Stanley Cup last season. Over the past four seasons they're 21-9 at home during the postseason.
* Some closing-words perspective from respected hockey analyst Nicholas J. Cotsonika of YahooSports.com: “What the Blackhawks did was classless. It was baloney. It was gutless, because it shows zero guts to taunt a guy who can’t fight back. But the Blues lose their claim to moral superiority when they threaten to 'play the same way,' and if they’re smart, they won’t do something stupid. How both teams handle this situation will play a large role in what happens next.”
Enjoy the game.
Thanks for reading …