By Brad Vandenberk
The Chicago Blackhawks embarked on their first road game of the year, heading into St Louis to take on the Blues. Their record going into this match was 1-0-1, meaning a certain ‘streak’ was still alive.
The Hawks have only played two games in the span of eight days. Some of the players began to comment on how much of a difference it was from last season, when most teams played three games in four nights. There was even a comparison to how it felt more like a football season than a hockey season. This is great news for some of the Hawks players nursing injuries like Michal Handzus, who missed practise early in the week. As well as superstar Marian Hossa, who is still not a 100% after taking the majority of training camp off.
Most have predicted this game as the potential Central divisional final. The Hawks were 3-1-1 last season against the Blues and playing them this early will be a good measuring stick to see how tough the new division will be.
Corey Crawford got the call for the Hawks, while the Blues went with Jaroslav Halak. Scratches for the Hawks were Michael Kostka, Michal Rozsival and Ben Smith.
The opening period started the way it was expected too. Speed and neutral zone play. Early chance sees Handzus and Patrick Sharp break in on a 2 on 1. Handzus fires the puck wide. At the other end, Sheldon Brookbank, seeing his first action of the year, drops the gloves with Chris Stewart and both battle to a truce. The Hawks begin to win the battle in the neutral zone with Brandon Saad and Joakim Nordstrom heading in on breakaways. The Blues begin to leave the middle of the ice open and the Hawks take advantage. Blues begin to push back and the Hawks are back on their heels. Bryan Bickell makes his presence felt in front of the net while Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews shoot at Halak. At the 4:16 mark of the period, Hossa gives a puck up – that’s right Hossa – and Vladimir Tarasenko heads the other way and roofs one over Crawford’s blocker 1-0.
Moments after the goal, Maxim Lapierre hits Andrew Shaw from behind and he heads to the box giving the Hawks the first power play of the game. 6 seconds in, Patrick Sharp has his point shot tipped right over to Patrick Kane who wastes no time and slides it past Halak tying the game at 1. The Hawks barely escape the period as the Blues surround Crawford to end the period. Blues outshot the Hawks 13-12.
The second opened with the Hawks flying out of the gate. Sharp again, breaks through the Blues D men but can’t solve Halak. Bickell got called for Hooking and the Blues got their first power play of the game. Niklas Hjalmarsson blocks a point shot off the inside of his leg and he is slow to get up. He does return to the ice after a quick visit to the dressing room. Alex Pietrangelo sends a shot to the net and David Backes tips it passed Crawford igniting the fans and gives the Blues the lead 2-1.
This Blues lead didn’t hold up long as Jaden Schwartz heads to the box less than a minute after the goal for hooking. 14 seconds into the power play the Hawks tie it up. Jonathan Toews gets his first of the year slipping it past a sprawling Halak after he robbed Kane on the doorstep. The period ends with Johnny Oduya heading to the penalty box for hooking. The Blues continue to own the shots on net 27-21.
The Blues opened the third on the power play but to no avail as the Hawks kill it off. The playoff pace to this game continues to pick up. Both teams exchange chances to score. Kane, Bickell and Duncan Keith break in on a 3 on 1 but again Halak makes the save after Kane elects to shoot. Crawford comes to the rescue once again with a huge glove save. Another tic-tac-toe play from Bickell to Toews over to Kane, but Kane fans on the shot. Vladamir Sobotka hits Hjalmarsson awkwardly into the boards and Toews comes to the aid of Hammer challenging Sobotka to a duel. No gloves litter the ice but the pair head off to the penalty box for roughing. Barrett Jackman and Bickell join them. Saad continued his great game, dropping a lovely pass to Keith who is stopped by Halak.
As the period is down to the final seconds, The Hawks head up ice trying to end this tie. Toews’ shot it stopped by Pietrangelo and the Blues head the other way. Alex Steen rips a shot through Crawford’s five-hole and the Blues go up 3-2 with 21.1 seconds left and that score would stand as the final.
-Blues outshot the Hawks 34-28
-Hjalmarsson led all Hawks players in TOI with 24:21.
-Sharp led all Hawks with 4 shots on net.
-Toews was 9 /20 in the faceoff circle. Handzus 4/10, Shaw 4/9 and Kruger 4/11.
-Hawks travel back home for an eastern conference tilt on Friday against the Islanders.
–Blackhawks lines vs Blues:
Bickell Toews Kane
Sharp Handzus Hossa
Saad Shaw Hayes
Bollig Kruger Nordstrom