You can’t always rely on the city’s superhero. Sometimes, it takes a group of courageous figures to step into the battle and deliver the crushing blows.
How much credit do you think the Gotham police force receives when Batman is the headlining story on the 9 o’clock news every night?
In the St. Louis Blues’ case, the hero of the team was not the only one who delivered when the team needed him to in either of the two opening games against the Chicago Blackhawks. In Game 1, with T.J. Oshie out with an injury for the third consecutive game, David Backes and Alexander Steen would be the go-to choices for goals (Steen delivered, scoring the triple-overtime game winner). In Game 2, with Backes leaving the game early after a vicious check from Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook, Oshie returned and should have been the guy to finish off the scoring.
In both games, it was the unsuspectables who stood up and took the Blues to the next level.
Ok, not much of an unsuspecting choice for a goal scorer, but it is worth noting that the Russian right winger had just one NHL playoff game under his belt before Thursday’s matchup. He was left out of the lineup for five of the six Blues postseason games in 2013 since coach Ken Hitchcock felt the then-rookie wasn’t ready for the heat of late-April hockey.
How things have changed in a year. Tarasenko, who missed the final 15 games of the regular season with hand surgery, tallied his first career postseason marker in Game 1 at 15:52 of the first period to tie the game at 2-2. The goal looked as if he didn’t miss one shift in the final month of the season when he buried a wrist shot from the high slot. It was the type of play that KHL goalies still wake up screaming about in the middle of the night.
The 22-year old wasn’t finished there. He shined again in Game 2, notching the game-tying goal with just 7 seconds remaining on the clock. His celebration after the seeing-eye puck found the back of the net said it all.
The Blues’ fourth line, including Chris Porter and Maxim Lapierre, hemmed the Blackhawks’ second line in their defensive zone early in the first period. The puck found its way to the front of the net and Cracknell was right there to fight for the goal on the open side. Jubilation filled Scottrade Center as Cracknell fell to his knees and was mobbed by his teammates.
Cracknell, who has had trouble cracking the NHL lineup throughout his professional career, averaged 14 minutes, 51 seconds per game throughout the first two contests of the series. Not bad for a 2004 ninth-round draft selection.
After registering his first career playoff assist on Cracknell’s playoff-opening goal, Porter went on to register seven shots in the 3OT game, which tied Tarasenko for the team lead.
Porter went back to work in Game 2, doing what every youth hockey coach stresses to his forwards; drive to the net. With his team breaking out into the Chicago zone, Porter stepped onto the ice for his shift and pushed the throttle to fourth gear. He cruised into the zone as Jordan Leopold’s shot was blocked in front, picked up the rebound and beat Crawford from a near-impossible angle to open the scoring at 7:08 of the first period.
Needless to say, the Blues received plenty of offense from the fourth line.
Rounding out the bottom line is the Blues’ first 2013 free-agent signing. The original intention for Lapierre’s signing was to add more of a gritty, pestering presence down the middle of the ice. The Quebec native was used on the penalty kill during this series, leading all Blues forwards with an average of 3 minutes, 14 seconds of ice time while shorthanded.
He has been involved in numerous game-changing plays, as well. In Game 1, Lapierre made Blues fans forget he ever played for the Canucks when he made the save of the game in the latter stages of the first overtime.
Lapierre was also monumental in Barret Jackman’s game-winning goal on Saturday afternoon. After the puck rimmed around to the Blues defenseman, Lapierre planted himself in front and screened Corey Crawford so much that the goaltender was unable to track the puck before it trickled through his legs.
After Jackman notched the game-deciding tally in Game 2 of the 2013 Western quarterfinals (his first career playoff goal), the longest-tenured Blue contributed yet another big marker. The Game 2 lamp lighter was just his eighth total goal since the open of the 2012-13 season.
With the series shifting to Chicago, the Blues will hope that the same cast of characters can continue to take down the villainous Blackhawks with timely scoring and a treacherous forecheck.
The future of St. Louis hockey will continue to depend on the noble and valiant work of the trusty other guys on the roster.