The Blackhawks-Blues rivalry is old and deep; the games are regularly old-school hockey, with physical, gritty play, penalties, and usually a couple of fights. There is not a whole lot of love lost between the teams or their fans; it’s perhaps Chicago’s biggest rivalry beyond Detroit. Sure, the Hawks/Blues rivalry may not be as touted as other rivalries in the league, but it’s old, deep, and fierce.
Tuesday night’s game vs. the Blues is the kind of game that the NHL probably wishes that it had played out on NBC instead of Versus: a high-scoring game between two rivals loaded with plenty of energy and fights.
Tomas Kopecky of the Blackhawks got on the scoresheet first at 4:38 into the first period. It was Kopecky’s first goal in 13 games, and it was his first point out of four (he added 3 assists later in the game) – his first 4-point game in his career.
St. Louis finally responded with a goal with just over three minutes left in the first period, but Chicago answered with a goal two minutes later, and never let go of the lead after that.
Noted Blues tough guy Cam Janssen had tried to stir things up early in the first with Blackhawk John Scott; they both got 5-minute majors for fighting. That didn’t seem to have much impact on the game; if anything, Scott seemed almost amused that Janssen was looking to fight him, after the fight Scott had produced in LA a few days ago. It was a bit of a scrap, and the game went on.
The highlight goal of the night was Troy Brouwer’s power play goal, 2:46 into the second period. Prospect Jeremy Morin, called up from Rockford while Marian Hossa is out with a short-term undisclosed lower body injury, went to send the puck around the boards behind the net. St. Louis goalie Ty Conklin moved out of his crease to play the puck, but the puck took an unusual bounce off the boards – and ricocheted right in front of the net. Brouwer raced a Blues player for posession, and easily tapped it into the empty net for the third Blackhawks goal of the night.
By just over midway into the second, the Hawks were up 5-1, and it looked like a cruiser of a night. In fact, the Blackhawks were playing such beautiful hockey that if they’d kept their foot on the gas, the score would’ve been far more lopsided, and likely have been in the neighborhood of 10-3 instead of 7-5. The Blues primary goalie, Jaroslav Halak, was having the night off in preparation for the Blues’ game against the Capitals tomorrow, so even after the scoring went south, Conklin stayed in for the duration.
But BJ Crombeen choose to go at it with Nick Boynton. It’s one of Boynton’s worst fights to date; Crombeen was the clear winner – and it gave the Blues a spark. The Blues began to turn the tide, and suddenly what had been a 4-goal lead was cut to just 1. You could see Chicago goalie Corey Crawford whack the ice in frustration after both the third and fourth Blues goals.
Coach Quenneville probably could’ve called a timeout after the third goal, but he waited until the fourth, and it looked like he was reminding them that there was still hockey to be played and that the game wasn’t over yet. The Blackhawks settled down, strapped back in, and put their foot back on the pedal to lock down the Blues and put in two more goals.
Chris Porter of the Blues and Jeremy Morin went at it late in the third; it turns out that the two had fought recently in the AHL. (The Rockford Icehogs and Peoria Rivermen share about as much love as the Blackhawks and Blues do, based on last Saturday’s contest in Rockford, which included no less than four Kyle Beach fights, plus several others.) Morin held his own, and both were sent to the sin bin with fighting majors.
After the Porter/Morin fight, John Scott and Cam Janssen took to the ice on the same shift. The referees didn’t want a repeat of the first period fight and could see what was coming, so they sent them both to the box with 2-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. The teams rounded out the evening with a total of 19 penalties between them, including three fighting majors for both sides.
The Blues scored once more late in the third, and went to an empty net in an attempt to draw even, but the Hawks remembered that this was a division rival – meaning the game is worth, in effect, four points not just two – and finished their business, to take the two points and move into second place in the Central Division, and fourth place in the Western Conference.
Despite the point in the middle of the game where the Blackhawks stopped pressing so hard and let the Blues gain on them, there were many positives in tonight’s game:
– The Hawks scored 3 times on the power play. They’ve struggled so far this season to take advantage of their PPs, and tonight it was like a dam broke.
– Chicago remembered to play physical, and this isn’t just a reference to the fighting. St. Louis landed 35 hits, but the Blackhawks gave 25.
– There were only 7 giveaways by the Blackhawks. This is a sign of improvement.
– Although Marian Hossa is expected to be out 2-3 weeks, the team didn’t show the pain of his absence anywhere near as badly as they did when he was out with an injury a few weeks ago.
– John Scott, after his fights on the Circus Trip – especially against Kevin Westgarth in Los Angeles – and now the fights against the Blues, has turned fans’ opinions in his favor. On a team that’s learning to be more physical than it has in past years, Scott has suddenly turned on the enforcer light. He was quoted on Saturday as saying “The height works to my advantage. I have long arms so I’m kind of like a monkey-armed baboon swinging away”, but his style works, and it’s almost comical to see him holding another enforcer at arm’s length while he swings at them. Cam Janssen is a smart fighter, however, and he knew tonight to get inside Scott’s reach.
– Jeremy Morin has already made large improvements in his game since prospects camp and training camp this summer. He was one of the last prospects to be cut, and he was called up for two games, including the Atlanta vs Chicago game, in early November. He showed skill and desire earlier this month. He’s been working hard in Rockford and it showed tonight. He was smart with the puck, played hard, was willing to fight (and held his own), made some excellent checks that helped lead to goals, and had an all-around very good game. Now he will need to show consistency and perform well for however long he stays with Chicago to earn a shot at staying with the Blackhawks instead of returning to Rockford. The Byfuglien trade to Atlanta was contigent on getting Morin in return; the 19-year-old winger is showing that the Blackhawks got a lot of value out of the trade. He only played 11:38 but he made a definite impact throughout the game.
– Tomas Kopecky has struggled over the last few weeks, but was all over the score sheet tonight, with 1 goal and 3 assists. He played 16:51 – higher than last year’s average but less than he’s been logging much of this season – and looked pretty good all night.
– Corey Crawford notched his fifth consecutive win, and although the goal tally was not where any goalie would care to see it (5 goals in 26 shots – which was still better than 7 goals in 24 shots that Conklin let in), the important thing is that he got the win. Prediction would be that on Friday, Turco faces Vancouver, who he’s always done well against, and Crawford faces the Flames on Sunday, but that’s to be seen.
– No less than five Blackhawks scored goals (Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each scored two), and 10 players on three lines got either goals or assists.
During the first half hour or so of play, the Blackhawks looked like the extended road trip had worked great deeds on their team chemistry. Now if they could just remember that they need to play sixty, every single game. Last week in Vancouver, Alain Vigneault complained that the Hawks “humiliated” the Canucks in their own building, although he really had his own team to complain about. When Vancouver comes to town this Friday, the Blackhawks cannot let up against them like they did against the Blues tonight. They have to play the same kind of hockey they played at Rogers Arena last week – and they have to do it in front of their own high-energy fans.
See you at the United Center on Friday!