The 2014 Stanley Cup playoff run has been a roller coaster of emotions for the city of St. Louis. After Alexander Steen capped off a triple-overtime thriller in Game 1 last Thursday, Barret Jackman added his own heroics in Game 2 to put the Blues up 2-0 in the series. Then the series shifted to Chicago.
The Blackhawks, who had led three separate times in the first two games but still fell short, took an early 1-0 lead in Game 3 on a weak goal from captain Jonathan Toews at the 4:10 mark of the first period. The Blues peppered Chicago goalie Corey Crawford with 34 shots but it was the Blackhawks who would add the late-game fireworks. Forward Marcus Kruger banked in a shot from in-tight to the empty net, giving the Blackhawks a 2-0 win to cut the Blues’ series lead in half, 2-1.
In last year’s playoffs, the Blues, facing the Los Angeles Kings for the second consecutive postseason, took a 2-0 lead with two home wins. The first one was powered by a memorable Steen shorthanded, overtime goal and the second game was decided after Jackman rifled a wrist shot past Jonathan Quick with just 50.4 ticks left on the game clock.
The Blues rolled into LA with plenty of confidence in Game 3, expecting the same forecheck and timely scoring to lead the team to another big late-game victory.
The Kings were not ready to be dethroned. Slave Voynov scored in the second period and the Blues launched 30 pucks at Quick, but St. Louis was left off the scoreboard in the 1-0 Kings victory.
The rest, as they say, is history. The Kings took Game 4 in a 4-3 nailbiter, won Game 5 in St. Louis and stymied the Blues offense in Game 6 with a 2-1 finish. The Kings moved on to the second round while the Blues roster was left asking, what happened?
The experts will tell you that you are supposed to win when you take a 2-0 series lead.
Teams that go up 2-0 in a best of seven series hold an all-time record of 287-45…86.4% according to #NHL stats
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) April 19, 2014
Woh, hold up there, Andy (and every other reporter, writer, blogger and message board user). This series isn’t over. No series is over until the handshake.
The Blues have work to do. Although Hitchcock eluded to the return of captain David Backes “in the next 2-3 games,” his team must find a way to beat the Blackhawks defense and Cup-winning goalie Crawford. The Blues made a habit of making Quick look like a puck-stopping sorcerer, so let’s hope they don’t do the same for the Blackhawks goalie.
More importantly, Hitchcock’s team has to stay out of the penalty box. This was a problem in the second period as Maxim Lapierre took an ill-advised boarding penalty on Sheldon Brookbank. Just 10 seconds after his penalty ended, Roman Polak took another unneeded penalty when he was charged with cross checking Brandon Saad. Late in the same period, the Blues were assessed a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty (served by Vladimir Tarasenko) and Steen hooked Marian Hossa for a 2-minute minor during the bench penalty to provide the Blackhawks with a 37-second two-man advantage. Although the Blackhawks did not score on any of their power-plays, it took away valuable time that the Blues could have been spending in the offensive zone.
The key to opening a three-games-to-one lead would be for the Blues goaltender to shine early. With the exception of Game 2, Miller has not been the prolific goalie that he has proven he can be early in games; the lone goal given up by Miller was arguably the weakest of the series thus far. In order for the Blues to take the momentum away from the Madhouse on Madison, they need the goalie to be as dominant in the first 10 minutes as he has been in the final 20 minutes.
It’s been deja vu up to this point. Only one group of players decides whether it will be that case the rest of the way.
Golfing in May is not something this team is ready to relive.