The eye of the tiger. The fight of a champion. A killer instinct. No matter what you call it, the Chicago Blackhawks have it.
Before the first round of the playoffs started, I didn’t think the Hawks stood much of a chance to be the Western Conference’s Stanley Cup Finals representative. And I’m still not ready to hand them the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl. But after the way that Quenneville’s Merry Crew was awoken in game 3 and disposed of St. Louis so convincingly by game 6, it’s apparent that the defending champs will not be an easy out of these playoffs.
As many have said, this series was more fitting to be a Conference Final matchup or even a Stanley Cup Finals matchup than just a measly first rounder. While we didn’t get to experience a dramatic finish in what would certainly have been an absolutely thrilling game 7, the series still lived up to all the hype laid upon it beforehand.
Consider this regarding the Hawks comeback: The Hawks were down 2 games to none after the April 19th single overtime loss to the Blues. Corey Crawford had allowed 8 goals in those 2 games and perhaps didn’t seem to be seeing the puck as well as he did during last year’s championship run. The Hawks had played 10 periods in St. Louis, and we all know how the combination of the shortened season, the long playoff run and short offseason was taking a toll on the team throughout the marathon 82 game regular season.
But after a huge game 2 hit from Brent Seabrook on David Backes that put Seabrook on the suspended list for 3 games, the series took a big turn. Sure, the Blues won that game. But Chicago’s demons were alive and well. Crawford would return to his Stanley Cup form and shut out the Blues and the comeback was on.
Here are the top 5 moments from the Hawks’ 4-2 series win in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
5. Game 3: Crawford regains his form to shut out the Blues.
The Hawks coughed up one-goal leads in the third period and lost in overtime in each of the first two games. They needed a big performance and had to get back to Blackhawks Hockey: puck possession and long stretches of domination. And they did just that, and then some. Crawford stopped all 34 shots he faced in game 3 and likely became the MVP of this first round matchup because of his solid play the rest of the way. Without his turnaround, the Hawks are likely in the opposite situation and the Blues are moving on.
4. Game 6, Period 2: Special Teams Supremacy
During the 2nd period on Sunday afternoon, the Hawks took 3 penalties for 8 minutes. This resulted in 4 total power plays for St. Louis. Marian Hossa took a 4 minute trip to the sin bin for a high stick, but the Blues cancelled roughly the middle two minutes of it. If it weren’t for the penalty killing of the Hawks and Crawford’s goaltending, we’re looking square in the face of a 4th game 7 tonight instead of just 3 of them (is it time to drop the puck yet?).
Going into the period, the game was tied 1-1, and somehow it remained that way after the 2nd. Shots were 17-3 in favor of St. Louis in the period. The Blues had 9 shots on goal during those 4 power plays, and nothing tickled the twine. In all, the Hawks were 27 for 29 on the penalty kill in the series, good enough for a league-best 93.1% in the playoffs.
3. Game 1: Steen’s 3OT winner.
This game obviously set the tone for the next 5. There was never a let down in any of the 3 overtimes. It wasn’t as shocking or surprising as my number 1 moment, but a goal just 26 minutes into the 3rd OT was still unexpected. Many folks probably thought this would go to 5 and 6 overtimes the way each team was playing. As we know, however, all it takes is one shot, and the series was off to a roaring start.
2. Game 2: Seabrook steam-rolling David Backes.
Whether Duncan Keith said it or not, it was definitely time for David Backes to “wakey, wakey” after this monstrous hit delivered by Brent Seabrook in game 2. Despite the loss, the Hawks seemed to seize control of the series after this hit.
1. Game 5: Toews’ OT breakaway and game winner in St. Louis.
There was just so much about this goal and to this point, it’s the goal of the 2014 playoffs. A 2-0 lead for the Hawks quickly evaporated and St. Louis forced overtime – another epic battle in this series. The Blues could have seized control of the series with an overtime win, but Captain Serious thought otherwise.
As the pundits love to remind us, a series doesn’t really start until one team wins on the road. Well, this was it. It was the Hawk’s 3rd straight win in the series, and any momentum they had from the 2 wins in Chicago was amplified to the 100th degree.
As we look forward to another set of epic matchups against either the Avalanche or the Wild, one can only hope there are more moments like this ahead.
Doulas Cutler is a Lead Writer for The Hockey Writers covering the Chicago Blackhawks. Follow him on Twitter at @DougCutlerTHW. In addition, he also writes on The Blog of Brotherhood, dedicated to Miami RedHawks Hockey (www.blogofbrotherhood.com and @MiamiHockeyBlog). LET’S GO HAWKS!