After a tense second period, the Chicago Blackhawks exploded out of the gate in the third, scoring four goals and throttling the St. Louis Blues by a score of 5-1 to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Jonathan Toews had the big goal as he scored on a power play to start the period, and Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw, and Duncan Keith all scored goals as the Hawks added some key insurance tallies. Corey Crawford made 33 saves, including 29 in the first 40 minutes of the game for the huge win.
The Blues had a sense of urgency to begin the game as they tried to avoid elimination, and they showed it in the shots on goal column. Unfortunately for them, a lot of those chances were one-and-done opportunities, so despite racking up five shots in the early going, St. Louis wasn’t able to establish any long possessions.
On the other hand, the Hawks were able to do so on a shift near the middle of the frame, and they ended up scoring a goal. After a clearing attempt by Patrik Berglund was held in the zone by Duncan Keith, he and Brent Seabrook played catch out at the point to get the Blues’ defense moving. Finally, Seabrook teed off on a slapshot with traffic in front of the net, and Bickell got a stick on it to deflect it past Ryan Miller to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead.
The Hawks got several more opportunities to add to their lead, but Miller was up to the task. The best chances came thanks to the second line, as Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp moved the puck around the zone with impunity. Ben Smith also got in on the party, but he was stoned on an in close chance as the lead remained at just one goal.
The Blues finally started getting some traction in the later stages of the period, and after a bad defensive breakdown by the Hawks, the visitors tied up the game. With Johnny Oduya leaving TJ Oshie wide open in front of the net to pursue the puck, Alex Steen forced a pass to the top of the crease, and Oshie popped in a one-timer between Corey Crawford’s leg pads to tie things up at 1-1 with just over three minutes remaining in the period.
When Kruger went to the box for a second time in the period thanks to a holding call, the Blues once again failed to take advantage. Their puck movement was stymied by a couple of good stick checks by Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Michal Handzus got a key shot block and clear as the Hawks forced the game to the first intermission with the score still tied at 1-1.
In the second period, the Blackhawks ended up wearing a rut into the ice as they skated to the penalty box repeatedly. Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Patrick Sharp all went to the box, but despite the cavalcade of chances, the Blues weren’t able to convert any of them. They only managed two shots on goal during the double-minor to Hossa, and also coughed up two minutes of it when Steen was sent to the box. They finally did get some good chances in the closing minutes of the Sharp penalty, but Crawford was up to the task even as the Blues swarmed around the net.
Despite being outshot in the period by a margin of 17-3, the Blackhawks did end the period on the power play after an ill-advised tripping penalty by Jay Bouwmeester when Brandon Saad was trying to cut back to the point. The Hawks couldn’t get any chances on that sequence before the second period horn sounded, but the power play carried over into the third stanza.
As the third period started, the Hawks did a nice job of keeping the puck in the zone (with Keith making another sterling play to do so), and eventually a pass found its way to Toews camped in front of the net. After spinning off of pressure, Toews whistled a wrist shot past Miller and into the cage to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead just a minute into the third.
A minute later, the Blackhawks scored again. Outracing Kevin Shattenkirk, Sharp managed to muscle a puck past Miller and into the net to give the Hawks a 3-1 lead and forced the Blues back on their heels once again.
The Blackhawks kept the pressure high on the Blues despite having a two goal lead, and after yet another lengthy possession in their own zone, they were able to tack on yet another goal. This time, it was Shaw doing the honors, as Keith's shot from the point was deflected in front of the net by Shaw to give his team a 4-1 lead with about 12 minutes remaining in the game.
The Hawks did get one more goal late as Keith netted one on a 2-on-1 rush, and the Blues simply allowed the clock to run down the rest of the way as the Hawks advanced to the second round.
The Blackhawks will either play the Colorado Avalanche or the Minnesota Wild in the second round of the playoffs. The Avalanche currently have a 3-2 lead in the series, and the series will resume on Monday night.