The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues had their fifth straight slugfest on Friday night, and Jonathan Toews was the overtime hero as the Hawks grabbed a 3-2 lead in the series with a 3-2 victory over the Blues.
Marian Hossa and Ben Smith also scored goals for the Blackhawks, and the win puts them within one game of advancing to the second round of the postseason.
The Blackhawks got off to a good start in the early part of the period, with Andrew Shaw firing a gorgeous pass to Brandon Saad in the slot. The winger just missed the shot wide of the net, but all of the momentum came crashing down when Duncan Keith picked up a holding minor penalty just three minutes into the game.
The Hawks managed to kill that call off with ease thanks to some great work by Niklas Hjalmarsson, who had a shot block and a good clear in the process, but they went right back to the kill when Hossa was whistled for holding. Once again though, the penalty killing unit was at its absolute best, holding the Blues without a good chance and keeping the game scoreless.
As the period wore on, the Blackhawks began to capitalize on the momentum of the successful penalty kills, and after several great possessions, they were able to get on the board with just under four minutes remaining in the period. After Hjalmarsson made a great stick check to steal the puck in the defensive zone, he fed a pass up the ice to Bryan Bickell. Bickell came in on a 2-on-1 rush with Hossa, and after the puck pinballed around a bit, Hossa was able to get inside position and flip a rebound shot into the back of the net to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
The Hawks had a chance to tack on another goal to their lead when they got a power play in the late stages of the frame, but despite some nice shots by Patrick Sharp and Shaw, they weren’t able to capitalize. Corey Crawford did have to step up his game in the closing seconds of the power play though, with Alex Pietrangelo rifling off a shot on a 2-on-1 rush with TJ Oshie that Crawford had to slide across the crease to save.
As the second period began, the Hawks continued to clamp down on the tempo of the game, and they got a power play after a careless penalty by Barret Jackman. Keith had the best scoring opportunity of the sequence, ripping a slap shot from the point. With Shaw lurking, the shot squirted away from Miller, but the goaltender dove back in the crease and grabbed the puck with his glove to keep the Hawks from adding to their lead.
After that save, it seemed as though the Blues finally got their legs under them, and they started driving into the zone with more authority. They got big shots from Chris Porter and Alex Pietrangelo, the latter of which came with Max Lapierre standing in front of the net, but Crawford was able to stop both of them to keep his team ahead.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, Crawford couldn’t keep the momentum going, and Oshie ended up tying the game a few minutes later. After getting the puck off a nifty pass in the middle of the zone, Oshie deked his way around a sprawling Hjalmarsson, and Crawford, who had come out to the top of the crease to challenge a shot, could only watch helplessly as Oshie got off a shot while falling to the ice. The puck hit the back of the net, and Scottrade Center exploded as the Blues tied the game at 1-1.
The Blues continued to keep hammering away at shots, but slowly the Hawks began to find their offensive game again. Eventually, the Hawks had a great shift with less than three minutes to go in the period, and after Sheldon Brookbank’s shot was blocked by traffic in front, it was Smith to the rescue as he made a fantastic backhanded shot that beat Miller and tucked in underneath the crossbar to make it a 2-1 hockey game.
As the third period got underway, the Blues pushed back hard at the Hawks in a 4-on-4 situation, and they ultimately made Chicago pay. Nick Leddy jumped into a play and blasted a slapshot over the top of the net, but Shaw didn’t recognize that Leddy had come into the zone and didn’t stay back to defend at the blue line. The Blues got a 2-on-1 rush the other way as a result, and Pietrangelo potted a one-timer to tie things up at 2-2.
Both teams started trading chances after that goal, with the Hawks picking up a couple of really good ones from their second line. First Kane drove to the net and was stopped by Miller, and then Sharp followed suit and got a chance of his own, but somehow Miller was able to come across the crease and make a save on that one also to keep the game tied.
Near the middle point of the period, the Blues got a great chance when Sheldon Brookbank stood up near the boards and missed a sliding puck. St. Louis got a 3-on-1 rush, but Oshie waited too long to shoot the puck off a great feed, and Crawford dove across the crease to slam the door.
In the closing five minutes of the game, both teams got some excellent chances. Saad got the puck off a pass right in front of Miller, but some really stingy Blues defense prevented him from getting a shot off. Kane then swung into the zone a few minutes later and one-timed a slap shot off a great feed from Sharp, but Miller was able to save it. Crawford had to be on his toes a few seconds later when Tarasenko got to the front of the net, but Crawford was bailed out by Smith as the youngster used a quick stick to intercept a pass and push it away from the net to keep the game tied.
The Blackhawks got the final chances of regulation, with Smith and Hossa once again driving possession, but they couldn’t score. Hjalmarsson blasted a shot in the closing second of the game, but Miller was able to stop the shot at the buzzer to force overtime for the fourth time in five games.
Both teams picked up some good opportunities in the opening minutes of overtime, with Kane and Ben Smith both getting quality shots that Miller barely stopped. Jackman also had a great shot for the Blues as he blasted a slap shot from the middle of the ice, but Crawford was able to smother the shot.
About eight minutes into the extra frame, the Hawks got a huge break as Crawford made a save. The puck bounced off of his blocker, and landed right at Keith's feet. He shovelled a backhanded pass down the ice, and it just so happened that Toews was skating down the ice the other way. On the ensuing breakaway he went forehand to backhand, and shoved the puck past Miller to give the Hawks a win and a 3-2 series lead.
The Blackhawks will go for the series victory on Sunday afternoon when they welcome the Blues to the United Center. The game will start at 2pm, and it will air on NBC Chicago.