CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 27: Patrick Sharp #10 of the Chicago Blackhawks, who scored three goal through two periods on his birthday, watches teammates from the bench as they take on the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on December 27, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Avalanche 7-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three straight games, will have their first opportunity of the postseason to eliminate an opponent on Sunday as they try to knock out the St. Louis Blues in a nationally televised game at the United Center.
The Hawks have gotten to this point thanks to some clutch play by some of their best players, as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both have scored overtime goals to help the team to win their last two contests. Kane’s winner tied the series and prevented the Blues from taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, but Toews’ winner was an even more deflating blow for St. Louis, as they dropped a game on home ice to the Hawks for the first time all season, and the team was visibly shaken.
Despite that stunned silence of the Blues players after Friday’s game, there’s one thing the Hawks can’t do, and that’s to expect St. Louis to already have their razors out to shave off their playoff beards. The Blues are a resilient team that’s dealt with plenty of challenges all season long, including losing six straight games going into the postseason, and there’s little chance that Ken Hitchcock’s crew is going to roll over for anybody, much less a team that just about every Blues player despises. With guys like David Backes and TJ Oshie in the lineup, the Blues will have plenty of weapons to use when they jump out of the gate on Sunday, and the Hawks have to be ready for the pushback.
That being said, the Hawks have some players of their own that need to be ready to step up in a big way. First and foremost among those is Patrick Sharp, who has been held without a goal so far in this series. He has come close on several occasions, and looked like he was going to finally break out in Game 5 before being denied on several chances by Ryan Miller. Sharp seemed to like having Ben Smith centering him, and having Kane on the other wing certainly didn’t hurt either. That extra space and extra pace that Smith and Kane can provide for the veteran sniper should be enough to get his game back in order, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sharp pot one in Game 6.
Another player that has to be in top form is Corey Crawford. Crawford has let in a few soft goals during this series, but when the Blackhawks’ defense was at its most porous, it was usually Crawford saving the day. He made some key saves down the stretch in Game 4 and in Game 5 to keep the Hawks alive until overtime, and he was rewarded with the win in both games.
In last season’s playoffs, Crawford provided a ton of punch in crunch time for the Hawks. In the six elimination games that they played (when they either had a chance to eliminate an opponent or faced elimination themselves), Crawford only surrendered 11 goals, and the Hawks won all six games en route to their second Stanley Cup championship in four seasons.
That kind of play is something that the Hawks will need out of him in a big way on Sunday, as the Blues desperately fight for their playoff lives. If Crawford can stand tall in the crease, and if Sharp can get off the skid he’s been on lately, then the Blackhawks will be in a good position to slam the door on this series.