CHICAGO – That first step was a doozy, but the Blackhawks didn’t stumble ... and are now on course in their defense of their Stanley Cup championship.
The Hawks are headed to the second round of the playoffs following a 5-1 throttling of the Blues in Game 6 on Sunday afternoon at the United Center.
After dropping the first two games of the best-of-seven first-round series against their Central Division rival, the Hawks dug deep and found ways to prevail in the next four, including Sunday when they rode the backs of their penalty killers, goaltender Corey Crawford, and a late-arriving offense.
Much like the previous five games of the series – four of which went to overtime – Sunday’s contest was a defensive battle before the Hawks offense ignited for four goals in the third period to deliver the knockout punch to a Blues team that, after dominating the NHL most of the season, ended up losing 10 of its last 12 games.
It was a calm and confident Hawks team that gathered in the dressing room following the traditional handshake line.
“To a certain degree, we want to act like we’ve been here before, and show respect for how good that [Blues] team is and how well they’ve played,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said.
“But getting out of the first round doesn’t mean you’ve done anything yet. We can enjoy this win for the next few days, and feel real good about it and let our bodies heal, but maybe that’s just us saying we’re not satisfied and we’re going to keep working for more.”
They’ll get that chance after Crawford stymied the Blues with 35 saves and backstopped a penalty kill that halted all six St. Louis power plays – and finished the series with 27 kills in 29 opportunities.
“Both our PK and [Crawford] won the series, ultimately,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Sunday’s display of penalty killing and goaltending allowed the Hawks to stay in the game long enough for the offense to find itself, and it did in a big way in the third. Toews, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw, and Duncan Keith all beat Blues goaltender Ryan Miller to send the crowd into bedlam.
That onslaught broke open a 1-1 game that came as a result of goals by the Hawks’ Bryan Bickell and Blues’ T.J. Oshie in the first period.
“This was a tough series,” Shaw said. “They’re a great team over there, [that] has a lot of big bodies they’re going to throw around. We just kind of tried weathering the storm every game, just use our legs and brains instead of our shoulders.”
Keith had three assists to go with his goal, and defensive partner Brent Seabrook had two assists in his return to the lineup following a three-game suspension for an illegal hit on the Blues’ David Backes in Game 2.
Crawford finished the series with a 1.98 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, while Miller had a 2.70 goals-against and .897 save mark.
“We stick to what we do,” Crawford said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re down in a game or a series, we tend to do the same thing, bring the same game. Never stop working just because things aren’t going our way.”
For the Blues, it was a second consecutive postseason they raced to a 2-0 lead in the first round and then lost the next four.
“We knew the series wasn’t going to be easy. They’re a good team, and had their successes recently,” Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. “It just goes down the tube, and it’s all for nothing now.”
Blackhawks 5, Blues 1
Star of the game: Corey Crawford, Blaclkhawks, 35 saves, didn’t allow a goal in 6 Blues power plays
Up next: Western Conference semifinals, Game 1, Blackhawks vs. Avalanche/Wild winner, time & date TBD