Blackhawks pass big test in St. Louis

166605874_slideMost people knew that today’s game between the Blues and Blackhawks was going to be a good one, and was it ever. For the Blackhawks, this was a big test for them to see if they could handle playoff-like toughness from a tough team. As for the Blues, they came into today’s game needing every point they could get as they continue their push for the playoffs.

The first period was very much like a playoff game. Right off the bat, the Blues were running around trying to hit any player in a red jersey into the third row through the glass. The Blackhawks on the other hand, didn’t hand out many hits. It’s just not in their DNA. They demonstrated most of their physicality after the whistle. Games between these two teams are always physical, but the first period today took physicality to a new level. In the end, no goals were scored through the first 20 minutes.

Early in the second period, Bryan Bickell put the Hawks in front 1-0 with a goal off of his own rebound. This was a huge goal because it put St. Louis on their heels and gave the Blackhawks the momentum. From that point on, the Blues became much less physical and allowed the Hawks to start controlling more of the play.

The rest of the second period remained scoreless, and the Blackhawks took their 1-0 lead into the third.

About six and a half minutes into the third and on the penalty kill, Marian Hossa took a one-time slap shot off the faceoff to beat Brian Elliot and make it a 2-0 game. This appeared to be a set play as Hossa was lined up right behind Toews for the faceoff.

The Blackhawks and Corey Crawford were able to hold off the Blues the rest of the way and won the game 2-0. This was the Blackhawks’ NHL-leading 7th shutout of the season (they were the only team to not record a shutout last year).

Today’s game proved to me that the Blackhawks are ready for the playoffs. I was very anxious to see how they would respond the St. Louis’ physical play, and they responded just the way I wanted them to. All year long, I have been saying that this team is not big enough, not tough enough, and too small. Today, the Blackhawks made me eat my words, and I couldn’t be happier.

Rather than laying down and caving in during the Blues’ physical onslaught in the first period, the Blackhawks stuck to their game plan, weathered the storm, and didn’t back down.

Their team defense lately, and especially today, has been fantastic. They are getting back to playing the way that they did during their big streak to begin the season. It is performances like today that prove why the Hawks have allowed the fewest goals in the NHL, and it is performances like today that really help their goaltenders get into a zone, which is what they’ll need in the playoffs.

The powerplay for the Hawks has turned into a disaster, ranking 21st in the NHL. A team with that much talent should not be that bad with the man advantage. The penalty kill, however, has really helped make up for the lack of success on the powerplay.

The Blackhawks are ranked 5th in the league on the PK, which will become an even bigger stat come playoff time. If you are not scoring powerplay goals in the playoffs, then you better not let up many either. If you look at the fact that the Hawks have allowed the fewest goals in the league and have the 5th best PK in the league, you can’t help but feel confident about their chances in the playoffs, regardless of their powerplay numbers. Remember, “defense wins championships.”

As for the goalie situation with the Blackhawks, Joel Quenneville has a good problem on 166605886_slidehis hands. Both Emery and Crawford are playing great right now, much like they have all year. I was a little critical of Crawford in an earlier post (and I still stand by what I said there), but he is really playing well right now and making a strong case as to why he should be the starting goalie in the playoffs. Deep down, I think it will end up being Crawford that gets the nod for the playoffs. Having said that, he might have a short leash.

We’re down to just 7 games remaining on  the Blackhawks’ schedule, and it would appear that they’ll take first place in the West, and possibly the NHL. The playoffs can’t come soon enough.

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