Florida Panthers

High Danger: Blues 3, Blackhawks 2

I’m looking back at Game 3 after Game 4 has already happened, so maybe this write-up would have had a little different tone if I’d been able to get to it right away.

Alas, life intervened, and here we are, a few days late and the context of another game past.

If I’d been writing this before Game 4, I would have said much similar to what I wrote about Game 1. It’s a close game, a tight series against two well-matched teams. It was a one-goal game. The Blackhawks massively outshot the Blues. Sure, the penalty kill had some issues, but the power play clicked and Artemi Panarin set up a pretty nice goal and, okay, sure, winning both at home would make the path to the second round a lot easier, but it’s okay, it’s not like the Blackhawks haven’t come back from being down 2-1 in a series before.

But discipline has long been one of the keys to the Blackhawks’ success — and when they have been undisciplined, they had one of the league’s best penalty kills to back them up. They’ve struggled on both fronts this season, and while the return of Marcus Kruger helped shore things up for a while, things are getting wobbly again. The Blues converted on two of three power play opportunities, including the winning goal, scored while Patrick Kane was in the box for taking a careless high-sticking penalty.

Some of this game can be chalked up to bad luck. Brian Elliott is playing out of his mind right now, sitting on a .954 Sv%, good for second in playoff goalies with more than one game under their belt. Elliott ended the season with a .930, first in the league out of goalies who played more than 20 games. Much has been made of the Blues’ goaltending woes and missteps over the years, but they’re finally trusting Elliott this year and he’s getting the job done for them.

But despite the absurd number of shots Elliott is facing (46 in this game, 152 total across all four games), not many of them are dangerous. Think back onto how many times a puck’s been shot directly into Elliott’s chest. He’s not giving up rebounds, they’re not getting him moving side-to-side, they’re not even screening him particularly well. Elliott faced 6 shots in the “high danger” area, with only 3 of those coming at even strength. (Compare that to the Blues, who had 13 high danger shots at evens, and frequently made Crawford have to perform heroics to keep the score what it was.)

And if I’d been writing this before Game 4, I’d say — you know what, all of that is still okay. This team — even this imperfect incarnation of this team — knows how to fight back. Even the series at home, and you’ve got a series again.

For the first time in years, though, I find myself doubting the resilience of this team. Giving up leads has plagued them throughout this series — it also did them in back in 2014 against the Kings — on top of stupid, selfish penalties.

You can’t view this loss without the lens of the loss of Game 4 now. I don’t know what to tell you.

Buckle up, everyone, because we could be in for a bumpy ride.

I’ll leave you with this link to Artem Anisimov’s goal, brilliantly set up by Artemi Panarin’s intentional loss on the faceoff. Look at those happy faces. Look at that exuberant hug. It was maybe the only thing about hockey that hasn’t made me angry over the past couple of days.

(Photo: Sarah Avampato)

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