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Blackhawks Drop Game 1 In OT To The Blues, But Looked Really Good Doing It

game 1 ot winner

That’s a hell of a way to die. Harmless puck thrown to the front of the net and it’s in the back of your net. That’s life in the NHL playoffs though. There’s always an element of creating luck and opportunity. The Blues were on the right end of good bounces last night and took a 1-0 series lead.

Aside from taking the L on a fluky OT goal, the Hawks played a nearly perfect road game. The Blackhawks were without one of the best defensemen in the league, Ladd was a game-time decision because his wife was in labor, Hossa, Anisimov, and Shaw were all reportedly recovering from injuries, and Crawford hadn’t played in a meaningful game in over a month. The game seemed stacked against the Hawks and it for all of those reasons it was as much of a must-win game for the Blues as a Game 1 can be. Yet, the Blackhawks carried the play and were absolutely NAILS defensively. Great structure to their game, safe plays to move the puck out of their end, and they shutdown the Blues offense all night. I can only remember one or two legitimate scoring chances from STL. If the Hawks can repeat that defensive performance consistently throughout the series then they’ll be just fine.

–Game 1 played out almost exactly how you’d expect. Very few quality scoring chances. Both teams are very well-coached and have playoff experience. Coach Q loves to play the matchup game, and at times can chase matchups to a fault. That wasn’t the case last night at all. The Blackhawks didn’t seem to care which line was thrown out there against Tarasenko’s line. That’s kind of what I predicted in the preview blog yesterday. The Hawks have two shutdown lines with 16-19-81 and 11-22-65. Then if the Blues want to go best against best, the Blackhawks are very comfortable throwing Panarin-Anisimov-Kane against the Tarasenko line as well. The only line that the coaching seemed to try to protect was the “3rd line” of Mashinter-Teravainen-Fleischmann.

–I understand the logic of having Mashinter in the lineup. The Blues are a scumbag team and they dress a heavyweight themselves with Ryan Reeves. The Blackhawks want to have a heavyweight of their own to combat that. Fine. I just disagree with that logic. Don’t let the Blues dictate who is in the lineup, the Blackhawks should be dictating to them. Mashinter only played 7 minutes last night and took a bad offensive zone penalty. That line becomes a bit of a liability with 53 in the game. If the Hawks want more sand in the bottom six, Dale Weise is sitting right there in the press box ready to go. I would like to see Richard Panik in that spot though. He’s earned with his play down the stretch. He’s good size, good speed, has some ability to possess the puck, and can finish around the net. Put pressure on the Blues by adding more speed to the 3rd line and give yourself the ability to truly roll four.

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–The Blues initiated the physical play early, as they often do, but the Hawks didn’t shy away from that side of the game at all. Andrew Ladd had his best game as a Blackhawk in 2016. Great energy all night and brought some serious thump with 8 registered hits.

That’s the type of player the Blackhawks expected to get when they traded for him at the deadline. The Ladd-Toews-Hossa line was strong all game. They consistently had the puck and generated some chances both off the rush and down low in the zone. That line is going to score if they keep playing like they did last night. The Hawks just didn’t have the finish on some of their better chances last night, and Elliott stood tall when it mattered.

–Elliott was shaky early. He just looked leaky and unsure of himself. The Hawks couldn’t capitalize and pour it on and before they knew it Elliott found his game. That mini breakaway by Toews in the 2nd that Elliott stopped seemed to be the turning point for him. The Blackhawks didn’t get any of the fluky bounces around the net to go their way last night, and the Blues did a good job protecting the middle of the ice. The Hawks had 35 shots on goal, but few were quality scoring chances. They need to get more pucks and more bodies to the net going forward. I still think the Blackhawks have a clear advantage in the goaltending matchup.

–Crawford went a month without knowing which way was up. Last night he looked like the goalie we’ve seen all year and answered the biggest question mark for the Hawks going into the series. He was seeing everything and reacting well.

This wasn’t his best save of the night or anything, but it shows perfect position and quickness in the crease. That looked like guy who has two Stanley Cup rings. Big time performance from Corey Crawford.

–There’s an old cliche in hockey that if you don’t capitalize on a 5-on-3 you’re going to lose. That played out last night. The Hawks powerplay wasn’t crisp last night. The Blues deserve credit. That’s a very good PK unit. They play aggressive, yet disciplined. The Hawks made far too many unforced errors. TVR in particular struggled with his decision-making on the PP. The Hawks forced too many passes last night that just weren’t there. They need to be content to just move the puck back down the boards, put it into good areas where their teammates can go and get it. Keep it simple.

–Aside from a few gaffes on the PP and a bad bounce off of his skate, Trevor vanRiemsdyk was NAILS last night. Where my TVR haters at now? All year long TVR was the target of internet hate because of a few stupid stats that are irrelevant. Last night was vindication for TVR believers. Gap control was perfect, good stick in his own end, moved the puck out well, jumped in the play a few times, and was strong on his skates. TVR was 2nd on the team in ice-time with 28:12. People were wondering who would step up for Duncan Keith(and Oduya too I guess) and TVR answered the bell. If you still hate TVR then you’re just an internet lemming. Guy can flat out play.

–Speaking of rookie Dmen who can play…Colton Parayko. He’s a stud. I’ve seen him play before and always thought he was pretty good, but obviously I watch the playoffs with much more focus. Parayko is going to be a STAR(if he isn’t already). He’s 6’6″, moves really well for a big man, has nice offensive instincts and heavy shot. He has a name that screams Western Canada too. He’s the type of young player you can build your blueline around. Really impressive.

–The Blackhawks have a big rookie Dman too…he wasn’t impressive. Viktor Svedberg is fine. He belongs in the NHL, but probably not on a team that’s going to win the Stanley Cup. With Duncan Keith coming back on Friday for Game 2, I think Gustafsson will get the nod over Svedberg as the 6th defenseman. Rozsival played a pretty nice game last night. Kept things quiet when he was on the ice and played with some snarl.

–Biggest problem for the Blackhawks last night…zero goals. “It’s hard to win if you don’t score.”–Magic Johnson. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line needs to be better in Game 2. Their game on the rush is largely east-west and Panarin+Kane play close to each other, make passes in small areas and make it difficult on the Defense to decided who has which guy. The Blues did a great job of tracking back and taking away the middle of the ice last night. I’d like to see the Kane line attack the Blues with more speed to the outside. If the Hawks pressure the Blues D north-south, it should help open up lanes in their east-west game.  Panarin had probably the best offensive play and the best chance of the night

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Missed winning the game there by probably less than an inch. I was a little worried about Panarin in the playoffs. Sometimes great regular season can’t translate their game to the playoffs. I think Panarin showed enough that he will compete and produce for this team in the playoffs.

 

Before the series I said Hawks in 6, and I didn’t see anything last night to change my opinion. The Blackhawks actually played better than expected. This is the playoff Blackhawks we’ve seen for the past 7 years. Suffocating team defense, timely saves, and eventually the gap between the Hawks and Blues will show itself again like it always does. Nobody can keep Kane, Panarin, Toews, Hossa, and company off the scoresheet consistently. Duncan Keith comes back, the Hawks make a few minor adjustments to their attack, and it’s go time. Dynasty Reign.

 

PS: Shoutout to @mkmolnar for making most of those gifs. She’s going to be making those live during the games for the playoffs so give her a follow.