CHICAGO - The Chicago Blackhawks can breath easier having now made a series of their Stanley Cup playoff matchup versus the St. Louis Blues.
The question remains, though, whether the Blackhawks can actually win their best-of-seven set with their big guns firing blanks.
Through three games, in which the Blues hold a 2-1 lead heading into Wednesday’s clash in the Windy City, Chicago’s top five regular-season goal scorers have combined for two tallies.
Patrick Kane netted a beautiful breakaway goal in the series opener and Jonathan Toews potted the winner in Monday’s 2-0 victory. But it was a gift from Blues netminder Ryan Miller, not a tally by a pure sniper.
That’s it for the defending Stanley Cup champs. Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp – their dynamic duo of 30-goal getters in the regular season — and Andrew Shaw, who scored 20 times, haven’t lit a lamp.
Unless things change for that quintet, it will be hard to beat even an injured Blues team.
“I think we went through that last year. Johnny’s group, they weren’t productive,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday. “At the same time, the line they were playing against wasn’t doing much offensively as well. They were playing the important minutes, big minutes, and you know top guys a lot of times they get that top assignment. They’re playing against top defencemen, and I think sometimes the guys who have less fanfare rise to the occasion, especially in the playoffs.
“Whether you got to win a game 1-0, we had opportunities with three real goals (in both games) on the road that could have been enough. I think with St. Louis, offence is going to be hard to come by. Whether it’s one guy here or one guy here, we expect everybody chipping in, playing the right way and hopefully they’ll get production doing it.”
Quenneville certainly has every reason to feel comfortable and confident with his group. Not only do they have the history of success, but he has a plethora of players to mix and match to help generate offence.
For example, last game he put Kane and Toews together on a line, with big Bryan Bickell on the other wing. Usually, Hossa has been with Toews and Sharp.
“I don’t think he’s fighting very fair frankly,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “I don’t like that.”
Talk about a nice card to be able to play in a pinch.
“Sometimes it’s really worked when we’ve been on different lines and we’ve had a lot of success.” said Kane, who is working back to top gear from the knee injury that sidelined him for the final few weeks of the season. “In the playoffs last year, they put us together and we had some success at the end, too, so maybe that’s the thought process there. I think when you’re playing with a guy like Johnny it’s almost like you’re not really worried too much about who you’re playing against or who you’re out there against on the other team because he makes things a lot easier for you. We’ve had some success in the past, hopefully we can get going here a little bit more. I thought we played pretty good (Monday) night but we want to finish our chances and maybe create some more along the way here too. It was a good start.”
A good start, yes, but just a start.
As banged up as the Blues are — there was no word whether captain David Backes will be in the lineup for Game 4 and several players are playing through issues — they’re still a better team than the Blackhawks have faced in the opening rounds in past years.
That is a factor in the offensive struggles for the Hawks stars.
But consider this question: Which of these teams is better built to win low-scoring, 1-0 games night after night?
Miller has not been a shut-the-door goalie yet in this series, so it may make for a healthy debate, but the first instinct is the Blues are more likely to claim a few of those kind of wins.
The Blackhawks big scorers are best off not allowing their opponents that chance to prove it.
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GOOD START ESSENTIAL
The Chicago Blackhawks are finally off the ground. The St. Louis Blues must make the most of their opportunity to keep them from taking flight.
Now that the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks have a win in their collective pocket, the Blues, who hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series, are well aware the importance of Wednesday’s Game 4.
A St. Louis win at the Madhouse on Madison means returning home in control of the series. A Hawks victory evens the series and gives Chicago all kinds of momentum.
“They’re a team that really plays with a lot of confidence,” said Blues defenceman Barret Jackman Tuesday. “Coming into this building, with 22,000 people going as nuts as they are, it definitely gets you fired up. They’ve got a little bit of life and we expect — especially the first five minutes — it to be pretty hectic. It’s something we’ve got to be ready for and be able to push back in our own effort and hopefully have a pretty good start.”
To a man, the Blues believe they were the better team in their 2-0 loss on Monday so they have just as much sense of calm as the Blackhawks.
“They felt like we got away with one in Game 2 and they got away with one in Game 3, so 2-1 for either team is probably where the series should be at,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They said it best today when they felt like (goalie Corey) Crawford was the difference for them and a timely goal or two was the difference for us in Game 2.
“We still have home ice advantage, which we’re going to obviously need, but we’ve got to take advantage of it by playing better and better in a few elements of our game.”
On Twitter: @SunRandySportak