ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Blues captain’s return was supposed to make the difference.
Instead, it was the man with the ‘C’ on his chest for the Chicago Blackhawks who was the triumphant hero.
There aren’t many better big-game players in the league than Jonathan Toews, and once again the Blackhawks are ecstatic to see him show why he has that tag.
Toews scored the overtime winner which not only gave the defending Stanley Cup champions a 3-2 victory Friday night, but also has the Hawks ahead 3-2 in the best-of-seven opening-round affair.
“He’s a clutch player. Knows how to play in those moments,” said Hawks centre Andrew Shaw. “Give an opportunity to a guy like that he’s going to put it in the back of the net.”
Game 6 is Sunday afternoon in Chicago.
The Blues received a huge boost with the return of captain David Backes to the lineup for the first time since being injured in Game 2 on a hit that earned Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook a three-game suspension.
Lord knows the standing-room only crowd of 19,796 at the Scottrade Center expected Backes to be the piece that would put them over the top in the crucial swing game.
Instead, his counterpart put the Blues’ hopes for their first title in a perilous position.
Toews was alone behind the defenders because of an ill-timed line change, took a long-bomb feed from Duncan Keith and tucked a backhand just beyond the outstretched foot of Blues goalie Ryan Miller.
“I’m trying to get the puck out of the zone and all of a sudden it lands on his stick, couldn’t believe it. So I was pretty happy seeing that,” Keith said.
“We wouldn’t want anybody else. If we were to have a guy on the breakaway, it would be him. He’s pretty clutch when it comes to that. Nice goal.”
“I wasn’t even sure where their D-men were. Just got going as fast as I could and take advantage of a chance,” Toews said. “It just happened so fast. I jumped on the ice and got the puck and it just came right to me and it happened to go in. The celebration, just wasn’t sure if it was real or not, it happened so quick.
“It shows that we can overcome some adversity. That’s what it takes to beat a team like St. Louis. We didn’t do the job we wanted to do in Game 1 or Game 2, so we learn from those mistakes and had confidence we could find a way to be better.”
All three games in St. Louis during this series have gone to overtime. The Blues won the first two, but Chicago has won the last three, two in OT, leaving St. Louis with a big mettle test.
“What’s pouting gonna do? You just get back on the horse,” said Blues forward Alex Steen. “It’s a game. You have to win four. They have three, we have two. Off to Chicago we go. See you there.”
To their credit, the Blues twice erased a deficit to force OT, with Alex Pietrangelo’s early third-period marker making it a 2-2 game. It’s the third time in as many home games they’ve mustered a third-period comeback.
This time, though, they couldn’t get over the top. Hawks goalie Corey Crawford made a couple of clutch saves earlier in the extra period.
“It seems against a team that’s got this type of finish, you make a big error you pay for it,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.
“That’s what happened in this series. We’ve played extremely hard, at times dominated, playing to our potential, playing to our structure, but when we make an error like on the first goal and on the third goal we pay for it. That’s what’s happening. We’re paying for our mistakes.”
THIRD TIME NOT THE CHARM
They’ve played with fire in the third period all three games at home.
The St. Louis Blues were burned badly enough on Friday they may not be able to recover.
All three games at the Scottrade Center have seen the Blues need a final-frame comeback to force overtime. They got away with it the first couple of times and won both, but couldn’t make it a three-peat in Friday’s 3-2 loss that has the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks one win away from advancing to the second round.
“You want to get that first goal and you want to get that lead going into the third period. We’ve had too many games where we’ve had to come back,” admitted Blues defenceman Barret Jackman. “To the same extent, they have been one-goal games and they’ve battled to get the lead, I think both teams are showing a lot of character and a lot of heart. We just have to win that extra battle and give that extra push at the net to get the goals.”
The Blues are going to lament all their missed opportunities in Friday’s affair.
Jackman had a golden chance early in overtime, but couldn’t beat Corey Crawford.
T.J. Oshie could have put his team ahead midway through the third period, but Crawford made a diving save.
“We felt like we deserved to win that game,” said Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, whose third-period tally forced OT. “It’s tough when you have that many good looks and you don’t capitalize on them. But get back into Chicago and hopefully bring it back here for seven.”