They dropped Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis, but the Blackhawks, the resilient bunch they are, beat the Blues four straight and wrapped up their quarterfinal series at home in Game 6 on Sunday afternoon.
As does any team en route to a championship, the Hawks have come away with playoff wins plenty of times when the stats might favor defeat. In Game 6, they put the Blues on the power play six times. In the second period, the Blues pressed and outshot the Hawks 17-3. Odds at that point favored St. Louis, but Chicago, as the cliché goes, found a way to win. They killed every St. Louis power play and scored early in the third on a man advantage of their own. From there, it was all Hawks.
After Jonathan Toews scored the go-ahead goal, Patrick Sharp scored just over a minute later to make it 3-1. Chicago doubled up St. Louis in shots in the final frame and cruised to a 5-1 victory. Off to the second round for the defending champs. They’ll play Minnesota or Colorado.
Let’s talk about the team from the Midwestern U.S. that didn’t advance today. Undoubtedly, this one stings for the St. Louis Blues organization. After leading the Presidents’ Trophy race for a good portion of the season, the Blues fizzled down the stretch. They beat the Sabres on April 3, but lost six straight in regulation to end the season.
And despite leading this series 2-0, they once again couldn’t pull it off, losing in an eerily similar pattern to last year’s series against the Kings. Much more was expected from the Blues, who acquired Steve Ott and Ryan Miller at the trade deadline and sent the clear message that they believed this was their year to be the last team standing.
But once again, the Blues get an extended summer.
Why don’t they yet stack up to the Blackhawks? Quite simply, a lack of high-end talent up front. Jonathan Toews is arguably the best post-season player in the world, while running mate Patrick Kane could easily be called the most creative in the league. Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, the third and fourth best Hawk forwards, are both as good or better than the most talented forward on St. Louis.
Speaking of the most talented forward on St. Louis — who is that again? David Backes? No, T.J. Oshie. No, no, it’s Alexander Steen. Or is it Vladimir Tarasenko? (Point is, there is no clear answer to the question, because there is no superstar among the forward group of the Blues.)
David Backes is a terrific center, but he’s a prototypical No. 2. He’s a 60-point player who turns 30 in a few days. His No. 1 center counterpart on the Blackhawks is in a superior skill rung and is about to turn 26.
Finding that elusive superstar forward is priority No. 1 for Blues GM Doug Armstrong this summer. Or, perhaps, he’ll count on developing one. Jaden Schwartz looks like he could develop into Zach Parise and Tarasenko has shown flashes of brilliance. But since internal growth can be painfully slow and the Blues are in “win now” mode, bet on Armstrong looking to the trade market for a star.
Despite St. Louis’ failure to escape the first round for the second consecutive year, they’re still an elite team and the Cup window remains wide open. They should be beastly again next year, and perhaps better prepared to take on a playoff juggernaut like the Hawks.
Backes knows the Blues should have won a round this year. His postgame comments echoed the views of the organization.
“No offense you guys,” said Backes, “but these interviews are getting a little sickening to have in April and not June.”