Alexander Steen (Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)
The St. Louis Blues are one win away from advancing to the second round, and their ability to stay calm in the face of a questionable call played a major part in downing the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in Game 4. St. Louis will have the chance to advance on Thursday evening.
It’s wouldn’t exactly be worthy of being called a miracle, but if the Chicago Blackhawks are going to get out of the first round — let alone defend their championship — they’re going to have to claw all the way back from a 3-1 series deficit.
For the second consecutive game, the St. Louis Blues made the most of their opportunities, including 2 power play goals on 4 chances, and managed to take both games from the Blackhawks at the Madhouse on Madison. The difference-maker for the Blues came when Alexander Steen pressured Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk into making an ill-advised cross-ice saucer pass, which Steen deftly knocked out of the air before streaking in alone and firing the puck past Chicago netminder Corey Crawford.
And while the win is obviously the most important thing about Game 4 for the Blues, the significance of taking the 3-1 series lead in a game that had St. Louis facing adversity early can’t be overlooked, especially for a team that has tried and failed to advance to the second round for three consecutive seasons.
Not only did the Blues have to battle back in the contest after the Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead on a goal by Duncan Keith, but St. Louis had to rally from Keith’s go-ahead goal after it came on a penalty call that had almost everyone, including coach Ken Hitchcock, questioning how the infractions shook out the way they did.
The play in question was a net-front scramble that resulted in Blues winger Robby Fabbri colliding with Crawford. Though it didn’t look like much, Crawford, who returned from a concussion in time for the post-season, took exception. He chased after Fabbri and the two traded shots in the corner. As one would expect, the two teams gathered in the corner but — and this is what left the Blues incensed — somehow the Blackhawks were the team to emerge with a power play, even though some felt it was Crawford who initiated the fracas.
After the Blackhawks scored on the ensuing power play, it wouldn’t have been surprising had the game gotten out of control, if the Blues were heated enough to commit another infraction and the game got away from St. Louis. Instead, though, the Blues remained calm, didn’t give the Blackhawks another man advantage for the rest of the game and fought through the perceived injustice to score three straight goals and skate away with a 4-3 victory. Maybe that, more than anything, is a sign that this Blues team is different from those that have come before it. And maybe that, more than anything, can help the Blues exorcise the demon that has led them to exit the post-season in the first round each of the past three years.
St. Louis will need to up their ability to control the play if they do have designs on ending the series in Game 5, though. Chicago has controlled play to the tune of a 5-on-5 shot attempts for percentage of 54.3 percent through four games this series, and were it not for stellar play by Elliott in Games 1 and 4, this series could easily have swung in the other direction. Of course, all it will take for the Blues at this point is one more great game from Elliott to advance and vanquish the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. However, continuing to be out-possessed on a game-by-game basis could turn this series on its ear if Chicago can start capitalizing on their possession dominance.
But possession woes aside, this looks like it could finally be it for St. Louis — the season they get past the first round and get one step closer after three disappointing years being ousted in the conference quarter final. All it will take for the Blues is one more win, and for the first time in a long time it feels more like a when than an if.