Hostility resumes between Blackhawks, Blues tonight in Chicago

Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues are putting on quite the show in the first-round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. The series began in St. Louis where the Blues won both home games 4-3 in overtime; twice tying the game late in the third-period to force the extra frame.

The Blackhawks looked to be in full control of the second game, holding a 3-2 lead in the third after falling behind 2-0 early in the game. But it all came undone for Chicago when star defenceman Brent Seabrook took a run at Blues captain David Backes, knocking the latter into the end-boards. Backes returned to his feet quickly but his legs were wobbly — refs and teammates held him up as he spat fire in the direction of Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Seabrook was awarded a five-minute major for the hit — the Blues tied the game at the tail end of the power-play, with their net empty.

Seabrook was suspended three games for his head-hit on Backes. Without him in the lineup the Hawks lose a key component of their top-four — it’ll be hard to replace what Seabrook provides.

The Blues will be without first-line centre David Backes tonight. The captain’s injury is being labeled “upper body” by TSN’s injury report. However, if you’ve watched the reply, you can safely deduce that Backes likely suffered some form of concussion. Hopefully, it’s not as bad as it looked.

Big Swedish centre Patrik Berglund will return to the Blues lineup tonight, providing some relief up-the-middle, but there is no replacing David Backes’s presence and power.

The series between the Blackhawks and Blues has already reached a feverish temperature, both sides displaying a clear desire to do whatever necessary to win while showing little regard for the personal well-being of their opponent. I guess you could say these two Central Division rivals have a hate for each other. As the series progresses cooler heads will need to prevail because if one team thinks it wise to up the anti and play recklessly, that team risks bad penalties against, which could lead to undisciplined losses, and ultimately, an early exit from the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Although the first two games could’ve arguably gone either way, they in fact, did not. The Blues have a two game lead that could become a three game choke-hold if they can earn victory tonight at the United Center in Chicago.

Conversely, tonight’s game is a must-win for the Blackhawks, who are the defending champions and winners of two Cups in four years, but even they would be in-over-their-heads attempting a comeback from 3 games down.

That being said, not so long ago the Blackhawks almost completed a 0-3 comeback in the first-round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs against the hated Vancouver Canucks. In that series — which also occurred the year after a Hawks cup victory — Chicago trailed by three games to zero and stormed back to force Game 7. The seventh game went to overtime, and was ended on a goal by Alex Burrows of the Canucks. Close … but close doesn’t cut it.

Ryan Miller has been solid late in games for the Blues. The recently acquired former Vezina Trophy winner has stopped 37 of 39 shots faced in the third and overtime periods in this series.

Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford has been the opposite. While he has certainly displayed an ability to make highlight reel saves fuelled by agility and determination, Crawford has twice given up a third-frame tying goal, and twice allowed himself to be beaten in overtime. What’s worse, Crawford lacked composure in Game 2. He was getting involved in after-the-whistle scrums around his net all throughout the game.

Teams peak at different times in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Some clubs are incredible in Round 1, then bow out in the second-round, like the San Jose Sharks did last year. Other clubs squeak through the first-round and catch fire in subsequent rounds like the Boston Bruins in 2013. The Blackhawks-Blues series strikes me as the type of matchup that can propel the winner into a long playoff run, potentially climaxing in the Stanley Cup Finals. It also doesn’t hurt that both teams were considered pre-tournament favourites to win the Cup, and the opponents that await them in the second-round — the inexperienced Colorado Avalanche and goalie-stymied Minnesota Wild — are widely considered beatable.