PUCK DROP: 7:30pm
TV: NBCSN, CSN, CBC In Da Great What Nort’
PALLBEARERS: St. Louis Gametime
Well now we’re gonna see if #ThisTimeWillBeDifferent, aren’t we?
There’s so much riding on this game tonight for St. Louis I kind of want to hurl in delight. If they lose, their coach will assuredly be fired, playing staff will be changed. We can look for CAPTAIN! to have a new address next year (probably going to happen anyway). Kirk ShattenKevin will almost assuredly go on the trade block again. The great goalie search of St. Louis could kick up into hyper drive again, or they’ll try for the 87th time to give the job to Jay Gallon and he’ll watch it go right by him.
If they win, then they’ll have slain their biggest demon, overcome a major mental hurdle, and be looking at a matchup with a Dallas team that probably won’t have its top center and is trying to play with no goalies and a defense that uses the youth soccer tactic of just chasing the puck in packs. There might be some validation for this Blues core with a win tonight. With a loss, it gets broken up.
For the Hawks… eh, if they don’t win they’ll have been a flawed, tired team that still has three banners in seven years with a core intact that is always in position to make a run for more. Win tonight, and they’ll have broken a main rival for nearly just the sheer joy of it. Who’s got more pressure y’think?
As we said before Game 6, at this point in a series there aren’t any secrets or new cards to be played. If the Blues were a rational team, they would think to themselves all they have to do is come out in the 1st period like they did in Game 5 and just dare Corey Crawford to keep them at bay again. They’ll know that they had the Hawks and the axe awfully close together after 20 minutes Saturday night, and it’s their fault they didn’t connect. Quite simply, the Blues have had more stretches in this series where the Hawks haven’t been able to catch them more than the reverse, at least after they surrendered all of it in Game 1. They don’t have to come up with some magic formula here.
One thing everyone will be watching is of course Tarasenko’s and Schwartz’s ice time. Hitchcock is always going to want Stastny and Steen out against Toews and Kane, but last time that meant they skated 10 more minutes than the line the Hawks simply have not been able to contain. If he’s so worried about Jori Lehtera taking defensive zone draws, he can send Stastny out to take them when necessary between #91 and #17. Hitch cannot go down in this game without rolling his best forwards as much as possible. If he does, he’ll deserve to have to go print up his resume and try not to spill hot sauce on it this time.
Another thing to watch and we’ll be harped on by the national broadcast for sure is just how Brian Elliot recovers from getting beat the past two games. Crow has taken the ascendency in this series and was able to recover from the 1st period in Game 6 to hold the Blues out the rest of the night. Elliott has been beaten four times each in the last two, and the Hawks have finally gotten him moving more and also appear to be targeting his glove.
That’s the dilemma for the Blues. If they open it up here that’s how they’ve beaten the Hawks for periods or games. The Hawks’ defense below the top pairing simply can’t handle an open and fast game, and despite the over-celebration of his goal TVR has been roadkill in his own end the past three or four games. Seabrook hasn’t been in any better condition. But that does leave the back door open, with more space for the Hawks to make the passes that make Elliott move. But again, the Blues have to go down swinging if they’re going to go down tonight.
We know they’ll attack at points, but they can’t for a full 60. The past two games have turned that when the Blues have tried to lock it down, they’ve let the Hawks back into it and then take the lead. When they came at them, Crow either had to put up miracles or they were dominating the game as in the 3rd of Game 5 and the 1st of Game 6. Can the Blues successfully navigate the periods of play when they have to take it down a notch and not forecheck with everything they have?
You’d say the first goal matters, but it hasn’t really in this series much. You’d think that if the Hawks score first the tension in the building will be more palpable than the smell (which is saying something), but the Blues have recovered from that before in this series. Get the first two and then it might, and there might be an urge to pull Elliott too, but let’s not count on that. We know the Blues are going to start the game with the cayenne pepper on their balls, and it’ll be more of a question of holding on for five, 10, 15 minutes for the Hawks.
Do that, and the frustration and angst… well, you’ll be able to drink it in. And that’s what the Hawks want. Then they can attack ShattenKevin and O’Meester and Parayko in their own end, as all three have gotten worse and worse defensively as this series has gone on.
Take it away, Sam…