ST. LOUIS – The Chicago Blackhawks have won three straight in their playoff series against the St. Louis Blues while Brent Seabrook served his suspension.
They’ll try to make it four in a row with their defenceman back in the lineup.
“Seabs is one of the steadiest D-men, I think, in this league,” fellow Chicago defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “And pretty underrated too. What he brings to our team every night is huge.”
To help keep their season alive, the Blues may need their key trade deadline pickup, goalie Ryan Miller, to steal a game—however long it takes.
The Blues won the first two games at home and the Game 7 would be Tuesday night in St. Louis.
“He’s played great,” coach Ken Hitchcock said Saturday. “He’s going have to be a big player for us. We know that, he knows that.”
Jonathan Toews’ breakaway goal in overtime of Game 5 gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 series lead. The defending Stanley Cup champions can wrap it up at home on Sunday in Chicago.
There have been 11 overtimes in the playoffs this year, four in the Blues-Blackhawks series, with Patrick Kane also getting one for the Blackhawks in Game 4 after the Blues took a 2-0 series lead on goals from Alexander Steen and Barret Jackman in extra time.
There have been 13 series in NHL history with four or more overtime games and the most is five, by the Coyotes and Blackhawks in 2012 and by the Maple Leafs and Canadiens in the 1951 Cup finals, according to STATS.
“The margin between winning and losing in this series is really small,” Blackhawks forward Ben Smith said. “You have to treat every shift like it’s the difference between winning and losing.
“You know we’ve been fortunate the last few games to get some wins and put ourselves in a good spot.”
The Blackhawks have not been practicing on days off in the series, so they’ll be as rested as possible for Game 6. The Blues have been holding optional skates, attended by a handful of players.
“If I played like this all through the regular season, I would probably be in the ice tub 24 hours,” Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell said. “It’s hard, but playoffs is playoffs, and you do whatever it takes.”
The Blues squandered a 2-0 series lead last spring against the Kings, losing four straight. This series has been a lot more competitive and St. Louis in particular has missed more than its share of wide-open nets.
Either that, or they’re shooting it right at Corey Crawford.
“Jackman walks in down main street, we think the game’s over,” Hitchcock said. “We’re looking at half the net, the goalie, he’s way off his angle, and we shoot it at him.
“Even on the chance they scored, we think we’re jumping on the rebound and the bench is standing up.”
Toews and Kane have been major factors in the series after returning from long injury layoffs. Rather than being rusty, both appear rejuvenated.
Ready, too, for the big moments such as Kane’s overtime goal in Game 4 and Toews’ breakaway in Game 5 after Duncan Keith’s clearing effort caromed off Andrew Shaw’s shin pad and right to the captain alone at centre ice.
“Give an opportunity to a guy like that,” Shaw said, “and he’s going to put it in the back of the net.”
The Blues got all of their injured players back for the series, getting a four-goal breakout from Vladimir Tarasenko, and have made every game a nail-biter even though everyone hasn’t gotten up to speed. David Backes played well in Game 5 in his first game back from an upper-body injury but tired at times and wasn’t a major factor.
Miller has yet to really stand out. He’s been best, perhaps, at keeping the games close.
The same goes for Corey Crawford, who had a shutout in Game 3.
Aside from Miller, this is essentially the nucleus the Blues have been counting on for several years but keeps falling short. The last two years, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick had their number.
“There was so much shaking of the head coming to the bench, all the chances we had, I saw it get into our head,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t think that’s the case. I think we’ve just got to play.”
NOTES: According to STATS, the team that takes Game 5 in a best-of-seven series tied at two wins apiece takes the series 79 per cent of the time. … The Blues have dropped 10 of their past 11 playoff series that were tied 2-2.