CHICAGO – Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said it was one of the best games of Duncan Keith’s career. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock compared Keith to former Red Wings star Nicklas Lidstrom.
Keith was everywhere in Game 6 of Chicago’s first-round series against St. Louis, especially when the Blackhawks pulled away in the third period.
The veteran defenceman had a goal and three assists, helping Chicago advance to the Western Conference semifinals with a 5-1 victory against St. Louis on Sunday.
“It feels good to contribute in a big game,” Keith said, “and I think just the main thing for me is just being able to move on and get a couple days to relax and just regroup and focus on the next round.”
Chicago won four in a row after a slow start in St. Louis. The defending Stanley Cup champions will play the winner of the Minnesota-Colorado series in the next round. The Avalanche lead the Wild 3-2 heading into Game 6 in Minnesota on Monday night.
“I don’t think we looked at this series saying we needed to win four straight when we were down two games to none,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “We said we’ve got to get better. … Don’t look too far ahead. You’ve got to focus on the small tasks.”
Toews, Patrick Sharp and Andrew Shaw scored in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the third and Keith closed out the scoring as the Blackhawks improved to 14-2 in home playoff games over the past two seasons.
Bryan Bickell scored in the first and Corey Crawford made 35 saves, keeping Chicago in a tie game when St. Louis controlled the second period.
“They were dominating the first 40 minutes here and we came back with maybe the best period of the year,” Quenneville said.
T.J. Oshie scored for the Blues, who outshot the Blackhawks 36-27. Ryan Miller finished with 22 saves.
St. Louis went 0 for 6 in 10 minutes of power-play time over the first two periods, wasting a chance to take the lead. The Blues went 2 for 29 with the man advantage for the series.
“I think both the PK and (Crawford) won the game and the series ultimately,” Quenneville said. “I think that was the big factor in us getting through.”
The Blackhawks also struggled on the power play, but they scored when it mattered most.
With Jay Bouwmeester in the box for tripping, Keith made a nice stop to keep the puck in the St. Louis zone, and then sent a pass over to Toews. The captain beat Miller over his right shoulder for a 2-1 lead just 44 seconds into the third.
It was Toews’ third game-winning goal of the series. He also scored on a breakaway in overtime of Friday night’s 3-2 win.
Toews’ 23rd career post-season goal seemed to take the air out of the Blues, and it got even worse for St. Louis. Sharp got loose for a breakaway, shook off a stick to the face by defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk and slid a shot past Miller.
“The third goal was really a backbreaker for us,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “That was really the one that hurt. We had been chasing them all series and able to catch up in games, but I thought the third goal really took the wind out of our sails.”
Sharp’s first point of the playoffs sent a charge through the towel-waving sellout crowd of 22,144, and there were mocking chants of “Mil-ler! Mil-ler!” as Shaw added his second goal of the series and helped set up Keith for his second.
“We never stop working just because things are going our way. I think that’s the most important thing,” Crawford said.
Chicago got a boost when defenceman Brent Seabrook returned from a three-game suspension. Seabrook was punished by the NHL for his hit on Blues captain David Backes in Game 2.
“It was tough. I can’t watch hockey,” Seabrook said. “You’re hanging on every shot, every save, every play. You want to be out there helping the guys. It was obviously tough to watch it, but they did a great job.”
Backes exacted a measure of revenge when he delivered a hard hit on Seabrook into the end boards in the second period. But Seabrook added two more assists and had six points for the series.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap