Talk about a game of inches.
For the first time in the playoffs, coach’s challenge has potentially altered the outcome of a game and it came at the expense of the St. Louis Blues. In the third period of a tie game, Blues center Jori Lehtera charged hard into the Blackhawks zone, and seconds later Chicago was digging the puck out of their net after Vladimir Tarasenko netted what appeared to be his second goal of the contest. As Scottrade Center erupted and fans smacked hands, the Blackhawks coaching staff was huddling up and challenging the play.
Review revealed Lehtera, with both skates raised above the ice as the puck crossed the blueline, entered the zone inches offside. The challenge was successful, the goal was called back and the score was back level. And hockey wouldn’t be hockey if Tarasenko didn’t take a penalty two minutes later, and, as fate would have it, Blackhawks’ Andrew Shaw scored on that very power play to turn the tide in Chicago’s favor.
Shaw’s goal, like Tarasenko’s before it, was reviewed, this time for goaltender interference as the Blackhawks winger appeared to ever-so-slightly catch the pad of Blues goaltender Brian Elliott. But the goal stood, the Blackhawks took the lead and they didn’t look back. In the late stages of the third with Elliott out of the net, Artemi Panarin scored a lucky empty-netter and his marker would stand up as the game-winning goal after the Blues their second goal of the contest with only seconds remaining. It was too little, too late, and the Blackhawks evened the series with a 3-2 victory.
The concern with the coach’s challenge was always that a single play as close as Lehtera’s offside would turn the tide of a game or alter a series, and there’s no doubt Blues fans will be lamenting the inclusion of the challenge system as they wait for Game 3 to arrive Sunday afternoon. But the advent of the challenge came as an answer to calls for the referees and linesman to make sure they got calls right. In the most technical of senses, that’s what happened Friday night.
While the review will remain the main talking point of Game 2 — and rightfully so — the Blues’ play in the game shouldn’t be overlooked. St. Louis managed to take home a 1-0 win in Game 1 only because Elliott was able to stand tall when tested, but the Blues were that close to taking what could have been a game-clinching lead because they outplayed the Blackhawks for long stretches of play in the series’ second outing. That’s promising as the series shifts to the Windy City, as is the continued dominance of Blackhawks shooters by Elliott and the incredibly impressive play of Tarasenko.
For the Blackhawks, the win may seem a bit karmic. They got back the unlucky bounce that led to Blues captain David Backes’ game-winning goal in Game 1 when the review went their way, and they cashed on a power play that came shortly thereafter. That said, the play of Corey Crawford shouldn’t go unnoticed. The Blackhawks netminder was as solid as he’s been all season, and his 29 saves included some brilliant stops. And just as Crawford’s play should be heralded, so too should Shaw’s. Not only did he score the winner, Shaw provided the leaping screen on Duncan Keith’s goal that broke Elliott’s 100-plus minute shutout streak.
The series now shifts back to Chicago for Game 3, and it does so with the first two games being as close as everyone would have expected from the Central Division rivals. And in a way, the Blues’ overturned goal could be a microcosm of the series because whichever club escapes to move on to the second round may only do so by the slightest of margins.