The St. Louis Blues got a last-minute goal from Alexander Steen to break a tie and seal a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday night at Scottrade Center. The Blues also got goals from David Backes and Vladi Tarasenko while once again Jaroslav Halak was outstanding, making 26 saves on 28 shots to earn a third straight victory. St. Louis is 3-0 and sits tied atop the Western Conference standings with 4 other teams to start the season.
To say the Blues and Blackhawks dislike each other is an understatement. This past Tuesday on the NBC Sports Network, a new series, “NHL Rivals,” aired its first episode and it was a beauty, featuring St. Louis and Chicago. The show demonstrated how the animosity between the two teams goes back decades into league history. The players are different now, of course, but the intense feelings are still there each time the teams square off. Wednesday night the Blues-Blackhawks game was the network’s weekly Rivals game, and true to form, it was a battle.
Barely 2 minutes into the 1st period, Chris Stewart and Sheldon Brookbank dropped the gloves and had a heated bout, both guys throwing a number of good punches. The fight really set the tone and the rest of the game was an all out war, mostly good, clean, tough hockey played from one end of the ice to the other.
The Blues took the first lead on Tarasenko’s rocket past Chicago netminder Corey Crawford.It was short lived, however, as the ‘Hawks took advantage of a Blues minor penalty to tie things up with a power-play goal from Patrick Kane less than 2 minutes later. St. Louis really seemed to scramble in their own zone during the 1st period and found themselves on the wrong end of odd-man rushes as Chicago rolled their top line throughout the frame. The speed and skill of guys like Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews was on display and if not for Halak, the Blues might’ve been down by a couple goals before 20 minutes was up.
Jaro continued his strong goaltending from start to finish Wednesday night, and really stole the show from the Blues offense. He looks relaxed in the crease, quick on his skates, and confident no matter what the situation. He’s playing like a man on a mission and the team is reaping the benefits already, only 3 games into the season.
Captain Backes notched his second goal of the season on a Blues power-play in the 2nd period, deflecting in a blast by Alex Pietrangelo from the point. Chicago drew another quick penalty and tied the game up 2-2 less than 2 minutes later, just as they had in the 1st. St. Louis was stronger on the puck in the 2nd period and the game opened up a bit more, though the Blues made defensive adjustments and gave up far fewer 2-on-1′s and 3-on-2′s. Both goalies made excellent saves to keep the score knotted at 2 deep into the 3rd.
The Blues, after killing 7 of 7 penalties against Florida fell victim to a Chicago power-play that is simply worlds above the previous competition. Make no mistake, the ‘Hawks are one of the best, most talented teams in the NHL and Wednesday night’s game had all the feeling of an April playoff match-up. The ice-level commentator remarked that the head referee even spoke of the action as playoff caliber, and it was only October 9th.
The final period saw tempers flaring, matching minors to a pair of skaters from each team and quality scoring chances at both ends. The Blues out-shot Chicago 34-28 for the night, and no shot was bigger than their last. Steen bounced out of the neutral zone with an outlet pass from Petro, starting one final odd-man rush for St. Louis. The ‘Hawks managed to get two men back, cutting off the passing lanes as the Blues had Backes and TJ Oshie barging into the zone as well. Steener made the right choice and simply blasted a shot that went through Crawford, giving the good guys the lead 3-2 with only 21 seconds remaining in regulation. The score held and the Blues snatched away a very rough-and-tumble 2 points.
St. Louis once again received spirited play from all lines, including another fine effort from Jaden Schwartz, who earned the game’s 3rd star. The Blues defense played the Hitchcock system well in the final 40 minutes with quietly solid performances (again) from Barret Jackman, Roman Polak, and Jordan Leopold. We saw the kind of top-shelf game from Vladimir Sobotka we’ve come to expect every night. This team has chemistry, superb communication, and each other’s backs, and it’s exciting to watch. They’ll take on The New York Rangers Saturday night at Scottrade.
GO BLUES! LONG LIVE THE NOTE!