Saturday, April 23, 2016

Promising start turns into ugly 6-3 loss to Blackhawks

Blues fail for second straight game to close out defending 
champs in first round, now will play a winner-take-all Game 7

CHICAGO -- Once again, with a chance at eliminating the Chicago Blackhawks, those very same Blackhawks who simply won't go away, the Blues in turn couldn't handle the heat.

And in turn, there will be a winner-take-all Game 7 in the Western Conference First Round.

The Blues built up a two-goal lead in the first period, a rarity for a series filled with so much tight play and drama. 

But that's when Chicago turned up the heat, tossed the Blues in the oven and watched them burn by scoring three unanswered goals in the second and five in total to win 6-3 Saturday in Game 6 at United Center to set up a Game 7 Monday at Scottrade Center (7:30 p.m.).

It will be the second time in history the teams will play a Game 7. Chicago trounced the Blues 8-2 on April 30, 1990 at the old Chicago Stadium.

It started exactly as the Blues didn't want, a turnover and early goal by the Blackhawks, but as they've been preaching for a while, these aren't the same old Blues, who responded accordingly and gave fans a small glimpse that perhaps they aren't the same old Blues.

Chicago had other ideas.

Instead of applying the dagger and slaying the giant, the Blues curled up and took an onslaught like no other.

The Blackhawks outshot the Blues 19-6 in the middle period and scored three times to regain the lead 4-3 on goals by Artem Anisimov, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Dale Weise that left goalie Brian Elliott on an island by himself.

"They had a big surge; we didn't answer it," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They've had a couple of those. We had some surges early and late, and they've had trouble with that. But their surges have been in the second period and we didn't answer it as well as we should have."

Andrew Ladd scored after Kevin Shattenkirk failed to get clears on pucks twice, the second trying to skate through the middle of the ice in front of his own net, having it poked away from him by Marcus Kruger to Ladd, who beat Elliott short side from the right circle at 3:47.

Here comes the onslaught right? Well, not right away but it eventually came.

The game momentarily turned on a dime when the Blackhawks could have taken a 2-0 lead, but Andrew Desjardins had a shift that would have given him nightmares had they lost.

Desjardins had an empty net staring at him after Dale Weise's pass through the crease, but Desjardin's scooped the puck wide of the net, and moments later, Desjardins tried to center the puck through the crease, but the Blues sprung out 2-on-1 with Steve Ott and Scottie Upshall. Ott fed Upshall in the slot and he beat Crawford upstairs at 6:18 to tie the game 1-1.

It started a string of three goals in 4:42 for the Blues.

Alex Pietrangelo's blast from the right point through traffic after strong sustained pressure by the Blues put them up 2-1 at 8:51.

Vladimir Tarasenko's series-leading fourth goal came after Jay Bouwmeester sprung the "STL Line" on a 3-on-2, and they dissected the Hawks' defense before Jori Lehtera fed Tarasenko in the right circle and he wired a wrist shot glove side, top shelf over Crawford for a 3-1 lead at 11 minutes.

The goals came on five shots and matched the Blues' output in the past three Game 6's.

Just continue to apply pressure, tighten up the defensive structure and the series would be over.


Anisimov scored a power play goal at 4:13 after Elliott made a series of tough saves, including a point blank one on Marian Hossa before Anisimov came on and batted the loose puck in to make it a 3-2 game. It came after Shattenkirk's backhand rimming the puck around the boards was knocked down and kept in the zone.

"First goal (of the second period) gave them a lot of momentum," Hitchcock said. "We made a couple puck errors and gave them a lot of momentum, brought them back in the hockey game. They played at a pace that we struggled with until we regrouped in the third and went back at them. They were at a pace that we were having trouble keeping up to."

That was obvious.

van Riemsdyk tied the game 3-3 at 12:21 after the Blues once again allowed the Blackhawks easy zone entry, Richard Panik laid a puck off the Jonathan Toews, who cut to the net and slid a pass to van Riemsdyk at the far post and beat Elliott.

"That’s a lot of speed coming from their end, they come with those two guys," Pietrangelo said. "We’ve got to find a way to pick up guys. We have to find a way to lock on to a guy."

It got worse.

Wiese gave Chicago the lead after flattening Shattenkirk behind the net, getting open in the slot and firing a puck off Elliott's arm and into the net from the left circle at 16:18 after getting Panarin's pass.

When it was all said and done, the 22,260 in the building was deafening, the Blues were shellshocked and the game was virtually done then.

"We sat back too much," left wing Alexander Steen said. "We've got to keep pushing the pace. We allowed them to come back into the game and ramped it up again in the third. Had a few chances, now we're heading home.

"... We took our foot off the gas. They obviously went in the intermission and came out with steam and we kind of sat back thinking we were going to protect it. That's not the way to play the second period against these guys."

Andrew Shaw, who returned after missing a game due to suspension in Game 5, scored a power play goal with 3:07 to play to sew up the win before Hossa's empty-netter with 2:20 really sealed the Blues' fate.

It was a fitting ending to a lopsided 40 minutes the Blues will have to park, and park quickly.

The silver lining is they hold the hammer with home ice advantage Monday, and they'll need Scottrade Center to be as loud as it's ever been to give them that extra edge that they'll be counting on.

"We knew this was going to be a tight series," Steen said. "Obviously it's disappointing, our second period was disappointing. We knew it was going to be a tight series. We keep pushing forward and they've been pushing as well. Now we've got a Game 7.

"We have home ice advantage here. We're going home in our building, our atmosphere. Like I said, the second period was disappointing, but we've got to let it go, go home and play like we have when we've been pushing them to the limits."

"Our group is resilient, we've battled all year," Upshall said. "We're in a spot where one game determines our fate. The group of guys in here, I think we all believe that home-ice advantage, what we worked for all year is a positive. We're going to realize it's a big game, a big game for everybody and time for everyone to step up."

The Blues' past three seasons have ended with a Game 6 loss, where they've been outscored 11-3. Make it 0-4 and outscored 17-6, but good thing they still have the chance to right this quick wrong that's building.

"Just flip that switch, get ready for Game 7," Pietrangelo said. "If you keep dwelling on this game, it’s not going to do you any favors on Monday.

"It’s going to be fun. This building was rocking tonight. It’s going to be rocking in St. Louis." 

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