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Blackhawks force Game 7, as Blues see series slipping away

The champs are off the mat. The contenders, having assumed an emphatic and cathartic knockout, have hopelessly backpedalled into a Game 7. 

The Chicago Blackhawks rallied to defeat the St. Louis Blues, 6-3, on Saturday night, sending their divisional semifinal into a final game back in St. Louis on Monday. The Blues’ 3-1 series lead has evaporated. There’s no telling how much of their confidence and swagger in this series has vanished with it.

“It’s easy when you have a bunch of guys that have been through this before,” said Andrew Ladd of the Blackhawks. “Nothing shakes them.”

Ladd opened the scoring for the Blackhawks after Kevin Shattenkirk failed to clear the zone and then turned the puck over to Ladd, whose shot surprised Elliott for the 1-0 lead.

Then the Blues took over.

Scottie Upshall at 6:18, converting a 2-on-1 break with Steve Ott.

Alex Pietrangelo, 2 minutes and 33 seconds after that, firing a puck through traffic past a screened Corey Crawford.

Vladimir Tarasenko – who else? – one minute and nine seconds later, converting on the rush when the Blackhawks inexplicably decided not to mark the Blues’ most lethal offensive player.

In a span of 4:42, the St. Louis Blues blitzed the Blackhawks, and the series looked like it did at the start: Capitalizing on mistakes, exhibiting offensive balance, punishing the champs.

And then the second period happened.

Artem Anisimov at 4:13, converting a Marian Hossa rebounded shot for his third of the playoffs.

Trevor van Riemsdyk at 12:21, atoning for so many mistakes in this series, going to the net hard and poking home a Jonathan Toews pass to tie the game.

Dale Weise, three minutes and 57 seconds later, snapping a perfect shot off the shoulder of Elliott and in, on a play set up by Artemi Panarin’s aggressive forechecking.

 

By the end of the second, the Blackhawks had rallied for the lead. “We realized there was still lots of time left. We had to keep plugging away,” said Ladd after the game.

The Blues pushed hard in the third period, but Crawford was up to the task. Eventually the Blackhawks’ will overpowered them, and Andrew Shaw – back from his one-game suspension – put the game away with a power-play goal at 16:53 and Marian Hossa iced it with an empty netter.

The Blackhawks improved to 15-1 in Game 6s under coach Joel Quenneville, whose masterful in-game adjustments and line shuffling again led to victory.

Coming into Game 6, the Blues and Blackhawks’ series had been tied or within a goal for 94.5 percent of their total playing time. And despite the wild swings in scoring, this remained a one-goal game deep into the third period.

Which is to say that it remains a series where a bounce here or a break there can win it for the Blues.

But there are trouble signs, especially on defense. Shattenkirk played a glaringly terrible game, earning a minus-3. Elliott stopped 144 of 151 shots through the first four games, three of them wins. In the last two losses, he’s stopped 61 of 70. After seemingly having answered so many questions about his postseason prowess earlier this series, Elliott had Keith Jones of NBC calling for Jake Allen to get the Game 7 start.

There might be a temptation. But this is Elliott’s series to win or lose. This is Shattenkirk’s series to win or lose. This is on Tarasenko and Schwartz and Lehtera. This is on Backes and Steen and Pietragenlo. This on Hitchcock to wake up and play his best players as much as possible, like the guy outcoaching him on the other bench does.

This is on the Blues to shock the hockey world and actually complete this exorcism of their postseason ghosts, given that everyone now expects the Chicago machine to grind its way to the second round as the Blues lose their spine.

The Blues can still have their moment. It just seems unlikely given how badly they whiffed on two previous knockout blows. 

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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