ST. LOUIS – If this series goes seven games, no one is going to survive.
Not the Blackhawks. Not the Blues. Not the viewing audience. And definitively not Hawks coach Joel Quenneville and his nether region.
A wildly entertaining, thoroughly exhausting night of hockey ended 26 seconds into the third overtime Thursday, with Alexander Steen beating Corey Crawford to give the Blues a 4-3 victory.
It was a game that threatened to go on forever. It was a game that tested physical and emotional limits.
It was also only Game 1 of a first-round series. Jeez.
Nobody wanted to give in. Certainly not the two goalies. Crawford and the Blues’ Ryan Miller were spectacular, trading big save after big save long into the night.
There were huge hits and lots of players with no concern for their own personal safety.
Raw emotion? Yeah, there was some of that too. Quenneville wanted a delay-of-game penalty in the second overtime. He was so incensed when there wasn’t a call, he grabbed his crotch with his right hand, a gesture a national TV camera caught. Officially, it was a lower-body protest. Unofficially, it was classic clutch-and-grab hockey, the message being, “I’ve got your no-call right here.’’
That’s how this series is going to be. Down and dirty. That would seem to favor the Blues, the rougher team, but I don’t think so. Talent usually wins out. The Hawks are more talented than the Blues. The good citizens of St. Louis might look upon that as a declaration of war rather than a declarative sentence. It’s not. It’s just the truth.
In hockey, a sport that looks down on all things pretentious, the word “talent’’ can be code for “soft” or “precious’’ or “wouldn’t know a check from a Chihuahua.’’
In this case, it means precisely what it’s supposed to mean. The Hawks are the more talented team and the team that should win this series.
Will they? I don’t know. It’s very possible that the puck won’t bounce their way, as the cliché goes. But all things being equal, the Hawks should come out of this alive and well. Remember, the visiting team took the home team to three overtimes.
“Let this one sink in and maybe we can be ticked off about it for a few moments here, but then tonight and tomorrow, it’s time to move on and get ready for the next one,’’ Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said.
If the Hawks can keep buzzing around the puck the way they did Thursday night and if they can get this Crawford for the rest of the playoffs, they’ll be lifting the Stanley Cup over their heads again in June. It’s really that simple. And that difficult.
A wild, amped-up first period served notice that both teams had something to prove. And in hindsight, it made perfect sense. The Blues were coming off a six-game losing streak and wanted to prove that it was a fluke. The Hawks had two players, Patrick Kane and Toews, who were itching to play again after injuries had caused them to miss the last 12 and six regular-season games, respectively.
What you had were two teams ready to explode. After 20 minutes of action and a 3-2 Hawks lead, you could be excused for thinking, “Why didn’t I see this coming?’’
It was the kind of period, and game, the Hawks want to play – fast and frenetic. Provided St. Louis doesn’t smear them all over the boards, it’s the kind of style that can get the Hawks past the team that was the league’s best for much of the season.
If Toews and Kane are any indication, there isn’t a whole lot of downside to resting players toward the end of the season. What’s not to like about fresh skaters? Rust? I didn’t see any rust. I saw two players who were everywhere on the ice.
The Hawks went into the first intermission with that 3-2 lead, thanks to a late breakaway goal by Kane, who took Toews’ long, pinpoint pass and beat Miller with a wicked wrist shot. It was a beautiful thing.
They were on the way to victory until the Blues’ Jaden Schwartz scored with 1:45 left in the regulation. And thus began a bedtime story that threatened have no ending.
The good news for the Hawks?
“I still think we can be better,’’ Kane said. “So that’s the exciting part going forward.’’
The Blues played their brand of hockey, which skates the fine line between misdemeanor and felony. Muscle works. But it doesn’t trump talent.
Crawford made two “SportsCenter’’ Top Ten-worthy saves in the second period. First, he made a sprawling save on a Vladimir Tarasenko shot. Then he stopped Steve Ott point blank, smothering a wrist shot that would have brought down a lesser goalie.
What a night.
“Good morning,’’ Hitchcock said to reporters after the game, and truer words have not been spoken.
It was an arduous, draining game of hockey. Game 2 is Saturday afternoon. Get some sleep.