ST. LOUIS —The Blackhawks will take their show on the road to open up the Stanley Cup playoffs next week. Which version of the show — the high-flying, high-scoring act; or the sputtering, stagnant snoozefest — remains to be seen. The way this season has gone for the Hawks, every week brings a different team, a different streak, a different outlook.
The Hawks lost their third straight 2-1 game on Thursday night, as the St. Louis Blues clinched the Central Division title at Scottrade Center. A week ago, the Hawks were two points out of first with a game in hand. Now, they can finish no better than third place, with a wild card still possible if they lose in regulation Saturday at Colorado, and the Minnesota Wild beat the Blues.
If the Hawks finish third, they’ll open in Nashville. If they fall to fourth, they’ll open in either St. Louis or Anaheim, whichever team has fewer points.
“We’ve been starting on the road in a lot of the playoff series over the years,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We just have to be ready for Game 1, and take where we have to play, and be ready.”
Added Marian Hossa: “I believe it isn’t going to affect us.”
Indeed, the Hawks’ collective response to Thursday’s loss was something of a shrug — an aggravated shrug, at most. They were without Brad Richards (upper body), Marcus Kruger (sick) and Kimmo Timonen (upper body), not to mention Patrick Kane. Their third defensive pairing was an adventurous one, likely never to be seen again, in David Rundblad and Michal Rozsival. And they seemed to lack much of the energy and intensity they had Sunday night at the United Center against these same Blues, a game they entered with a rousing four-game win streak, which had followed a dreadful three-loss road trip.
Jonathan Toews said that scoring three goals in three games was not a cause for concern, because the Hawks aren’t giving up much, either. He said getting back to the way they were playing last week is more important than where they finish in the standings, anyway.
“We wanted to win the last couple of games, we just didn’t quite get the job done,” Toews said. “We’re not going to panic or overreact by any means. I think we’re doing a lot of good things, and the energy and motivation is going to be there at the right time.”
It wasn’t there Thursday night. The Hawks and Blues played less like arch-rivals than two teams who had locked up a playoff berth, were missing several key players, and weren’t exactly going all-out. As spirited as Sunday’s showdown was, this was a conservative affair from the start. The Blues didn’t get their first shot on goal until more than six minutes had passed. The Hawks spent nearly as much time in their own end as the Blues’ end during two power plays.
Careless penalties doomed the Hawks. Rundblad was called for a double-minor after drawing blood with a high-stick on Jori Lehtera late in the second period, and Dmitrij Jaskin scored on the ensuing power play to make it 1-0. Paul Stastny made it 2-0 at 14:05 of the third period on a 3-on-1 as the Hawks pressed for the equalizer.
Andrew Shaw’s goal with 2:39 left in the game, off a Teuvo Teravainen rebound, made things interesting, but it was more of a reminder of what the Hawks couldn’t do most of the night —get to the net, get close-range chances, get much of anything.
“In the third period, we were better at that,” Hossa said. “Too much action on the outside. We have to find a way to be more involved inside to score goals, because right now we’re playing outside. This time of the year, it’s tough to score goals from there.”
It’s been tough to score goals, period, for the Hawks this week. And they have one more game to figure out before they head back on the road with much higher stakes than simply home-ice advantage.