When it was all over — when the ice shavings had cleared and Corey Crawford had calmed down and the head-scratching penalties had been handed out and Duncan Keith had pounced on a rebound to give the Blackhawks a lead and send the United Center into bedlam — Brent Seabrook calmly skated the length of the ice and patted Crawford on the head. A thank-you for one of the wildest moments in recent Hawks history — one that looked like it would change the tenor of the game, and of the entire first-round series.
The St. Louis Blues, showing off their newfound resolve and resilience, rallied with two power-play goals for a 4-3 victory and a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. The defending champion Hawks must win three straight in order to get out of the first round. They did it against Detroit in 2013, but those Red Wings were nowhere near as good as these Blues have proven to be. The last time the Hawks trailed 3-1 in a series was the 2014 Western Conference final against Los Angeles. They rallied to force a Game 7, but lost in overtime to the eventual champion Kings.
“You’ve got to look back and take what we learned out of those series and put them into our game,” said Andrew Shaw, who had a goal and two assists before a foolish penalty with 2:04 to go all but ended the game. “Never give up. Keep working for one another and stay positive.”
The Crawford incident was just the start, as the game devolved into post-whistle scrums and facewashes and shoving matches. In the ugliest moment, Shaw, after taking his penalty for pushing Jay Bouwmeester in front of the goal, appeared to yell a homophobic slur from the penalty box.
Shaw, who flashed both middle fingers on his way to the box, neither denied nor admitted saying it.
“Emotions were high, I don’t know what I said,” Shaw said. “Obviously, I was upset with the call.”
The mayhem started 11:54 into the second period, with the game tied 1-1 thanks to Shaw’s body-deflection of a Marian Hossa shot. That’s when Robby Fabbri raced in on Crawford, took a shot, was stopped, followed up his own rebound, was stopped, and then was pushed into Crawford by Jonathan Toews. Crawford popped to his feet and bolted into the corner to go after Fabbri, throwing a couple of gloved punches before linesmen stepped in to break it up.
“I got hit in the head,” Crawford said. “I was pretty pissed about that.”
Said Fabbri: “I felt like I got pushed from behind. I tried to do my best to fall away from him. I guess he didn’t like that.”
Crawford was clearly the aggressor, and was in the wrong, considering Toews had sent Fabbri into him. Yet when the puck next dropped, three Blues were in the penalty box, and just two Hawks. Crawford got just two for roughing, nothing for instigating. Andrew Ladd got two for roughing. Fabbri got two for goalie interference despite Toews’ shove, and Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk each got two for roughing.
So Crawford’s wild-eyed overreaction actually gave the Hawks a power play. And sure enough, they scored on it, as Keith knocked in a Shaw rebound to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead. The building was alive, the Hawks were on top, and the Norris Division was revived — hence Seabrook’s helmet-pat for Crawford.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said it all “looked like something out of the Western Hockey League.”
The Blues, as they’ve shown all series, are a resilient bunch, however. After Brian Elliott stopped a Patrick Kane breakaway, Ladd was whistled for an interference penalty, and Vladimir Tarasenko scored his second goal of the game — and his eighth against the Hawks this season — to tie it up.
Given another power play just 61 seconds into the third period, the Blues regained control and the lead, as Trevor van Riemsdyk’s clearing attempt from the crease went right to Jaden Schwartz, who fired it past Crawford to put St. Louis up 3-2.
Less than four minutes later, Alex Steen picked off a van Riemsdyk pass to Michal Rozsival — knocking it out of mid-air — and walked in on Crawford untouched to make it 4-2 Blues. It was St. Louis’ third goal in about 13 minutes since the Crawford-Fabbri incident.
Keith injected some life into the game when his wrist shot from the blue line deflected off Tarasenko and past Elliott at 14:40, but that was as close as the Hawks got, as Shaw’s penalty sealed the Hawks’ fate.
“Well, it’s obviously not what we wanted, and not where we wanted to be, but it is what it is now,” Keith said. “We’ve got nothing to save it for now, that’s for sure.”
Meanwhile, as Tarasenko continued to dominate, the Hawks’ big guns continued to come up empty. Kane had a few good chances, but was denied by Elliott each time. Kane, Toews and Ladd have combined for zero goals in the series.
Every game of the series has been a one-goal game, fought tooth and nail between — and after — the whistles. Six Hawks and five Blues were assessed game misconducts after the final whistle of the game, as tempers again flared. It’s tough, angry, hate-fueled hockey.
And the Blues are getting the better of it.
“This is fun,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “This is what hockey’s all about.”