The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup as a third-place team last spring, so having home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs obviously isn’t a make-or-break proposition. If anything, it’s an overblown advantage in a parity-filled league. Take a look at the St. Louis Blues, who entered Thursday’s game against the Hawks with 24 wins at home and 24 wins on the road.
“Well that’s what every coach says when he doesn’t have it, so I don’t know,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock quipped. “You downplay it, but it might be the little advantage you need. Home ice validates all the work you put in, and you want to have it. You want to have home ice because it’s the little advantage you might need in your first one or two series. Everybody talks about [the fact] that there’s pressure starting at home, and there is. But there’s also the security knowing that if you’ve got it, you might end up having to use it at some time.”
Well, it’ll be either Dallas or St. Louis for the Hawks when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin next week.
And they’ll be starting on the road.
Vladimir Tarasenko tied Thursday’s game with 1:16 left in regulation and won it with 1:23 left in overtime, giving the Blues a 2-1 victory over the Hawks. That locked the Hawks into third place in the Central Division. Their season finale at Columbus on Saturday is now meaningless.
The Blues stayed tied atop the division with Dallas, which won over Colorado. The Blues close the season at home against Washington, while Dallas finishes against Nashville. If they finish tied, the Stars will win the division thanks to their lead in non-shootout victories, the first tiebreaker, and the Hawks will face St. Louis.
“It hurts,” Patrick Kane said. “It hurts, for sure. I thought we played a great game up to that point against a good team. Then you give one up with [1:16] left and you’re in a position where you’ve got to score in [1:16] to put yourself in a good position to try and get home ice. Obviously, it didn’t happen.”
The Hawks won their last series against the Blues after losing the first two games in St. Louis (in 2014), and won a Game 7 in Anaheim in last spring’s Western Conference final. So while they have five more wins at home this year than they have on the road, home-ice is hardly a necessity.
“Well, it’s not right now,” Kane said with a sheepish grin. “We put ourselves in that situation. We’ve done it before, where we’ve started on the road, and sometimes it can be a positive if you steal one of the games on the road and come back home feeling good about yourself.”
Both teams played a rather bland, defensive style of game — perhaps playing cautiously given the stakes, perhaps limited by significant injuries on both sides, perhaps holding back a bit with a potential series looming — and it lacked the usual spark of a typical game between the two longtime rivals. Other than a big hit by Andrew Desjardins on Ryan Reaves, and a second-period fight between Reaves and Brandon Mashinter, there wasn’t much vitriol to be found.
Jonathan Toews got the Hawks on the board at 12:40 of the second, taking a Kane pass and beating Brian Elliott (24 saves) between the legs during 4-on-4 play. It was Toews’ 28th goal of the season, and after a subpar season by his lofty standards, he seems to be heating up at just the right time, with three goals and five assists during a six-game point streak. HIs line, with a very active Richard Panik in Marian Hossa’s usual spot, created several chances, including an Andrew Ladd penalty shot with 4:58 to go that Elliott stopped, setting up Tarasenko’s heroics.
Scott Darling — in likely his last game as starter with Corey Crawford expected back Saturday — made 33 saves.
The Hawks are now 0-8-4 against Western Conference playoff teams since Feb. 9, but they’re trying to look on the bright side as the playoffs loom.
“I don’t mind the way we’re playing here,” Joel Quenneville said. “We’re missing five guys right now in a game that I thought we played pretty good. We did some good things in a lot of ways and a lot of areas, so I didn’t mind it.”