Ryan Reaves lay flat in the corner a moment, having been smeared into the boards by a Brent Seabrook hit midway through the second period. He very slowly got up, and very slowly glided off the ice while play continued at the other end. He even stopped for a moment to pick up something in the slot — a contact lens? his mouthguard? who knows? —before trudging to the bench and ripping his own loosened tooth out of his mouth, then handing it to a team athletic trainer.
Wakey, wakey. The playoffs are here a week early.
In a heated battle with massive playoff implications, the Blues scored twice in the second period to escape the United Center with a 2-1 victory over their biggest rivals. With the win, the Blues moved ahead of Nashville for first place, three points clear of the third-place Hawks. Each team has three games left. The Hawks had been 14-0-2 in their last 16 home games against St. Louis, including the playoffs last spring.
The teams meet again Thursday in St. Louis.
“It seems when we play these guys, it’s always a one-goal game,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was a big four-point swing.”
The Hawks were without Patrick Kane, and the Blues were without Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Steen. But it was standard Blues-Hawks fare from the outset, with big hits, big chances, big saves, and a breathless pace. Reaves crushed Bryan Bickell into the corner early on, then later in the period knocked Kimmo Timonen out of the game with a hit in the opposite corner (he’s day-to-day with an upper-body injury). Meanwhile, the Blues lost a defenseman of their own, Robert Bortuzzo.
It was reminiscent of last season’s rollicking first-round series between the teams, in which Seabrook earned a three-game suspension for knocking out Blues captain David Backes, a hit which prompted the infamous “Wakey, wakey” taunt on the ice, believed to be from Duncan Keith.
The Hawks always insist they can play any style, but this one clearly favored the bruising Blues.
“I don’t really focus too much on that,” Keith said. “Every team tries to run us out of the building, no matter who we play. It is what it is. Our game is using our speed, and that’s what we’ve got to try to do.”
It wasn’t just physical. Both teams were flying. Corey Crawford (31 saves) singlehandedly kept the Blues at bay in the early going, making great stops on T.J. Oshie, Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera on one penalty kill in the first period. He also made point-blank saves on Marcel Goc and Olli Jokinen, and stopped Stastny twice on one breakaway, including a remarkable stick save on the rebound.
Jake Allen — nominally the Blues’ backup goalie behind Brian Elliott — stuffed Bickell on a 2-on-0 with Andrew Shaw, and robbed Brandon Saad in the second period, finishing with 38 saves. He couldn’t get Kris Versteeg’s tip-in of a Marian Hossa feed off an Oshie turnover at 14:12 of the first period, though, which gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
St. Louis ratcheted up the physical play and the post-whistle shoving in the second, and seized control in the process. With Michal Rozsival in the box for boarding, Jaden Schwartz threaded a pass through traffic to David Backes to tie the game at 1-1. Rozsival then lost track of Jokinen later in the period, and the veteran put in an Alex Pietrangelo rebound to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead through two periods.
Crawford was furious after the Jokinen goal, believing he was interfered with.
“You see the second goal? When a goalie can’t get over and make a play on the puck, it’s usually — [the referee] wasn’t in position to see it,” Crawford said. “It’s kind of a tough one to take. It’s been a bunch of those goals this year. I don’t know how other games are going, but this one ended up in a loss on a goal like that.”
A costly one, at that.
“They’re a good team,” Brent Seabrook said. “We’ve battled them hard over the years, and that’s what we’re going to expect throughout the rest of the season. If we see them in the playoffs, it’s going to be a tight-checking game, and physical, and low-scoring.”
For all intents and purposes, those playoffs have already begun.