Ken Hitchcock is as surprised as anybody that his St. Louis Blues have kept Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Andrew Ladd off the scoresheet through the first three games of their first-round series with the Blackhawks.
Both sides seem to think it’s only a matter of time before they break through.
“Let me put it this way — since I’ve come into the league, I’ve been concerned that they’re going to break through,” Hitchcock joked. “So nothing’s changed. They’re good. They’re strong. They’ve got definition in those two lines; they’re completely different. One does it off the rush, and one does it off the cycle. … You’re never going to be able to eliminate [them].”
The Hawks’ top two lines have generated so many scoring chances in the last two games, particularly during the wide-open second period of Game 3, that Hitchcock said the Blues looked like the hapless Washington Generals chasing them around. Kane has 13 shots on goal through three games. Ladd and Toews have 12 each, and Hossa has 11 — and for that trio, many of them have come from close range, with goaltender Brian Elliott bailing out the Blues defense. The top line had nine scoring chances in Game 3 alone, and Kane had three more, according to war-on-ice.com.
The Hawks are confident that if they keep doing what they’re doing, the pucks will start going in. The Blues, according to Hitchcock, are confident that they figured out what’s been going wrong in their Monday team meeting. And it does seem like its only a matter of time before the Hawks’ big guns start scoring.
Thing is, there’s not a lot of time left. The Hawks need to win three of the next four games in order to get out of the first round.
“I don’t think frustration’s the word,” Kane said. “[But] obviously, when it’s not going in, you’re not doing your job. That’s something we’ll have to step up here the rest of the series.”
Said Ladd: “[We] understand that we need to put some of those pucks in the net. But at the same time, I think we’re comfortable with the opportunities that we’re creating, just the presence that we’ve had in their end. So we’ll keep doing the same things, and I think we’ll start to get huge bounces, as well.”
As is always the case in the postseason, the focus is on so-called greasy goals. As pretty as Artemi Panarin’s setup to Artem Anisimov in Game 3 was, that play is the exception, not the rule. Particularly with the net-crashing line of Ladd, Toews and Hossa, the goals — if they come at all — are going to come from within a few feet of Elliott, off rebounds or during free-for-all battles for loose pucks in the crease.
It doesn’t matter how they go in, just that they go in. And given the offensive struggles of the bottom-six forwards, they’d better come from the top guys.
“It just comes down to finding a way,” said Duncan Keith, whose goal in Game 2 is the only 5-on-5 goal the Hawks have scored all series. “We can always draw up Xs and Os, draw different plays up. But sometimes it just comes down to how bad you want it, and what you’re willing to do to get there.”