You take it. It doesn’t matter how lucky or unpretty a goal is, or how little it has to do with the person credited with it, you take the score. Especially in the playoffs, especially in overtime, especially against a Blackhawks team that’s about to get Duncan Keith back. You take the 1-0 series lead, and you don’t look back, and maybe you take a little pride in it anyway.
“That’s an ugly goal,” said Blues captain David Backes, after his cross-ice feed banked off the skate of Trevor Van Riemsdyk for the game’s only goal at 9:04 into overtime. “I specialize in those.”
I have no idea what to expect from this series. By most measures, the Blues are the better team—but we’ve all seen how regular-season success has translated to the postseason for St. Louis these last few years. Brian Elliott has had one of his best years as a pro, but nobody’s yet willing to trust Elliott over Corey Crawford, even as Crawford made just his second start after returning from injury. These Blackhawks, slightly revamped as they are from last year’s Cup champions, have the playoff experience; they also have the extra miles on their skates.
If history is any guide, it will be a bizarre series with multiple overtime games, and some of those games will naturally end on freak plays like this one. Historically, those bounces have gone to Chicago, but past performance means nothing to random chance. “You say a quick prayer and you see that it was answered when it went into the back of the net,” Backes said.
I did not expect a low-scoring affair, not with Duncan Keith missing the last game of his six-game suspension for trying to whack out Charlie Coyle’s teeth. But it proved a fascinating test of Joel Quenneville’s tendency to ride his top defensive pairings until they drop. Last year they survived, somehow. Last night, with Keith out, would Quenneville run them into the ice? He would.
Brent Seabrook played more than 30 minutes, while Van Riemsdyk and Niklas Hjalmarsson were second and third in ice time by a large margin. Erik Gustafsson and Viktor Svedberg, one of whom (probably Gustafsson) will sit when Keith returns, saw minimal action. This is the thing to watch if the Blackhawks go deep this season: Quenneville is going to again disproportionately rely on his top blueliners, with Van Riemsdyk replacing Johnny Oduya from last year’s four-man rotation. Can it work again? It may not even matter if the Blues are for real this year. Or if the bounces go the other way this time.