ST. LOUIS — I’m paid to come up with words. Lots of them. But you’ll have to excuse me on this one. No adjectives I produce in the rest of this space are going to do justice to an incredible first-round playoff series.
What the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks are putting out is simply breathtaking stuff. It’s almost unfathomable to think it’s the first round. That’s right. Whoever wins this series needs to win three more rounds – 12 more games! – to take the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks led twice Friday night in Scottrade Center. The Blues came back twice. For the fourth time in five games, the teams were plunged into overtime. The place was sheer bedlam for more than three hours.
And then, almost out of nowhere, Jonathan Toews was on a breakaway from center ice in. He studied Ryan Miller, burned him with a deke to the backhand and tucked the puck home for a 3-2 Chicago win at 7:36 of the OT.
A 3-2 series lead for the defending Stanley Cup champions. A trip back to the United Center to perhaps wrap up a spellbinding series.
Toews was as shocked as everyone in the building to see the puck coming to him. Corey Crawford made a save on David Backes and Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith simply whirled and fired the puck away, hitting the shinpad of teammate Andrew Shaw and bouncing perfectly to Toews.
“It just happened so fast,” Toews said. “I jumped on the ice and it came right to me. All of a sudden, I’m going in and in the celebration I wasn’t even sure it was real because it happened so quickly.
“I just kind of reacted to the puck coming down the ice. Duncan said he saw me but he could be joking. Maybe he’s serious but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.”
The move was crazy good as Toews controlled the rolling puck, froze Miller and tucked it around his left pad.
“Instinctive,” Toews said. “Not much time to think about what you’re going to do there. Just get him moving and give him my best effort. I just had speed. I wanted to fake a little shot and go to one side or the other.”
Miller sat frozen on one knee for several seconds after this one. The shock had to be huge after the Blues had won the first two games of this series in OT. What was he thinking?
We don’t know. Miller declined to speak to the media after the game, a pretty unusual move. That’s a sign of how bitter a loss this had to be for him.
Great move by Toews, no doubt. But your $6 million goalie needs to bail his team out from time to time. Miller made 30 saves Friday and has been decent in this series, not great and not terrible. But he hasn’t been nearly good enough. At least he has another chance.
There are some wondrous talents on display here. Blues winger T.J. Oshie, the U.S. Olympic shootout hero, struggled early in this series coming off a knee injury but said he really started to feel like himself in Game Four.
His goal that got the Blues even at 1-1, a backhand over Crawford’s stick while falling to his knees, was simply a show of sick mitts.
Jaden Schwartz made an incredible saucer pass on a 2-on-1 to feed future Norris Trophy winner Alex Pietrangelo for the tying goal at 1:42 of the third period. Schwartz did it again with under nine minutes left but Crawford made a desperation dive to snuff out Oshie’s second goal of the night and keep things tied.
Toews, of course, is one of the best. After the morning skate, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock joked how much he loved coaching him during the Olympics and how much he wanted to kick his, ahem, butt now.
Hitchcock, in fact, put on quite the performance. He played coy with reporters about the absence of captain Backes when he said, “there are other rinks in St. Louis.”
Backes, felled by the Brent Seabrook hit in Game Two, made a Willis Reed-like return in this one after not taking the pregame skate.
Warned Hitchcock in words that were prophetic: “He might just jump on the ice and be there skating in the warmup. Then you can all press ‘Send’ on your tweets and away you go.”
The fans roared when Backes took the ice in warmups and the place erupted when he was officially announced in the lineup. And the tweets flew too.
The fountains of Kiener Plaza, down Market Street by Busch Stadium, have been turned blue for the series in honor of the local icemen. Just as they have flowed red during the four World Series I’ve seen here since 2004.
But the Bleed the Town Blue theme might be at its final crossroads. The Blues need to win Sunday on the road or they won’t be back here this spring.
“It’s huge,” Toews said. “It’s a great opportunity. But we know this: It’s going to take our best effort so far.”