The Blackhawks were without defenseman Duncan Keith, who was suspended for Wednesday night's playoff opener against the Blues.
Their goaltender, Corey Crawford, was making just his second start after coming back from an upper-body injury.
Being down their top defenseman and with their goaltender still relearning his paces, you might think the Hawks would have trouble suppressing goals and would have to outscore the Blues.
So naturally, the inverse happened and Wednesday's game became a defensive struggle in which goals were harder to come by than sunshine in Chicago this spring, and those players who made it to the net paid a toll with their bodies.
It seemed fitting then that the winning goal came by almost by accident, with Blues captain David Backes scoring 9 minutes, 4 seconds into overtime to give the Blues a 1-0 victory in the fifth consecutive playoff opener that went to overtime for the Hawks.
The Blues took a 1-0 lead in the series with Game 2 Friday in St. Louis as Brian Elliott made 35 saves in net for the Blues.
Backes appeared to be passing the puck from a sharp angle at the bottom of the left circle, but his pass deflected off the skate of Hawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and past Crawford for the winner. It was just one of four shots the Blues had on goal in the third period and overtime.
“There wasn't much time to react or anything,” van Riemsdyk said. “It just kind of hit the toe of my skate. It could have just as easily went the other way, but it didn't. That's how it goes sometimes.”
Or as defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson put it: “That's usually the type of goal that gets scored in overtime.”
The fluky nature of the goal and the way the Hawks played defensively until it happened made the Hawks room less despondent than usual following a playoff loss. Hjalmarsson said the Hawks “played one of our better road games in a long, long time.”
Coach Joel Quenneville was also relatively pleased and said there were “a lot of positives” that came from Wednesday’s performance. For one, Crawford looked like his old self in making 17 saves while the defense was just fine without Keith.
“I thought we did some good things, certainly had some good looks in the third period, some quality rush chances. It was a tight game,” Quenneville said. “But we played exactly the right way, what we’re looking to do and didn’t take advantage of the chances we had.”
Those chances included going 0-for-5 on the power play. The Blues gave the Hawks three man advantages in the first period – and even 36 seconds with a two-man advantage, but the Blues and Elliott stifled the No. 2 power play in the NHL.
Then when the Hawks applied pressure in the third period to get 24 overall shot attempts, they could not execute to bury one past Elliott.
“We didn’t have the finish,” Quenneville said. “We had all-alone looks a couple of times, some real good looks. But you have to bury quality chances like that.”
Then the Blues buried a lucky chance.
But they know better than to start puffing their chests.
“We’ve been up 1-0 against this team before,” Backes said. “They don’t stop, they don’t quit.”
Chris Kuc's three stars
1. Brian Elliott, Blues: Veteran goaltender finished with 35 saves to earn the victory.
2. David Backes, Blues: Center banked a shot of Hawks defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk's skate and past Hawks goalie Corey Crawford for the winner.
3. Corey Crawford, Hawks: Made 17 saves in goal but suffered the tough loss.