St Louis Blues (+125) at Chicago Blackhawks (-145, 5 o/u)
It’s hard to remember a fan base being so nervous while up 3-1 in a best-of-seven. But St Louis fans were hysterical during overtime of Game 5, chewing on towels and pulling out hair as their team missed myriad chances to put the series away, each another knife through the heart.
And sure enough, the battle tested Chicago Blackhawks pulled out a 4-3 double-overtime win to keep the pressure on the perennially choking Blues.
Now, if St Louis can’t close out the series on the road, creeping doubt will explode into a full-scale panic in the Gateway to the West. Can the Blackhawks avoid elimination one more time tonight at the United Center (8:00 PM Eastern) and force a decisive Game 7?
This year, the Blues have looked like an entirely different team than the one that lost three-straight first-round series. They’ve shown a mental toughness that appeared to be lacking before, often rallying back late in games. In fact, eight of St Louis’ 13 goals this series have come in the third period or overtime.
The Madhouse on Madison has not been a problem for this year’s Blues. Including the regular season, they’ve won three straight in Chicago and five of the last six.
So why does this game seem like such a massive challenge?
Perhaps it’s because, dating back to 2009, the Blackhawks are 12-4 when facing elimination in the playoffs. When their backs are against the wall, the Hawks play their best hockey, and also their best combinations. Joel Quenneville moved Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews back on to a line together in Game 5, and the duo finally played like the team leaders they are supposed to be. They combined for three points and Kane scored the game-winning goal.
With the spark of Andrew Shaw returning to the lineup for Game 6, the Hawks’ best hockey may still be ahead of them. But will the massive minutes Chicago’s stars have played finally take a toll? Duncan Keith played 42 minutes in Game 5, while Brent Seabrook nearly hit 40 as well. Alex Pietrangelo was the only Blues player to get in that neighborhood, thanks to St Louis’ depth on the back end.
Whoever pulls this game out, it probably won’t be the team that generates the most chances. So far in this series, the side to win the shots battle has lost every game. With two goalies this evenly matched, clearly more work keeps them sharp.
As for my actual pick, cover your eyes Blues fans. This series is going the distance.
Pick: Chicago (-145).
(Photo credit: Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA (IMG_7545) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)