The best way to sum up the current thoughts on the Chicago Blackhawks is through two contradictory statements that are equally true.
I cannot believe that this series with the St. Louis Blues is about to head to its seventh game.
But on the other hand, I absolutely can believe that the Hawks have forced a Game 7 in this series.
I didn’t think things could seem much bleaker after Game 4, with the Hawks on the brink of elimination. But then the first period of Game 6 ended with the Hawks even closer to that cliff, trailing 3-1 in a game they had to win to extend their season.
And then, damn near out of thin air, the Blackhawks team we’ve been waiting for finally arrived.
It started with a power play goal from Artem Anisimov early in the second period. And then two goals in just under four minutes from the depth scoring that the Hawks have so sorely missed in this series arrived.
The much-maligned Trevor van Riemsdyk jumped into a rush and buried a pass from Jonathan Toews. Fourth-liner Dale Weise converted after an incredible pass from Artemi Panarin. In 20 minutes of game time, the Hawks turned a terrifying two-goal deficit into a one-goal lead during a second period that was, by far, the Hawks best of the postseason.
A power play goal from Andrew Shaw and an empty netter from Marian Hossa in the third sealed the victory.
And in a span of four days, the Hawks went from the verge of a disappointing first-round exit to one win away from handling their most annoying rivals a catastrophic playoff defeat.
But here’s the dilemma that I can’t solve from the St. Louis side of things.
When the Hawks backs were against a wall after Game 4, coach Joel Quenneville had a trump card in his back pocket to play: pairing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the team’s top line (sidenote: Toews, who remains without a goal in this series, has four goals in four career Game 7s).
What counter do the Blues have to that one? They’ve already put their lethal weapons together in the top line of Schwartz-Lehtera-Tarasenko. They have a solid backup goalie, but he’s never played as well as Brian Elliott did in the first four games of this series. There are no other players to call up and there are no other players to pull from the press box to put into the lineup.
Vladimir Tarasenko also did not appear to be very fond of coach Ken Hitchcock at the end of the second period last night.
Tarasenko seems happy about something with Hitch pic.twitter.com/XtiNdCgsyK
— Fifth Feather (@FifthFeather) April 24, 2016
Of course, the Blues do have the benefit of home ice in Game 7, and there’s no guarantee that the Hawks are going to replicate their effort from the second and third periods of Game 6. But there’s also no certainty that the Blues can halt this sudden downward spiral.
There is no higher drama in pro sports than a Game 7. Add in a bitter divisional rival and you have a recipe suitable for a Monday night migraine. It could end in disaster. It could end in euphoria.
Either way, tell your boss not to expect much productivity Tuesday.