It’s that time of year again ladies and gentlemen.  While the regular season was nice and the Olympics were fun, nothing I’ve come across on this planet rivals the intensity & excitement of playoff hockey.  After two Cups in the past four years these players know that their true measuring stick comes out and the real games gets under way tonight.

Added to the excitement of the playoffs in general is the matchup itself.  It’s common knowledge that the St. Louis Blues are Neanderthals and all have to sit to pee.  That’s just a scientific fact.  With that said however this rivalry stretches far longer than the 300 mile gap between the two cities.  Watching videos on the 1991 St. Patrick’s Day Massacre such as this and this should give you enough juice to get through the next seven games.

It’s the NHL playoffs baby!  Which means it’s time to celebrate the only way I know how… via the live blog.  Let’s get underway…

1st Period

20:00 – Johnny Toews is back on the ice (centering Versteeg and Ladd).  With his return coupled with Patrick Kane pulling the sweater over his head for the first time in a dozen games there’s a lot to be excited about as a Hawks fan.  I’ve read the articles about their respective injuries (and the associated rest they got) potentially being a gift in disguise… and I’d have to agree with them.  The Blues are certainly going to test each player upon their return but I think they’ll be more than up to the task.

16:26 – In the buildup to this game all week we’ve heard about how physical the Blues are going to try to be in this series.  While that’s undoubtedly going to be the case in some capacity (it’s playoff hockey after all) in the early going here it would appear the Blues are trying to play a faster game in trying to keep up with the speed of the Blackhawks.  I’ll take that that chance ten days out of ten.

15:20 – Ignore that last comment.  Adam Cracknell (who?) just buried a rebound in front of the net and it’s quickly 1-0 St. Louis.  The fact that the whole play happened because Michael Handzus lost an edge and fell down is not lost on this writer.

14:34 – I’ve seen the lines the Blackhawks have been practicing with this week (Saad-Towes-Versteeg; Hossa-Handzus-Sharp; Bickell-Shaw-Kane; Bollig-Kruger-Smith) and I’m not impressed.  This is classic Quenneville getting too cute in trying to outsmart the opponent and instead makes himself look foolish and hurts his own team.  Patrick Kane should not be on your third line.  I would suggest going right back to the Bickell-Toews-Kane line that won you a Cup 11 months ago and let the Blues adjust to you as opposed to preemptively changing your game to try to screw up theirs.

11:27 – And just like that Coach Q takes my advice, shuffles the lines (8 whole minutes into the series!) and Bickell-Toews-Kane take the ice together.  He’s messing with their minds!

8:46 – Oh-Do-Ya!?  Brandon Saad is the freaking man.  He carried the puck down the far boards all the way into the St. Louis corner turned and came out with the puck still on his stick, drawing the entire defense to him in the process, and hit a wide open Johnny Oduya in the high slot who buried the opportunity.  It’s a 1-1 hockey game.  For the record Quenneville benched Brandon Saad in an attempt to send a message three games ago.

8:12 – Thus far tonight St. Louis’ 4th line is better than the Blackhawks 4th line.  That doesn’t happen very often in this league.  The talk of St. Louis’ depth is very real.

7:04 – Barrett Jackman?  More like Barrett Jag-man.  The Blues grizzled vet takes the game’s first penalty for a pointless Interference call in hitting Seabrook 50’ away from the puck.

5:30 – I am very happy to report that in the past eleven months it appears that Nick Leddy has ascended to the 5th defenseman on the team and Michael Rozival has fallen to the 6th.  All is right with the world.  Leddy is hugely underrated in my humble opinion.

5:21 – Versteeg to Seabrook from behind the net makes it 2-1 Hawks.  Blackhawks fans in attendance – now would be a good time to start the “Sieve!” chant directed at Ryan Miller.  It’s good to get in his head early and often.

4:21 – I’m not a believer in Kevin Shattenkirk.  He got a lot of praise during the Olympics as an up and coming defenseman for Team USA.  I don’t see it.

4:08 – Shattenkirk feeds Vladamir Tarasenko who beats Crawford like a rented mule and it’s 2-2 all of sudden.  I’m just going to stop talking for a while.  For the record I think Tarasenko is the X Factor in this series.  He’s the only player on the Blues that scares me.  This is his first game back from a broken left hand and I’d really rather he not get going any time soon.

3:50 - Patrick Sharp takes a foolish penalty (another under-discussed theme to this season) and the Blues are on their first power play.

1:36 – The penalty kill ends and Patrick Kane hops off the bench to a wide open breakaway (courtesy of Toews) and unlike in Sochi he buries the puck without a second thought.  3-2 Hawks. So much for that defensive tight check series everyone was prepared for.

End of the 1st Period

The Blues are a team with an identity problem.  They’ve been a good, deep team for the last few years but have not really made any noise in the playoffs during that run.  Heck, they’ve never won a Cup since being founded in 1967 – a very under-discussed fact in sports championship drought conversations.  This year was the year that they loaded up making the “final piece” trade for a #1 goalie in Ryan Miller and holding the league’s best record for the first 3/4ths of the season.  Then injuries set in and the team began to get rattled.  They stopped scoring goals and Ryan Miller let in more than a Stanley Cup backstop should.  They lost their lead in the division to the Avalanche in the last week of the season and now have to play the defending Stanley Cup champs in the first round.  The key for the Blackhawks is to keep St. Louis doubting themselves and never letting them find their stride nor their confidence.  If this period ended 1-0 as it began then I’d be worried right now.  The fact that the Blackhawks scored on 3 of their 7 shots bodes well for the shakiness being felt in the St. Louis dressing room at the moment being perpetuated.

2nd Period

20:00 – It’s worth noting that this is the least amount of facial hair we’ll see on any of these combatants for the foreseeable future.

18:36 – Pat Foley just said that Coach Quenneville made comment that this year has been the best Seabrook has played in recent memory.  I have a feeling the guys over at The Committed Indian have a comment about that statement.

15:45 – The Blues have turned the puck over at their blue line twice in the past 30 seconds.  This is a good trend.  In between those instances Handzus had his second blowout of the game.  This is a bad (but expected) trend.

14:45 – Handzus falls down again but this time they say he was pushed.  The Blackhawks head back to the power play.

12:27 – Ok, that’s why they gave Crawford $6 million per year.  That save on Tarasenko was amazing (but still not worth the price tag)

11:26 – It would appear the Blackhawks spent the better part of their week of practice working on drop passes.  My unofficial count has then at 26 drop passes in the first 29 minutes of game action.

11:00 – Eddie O. just noted the Blackhawks have 14 dump-ins to the St. Louis zone already, making the case that that wears a team down and carrying the puck into the zone is overrated.  Everyone associated with the advanced stat community just collectively slapped their own foreheads.

8:10 – Kris Versteeg negates what has been a pretty solid game thus far with a ridiculous penalty behind the play putting St. Louis back on the power play.

5:22 – Crawford has bailed the Hawks out on at least three solid opportunities in the past ten minutes (he’s still not worth $6 million though)

End of the 2nd Period

Thus far I’ve heard Vladamir Tarasenko’s name a little too often and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews not nearly enough.  I’m also getting rather fed up with the Blackhawks trying long stretch passes across the ice which the Blues are starting to pick off like free safeties in the neutral zone.  That is going to come back to haunt the Hawks before too long.  Otherwise the Blues officially only had three shots in the period and the ledger is still balanced in the right direction so I don’t have too much to complain about.

3rd Period

17:06 – Ryan Miller looks lost on the ice.  He’s not seeing shots and as the come and acting like he has the puck in his glove after he’s missed it entirely.  Now is the time the Hawks need to be peppering him with shots, extending their lead, and damaging his ego all at the same time.

15:01 – As things get a little chippy in front of the Blackhawks net it occurs to me that the crowd is not quite as pro-Blackhawks as the local media made it out to be coming in.  The last few days I’ve heard about how these first two games weren’t selling out and Blackhawks fans were flocking to STL in droves for tickets starting around $50.  If they’re there then they’re not nearly as visible as they were in Nashville four days ago.

14:45 – David Backes takes a stupid penalty.  In other news, water is wet.

12:18 – Nick Hjalmarrsson just knocked David Backes into next week.  Chippiness ensues.

11:22 – In fallout of said feistiness Patrick Kane gets tripped and the Hawks go right back to the man advantage.

10:31 – …and Patrick Kane’s stick catches Alex Petrangelo’s face and he’s off to the box now.

7:45 – The puck takes a funny hope over Leddy’s stick and Mr. Cracknell gets stoned by Crawford from point blank range.  I seriously have never heard of this young man prior to this evening.  Does the St. Louis media have a list of fifty or so takes on “Release The Cracken” headlines cued up at any given time?

3:12 – For some reason Quenneville has put his 4th line out on the ice twice since the 5 minute mark in the third period with a one goal lead.  It’s like he wants to do ridiculous things just so when they don’t backfire he can giggle to himself about how much smarter he thinks he is than everyone else.

1:45 – Fuck.  Jaden Schwartz buries a backhander from the slot and we’re tied 3-3.  Based on how this third period has been played that was just a matter of time.

End of the 3rd Period

That goal really sucks.  Getting out of Game 1 with a victory in regulation would have had numerous repercussions to the series ahead.  Now the Blues have both momentum and confidence that they can play with the Hawks in the playoffs.

Even worse, I’ve been watching this game on tape delay after it was just me and the Wee One for the better part of the evening.  Knowing I wanted to write while I watched the game, a feat that is all but impossible before she goes to bed, I didn’t start watching until 9pm.  Now my DVR recording has run out of time and I fear I’ve missed the end…

Until I flip over to the live feed of Comcast Sportsnet to see the game in real-time is in the 5th intermission.  Hooray?  Let’s assume nothing exciting happened in the first two extra sessions because lord knows I’m not staying up to watch the replay of two scoreless overtime periods.  So away we go.

6th Period

19:34 – And just like that it’s over.  Greg Steen jumps on a feed from the goal line and elevates it over Crawford’s shoulder.  The Blues win 4-3.  That was rather anti-climactic given my viewing scenario.  Hmmm….

End of Game

So we’ve got a series on our hands.  I’m still not worried as I’ve been saying Hawks in 6 to anyone that will listen.  Winning Saturday afternoon becomes a whole lot more important now though as all I was hoping for was to take one of these first two games in St. Louis.  Aside from that last goal (and whatever I missed in overtime) it would appear that the Toews and Backes lines are all but going to cancel each other out and it’s going to come down to Kane/Sharp/Hossa vs Tarasenko and the Blues role players vs the Hawks role players.  I still like our chances.  Given the fact that the Hawks didn’t score in the final five periods of hockey I’m assuming Ryan Miller’s confidence was restored to some degree somewhere along the line.  The good news is Corey Crawford was the star of the game as far as I’m concerned so the sooner your goalie can get hot in the playoffs the better.  It’s off to bed for me and hopefully for the Blackhawks too as they’ve just finished essentially two games and they play again in just 38 hours.  God bless playoff hockey.