CHICAGO — St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock calls it, “The Knowledge.”
He’s dwelled on it all series long, that intangible disadvantage for his club, an edge the Chicago Blackhawks have accrued by winning three Stanley Cups in the past six seasons.
“Knowledge no one else has, that we’d all love to have,” he said again after Game 4. “Some of us have been lucky to see it, and be around it for a few years.
“But when you have that knowledge, it’s golden.”
But here’s the problem with “The Knowledge.” When you are the Chicago Blackhawks, you can’t pick and choose what winning has taught you.
This team knows what a championship defence looks like. But we wonder: can it look at a corps that lost Johnny Oduya, seldom plays Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook together anymore, plays the glacial Michal Rozsival 16 minutes, and tell themselves that they’ve got the kind of blue line that can win four rounds?
They know what Marian Hossa looked like when he was dominant. It was a sight to behold.
This Marian Hossa, coming off a 33-point season with failing hands ready to pass the torch? How is Jonathan Toews going to tell himself that this Hoss is anywhere close to the old Hoss?
Richard Panik. Tomas Fleischmann. Andrew Desjardins. Erik Gustafsson. Rozsival. These names make the Hawks game sheet now, in the spots where names like Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette, Brandon Saad and Brad Richards used to be.
So the rest of us look at the Blackhawks and wonder if they can repeat as Stanley Cup champions, and we wonder: Do the important Hawks — the ones with three Cup rings — already know the answer?
On a Tuesday night in Chicago, in a game where the officials handed the Blackhawks a huge break to go ahead 2-1, the Blues won their second straight game here at the United Center to take a gripping 3-1 series lead.
Vladimir Tarasenko scored on two laser beams, and the most productive offensive player for Chicago was Andrew Shaw, a badger whose name falls under the category of “support scorer” underneath the superstars on this roster. Or at least, it is supposed to.
The final score was 4-3. Game 5 goes Thursday night in St. Louis, as the Blues find themselves primed to slay their own personal dragon in Chicago.
“It’s obviously not what we wanted and not where we wanted to be, but it is what it is now,” said Keith. “We’ve got nothing to save it for now, that’s for sure.”
“We have to regroup tomorrow, go to St. Louis, get excited,” said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, who knows more than anyone the weaknesses that success and the salary cap have foisted upon this lineup. “No pressure. Go try to win one game and come back here for Game 6. That’s gotta be the mindset.
“Gotta play smart, gotta be disciplined, gotta play the right way and try to be stingy.”
Really, this series could be over right now. Think about how Chicago won Game 2, on a disallowed St. Louis goal due to an offside review, and a Shaw goal that stood up despite being reviewed for goaltender interference. Lose those reviews, lose the game.
Game 4 was handed to Chicago on a platter when the referees inexplicably gave them a power play after Hawks goalie Corey Crawford attacked Robby Fabbri, starting a melee. Somehow, the Blues were left short-handed and Keith scored to make it 2-1.
It was another in a series of breaks that went against the Blues. The kind of breaks that always used to bury this St. Louis club, but somehow have not in this series. Tarasenko made it 2-2 after 40 minutes, and the Blues were back in business.
“We haven’t had that great response when tough stuff happens,” admits captain David Backes, a purple mouse under his left eye the size of a grape. “But, it doesn’t matter where it came from, it’s here. We love what’s on the bench.
“They got a call or score a goal, and we’re right back on it next shift to turn the tide back in our favour.”
Jaden Schwartz scored on the power play in the third period, and then defenceman Trevor van Riemsdyk made the kind of mistake that the Blackhawks just never used to make. His pass, intended for partner Rozsival, was easily picked off by Alexander Steen, who walked in and scored.
That stood up as the winner, a goal the Blues scarcely had to work for. It’s a metaphor for what ails Chicago, a lineup that’s still very good, but just not as superior right now as in past years.
And you know, they know it.