By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) After all the drama, all the hand-wringing and all the controversy, here we are, right back where we started from.
The Blackhawks’ 4-3 overtime win over the Blues on Wednesday night was full of storylines. Let’s get through them, with my “random thoughts” style.
— The first 38 minutes of Game 4 were the best 38 minutes of hockey the Blackhawks have played in this entire series. They were attacking with speed, connecting on short, quick passes and peppering Ryan Miller. The Hawks were completely dominating and up 2-0 … until Patrick Kane cleared a puck over the glass, went to the penalty box and before you got back from the fridge the game was tied 2-2.
— Bryan Bickell has once again found his playoff level. The phrase “flip the switch” was bandied about all season. Could the Hawks “flip the switch” in the playoffs? Well, no one has had greater flip-switchage (yeah, it’s a word now) than Bickell. For whatever reason, the big winger has trouble getting going in the regular season. Granted, he was only playing about eight minutes a night, but he certainly didn’t make the best of the time he was given. Since this series began, he’s been dominant in every phase. He’s been the most physical Hawk, but he’s also contributing offensively. In the playoffs, he looks worth every penny of that $4 million contract.
— Ben Smith, ladies and gentleman. In the third period, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville moved Smith up to center Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. The result, aside from the obvious overtime winner, was spectacular. Smith had two or three great scoring chances that he just missed, and he never looked out of place on a line with two of the more skilled Blackhawks. The journey for a second-line center likely continues into this offseason, but the Hawks have found themselves a much better option than Michal Handzus for the remainder of this postseason.
— Can someone tell me what it is Kris Versteeg does well? He’s a turnover machine. He takes dumb penalties, and he creates little offense. Other than that, he’s been stellar. While Quenneville is resistant to making lineup changes after wins, he has to be noticing all that Versteeg is (or is not) doing. Fans have been clamoring for Jeremy Morin. A Versteeg benching might be the best and most realistic shot he has at getting a look.
— I’ve been called a Corey Crawford hater and a Corey Crawford apologist. I’m not sure where this will land me, but he let in two soft goals last night. He was great in Game 3 but reverted to “shaky Corey” in Game 4. Leaving the short side exposed, whiffing with glove saves. Yeah, he made a couple of really nice saves, but he needs to stop some of the more routine attempts as well. Quenneville can’t have “the talk” with him after every game. At some point, it’s on Crawford to find a way to remain consistent.
— I’d fully expect David Backes to be in the lineup for Game 5 in St. Louis. Most of the Blues’ beat writers expected him to be in the lineup for Game 4, so he must be close. That’s a huge addition for the Blues, who will also have the luxury of the home ice last line change. Expect the Blues to return to their typical snarly, dirty, agitating ways. When they’re backs are up against the wall, their instinct is to fight. If the Hawks can take this game in St. Louis, I feel the series ends in six.
— Kane was pretty good, huh? He was absolutely shot out of a cannon from jump street and was a machine in overtime. Moments before he scored the game-winner, he cleanly hit the cross bar. Ryan Miller ducked to get out of the way of the shot. He’s finally figured out how to skate with that knee brace. The Hawks’ three best players (Toews, Kane, Hossa) are all playing at a high level. I’m not sure the Blues have an answer.
Thanks, as always, for reading. Follow me on Twitter @jayzawaski670.