ST. LOUIS — Jonathan Toews caught the St. Louis Blues’ defence napping after the Chicago Blackhawks got a lucky carom.
Just like that, the puck was in the net and the defending Stanley Cup champions were in command of the first-round series.
“I wasn’t even sure where their D-men were,” Toews said after scoring at 7:36 of overtime to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 victory Friday night and a 3-2 series lead. “Just got going as fast as I could. Take advantage of a chance.”
Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford stopped a shot by David Backes, defenceman Duncan Keith cleared the puck and the rebound deflected off Andrew Shaw’s shin pad all the way to the Chicago captain alone at centre ice off a change. Toews sped in with two defencemen in futile pursuit and threw a few fakes at goalie Ryan Miller before slipping a backhander into the net.
“I was just saying to some of the guys in the other room, I’m trying to get the puck out of the zone and all of a sudden it lands on his stick,” Keith said. “Couldn’t believe it. So, I was pretty happy seeing that.”
St. Louis defenceman Roman Polak saw Toews coming off the bench but reasoned that the Blues had control, so he left the ice about the same time Backes was shooting. Replacement Jay Bouwmeester never had a chance and Toews also got behind Jordan Leopold.
“It was a lucky bounce or something,” Polak said. “It was just a lucky bounce.”
Marian Hossa and Ben Smith also scored for the Blackhawks, who have won three in a row and can wrap up the first-round series at home Sunday. Four of the first five games in the series have gone to overtime.
“I think we got lucky on that winning goal, but I don’t think that at the end of the day we win because of luck,” Keith said.
“I think both teams have a lot of fire and grit and a lot of determination, and it’s a fine line between winning and losing.
“Like I’ve said a few times, we’re going to need our best game of the year our next game.”
T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo scored for the Blues.
“What’s pouting going to do?” St. Louis forward Alexander Steen said. “You just get back on the horse. It’s a game. You have to win four. They have three, we have two. Off to Chicago we go. See you there.”
All three of the Blues’ home games went to overtime and St. Louis won the first two.
Before Toews scored, the top offensive threats in the series had been neutralized in Game 5. Patrick Kane and Toews combined for one assist in regulation and the Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko, who entered with an NHL-leading four goals in the playoffs, was held to two shots.
The first four goals came from players scoring for the first time in the series.
Pietrangelo entered averaging more than 31 minutes in the series, most on either team, but has been a reluctant shooter with five shots in the first four games. His second career playoff goal came on a 2-on-1 break with Jaden Schwartz with the teams at 4-on-4 to tie it at 2 early in the third.
Backes returned for the Blues while Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook finished a three-game suspension from the illegal hit that knocked the St. Louis captain woozy in Game 2. But the Blues didn’t make the most of that emotional lift early, getting their first scoring chance at about the 12-minute mark, totalling one shot on two early power plays and trailing 1-0 after the first.
The Blackhawks started the scoring for the third straight game, capitalizing when Polak got caught pinching at the blue line. Bryan Bickell led a 2-on-1 break and Hossa tapped his own rebound into a wide open net at 16:11 of the first period.
On his knees, Oshie lifted a backhander over Crawford’s stick to tie it at 11:04 of the second period. Six minutes later, Smith tapped in a backhander after a St. Louis defender stopped Sheldon Brookbank’s slap shot from the point.
NOTES: All three games in St. Louis have attracted standing room crowds, with 19,796 showing up on a busy sports night downtown with the defending National League champion Cardinals playing the Pirates a few blocks east. … Oshie totalled three shots and was minus-3 his first three games back from an illegal check to the head late in the regular season from Minnesota’s Brian Rupp, who was suspended four games. Oshie said Thursday he might have returned a game too soon. … Hossa entered second in the playoffs with 21 shots but was held to one assist the first four games.