It always seemed hard to believe Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews would go an entire series without a goal. The three forwards have consistently made an impact in the postseason over the past few years, even if it takes them some time in any given series to get their bearings straight.
Against the St. Louis Blues, the Hawks' superstar forwards had been getting their shots on net. In a must-win Game 5 on the road, those chances finally turned into goals as Chicago kept its playoff hopes alive with a 3-2 double overtime victory. Now the only question is whether the team can keep the floodgates open.
The first four games in this series were a reminder that even the best players can struggle to turn all their activity into points. While they had driven chances toward Elliott and racked up some power-play assists, it was clear that the Blues' key scorers like Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz were pushing this series in their team's direction. One team's stars were finishing their chances, and usually that tends to decide a playoff series between two teams this close.
Except the Hawks' stars were always on the brink of changing this dynamic. Fortunate bounces and goaltending were the biggest differences between the production of the Blues' big names and the lack there of from Chicago's. Kane, Toews and Hossa had combined for 47 shots on goal in the first four games. They had just been getting stoned by Brian Elliott, who deserves a lot of credit for his play in this series.
Still, in order for the Hawks to go blow to blow against the league's best teams, they need their best players not just driving play and getting shots on net, but definitively putting their stamp on this series with goals. Maybe it would be different if anyone else was scoring. But the Hawks are a team built from the top, and with Andrew Shaw out in Game 5, there was even less secondary support on hand. Guys like Richard Panik, Marcus Kruger and Tomas Fleischmann were never going to salvage this series. It was always going to have to be the stars at the top finally translating their impact into tangible goal production.
On Thursday night, the door finally cracked up. One of the most remarkable things about the Hawks' stars is their ability to seemingly will themselves out of slumps that can sink other teams. How many times has Kane laid low for the first few games of a series, only to spring to life just when you think he's been neutralized? Every scorer in the NHL is streaky, but these guys have shown a remarkable sense of timing.
"In the past with our team it seems like it’s kind of the next guy up -- it’s someone else’s turn," Kane said after Game 5. "Maybe it was my turn to step up tonight and do something in overtime, which I’ve been waiting a lot longer than I should. It’s a good feeling, keeps up alive. [We] go back home now and it’s going to be exciting play a Game 6 in our building."
Indeed, double overtime of an elimination playoff game on the road is a pretty, pretty good time to "do something," as Kane put it. Joel Quenneville went to the "nuclear option" of Kane and Toews on the same line and it took more than 60 minutes but they finally made some magic. Hossa's shorty goal in the second period was a similarly miraculous play, the likes of which makes you think, "Oh yeah, they're the champions, that's right."
But in many ways, they were due for these things to happen. Keeping the Hawks' stars off the scoreboard is hard enough, especially so when they're already getting chances on you. You just hope that over a seven-game series, eventually you'll get enough chances that things start to go your way. In Game 5, they finally did for Kane and Hossa, while Toews added an assist to his tally.
Now the Hawks need to push things to Game 7 with a win Saturday, and once again they'll be depending on their best players to lead the way. After Thursday night, let's see if St. Louis can shut the floodgates. I'm pretty sure it's the captain's turn to score next.