I don’t know how a defending champion isn’t prepared to start a potential clinching game at home, but the Blackhawks weren’t.
Against a longtime rival, no less.
The Blues stressed a strong start to Game 6 and they got it, taking the raucous United Center crowd out of things.
That, however, lasted just four minutes, and then Bryan Bickell deflected a Brent Seabrook slap shot for a 1-0 lead. The Hawks started looking like the Hawks after that, winning the puck and limiting the Blues’ chances.
The Blues started looking like a bunch of guys worried about avoiding making mistakes instead of playing their game, which can happen when you’re facing elimination at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champions on their ice. And so, the Hawks had just about everything they wanted.
Then the Hawks failed to clear a puck and suddenly T.J. Oshie was scoring a goal he didn’t know he scored to tie the game late in the first period. It wasn’t as late as a lot of goals the Hawks had surrendered in this series, but it was late and it ruined a period the Hawks had taken over.
I don’t know how a defending champion isn’t ready to start the second period of a potential clinching game at home, but the Hawks weren’t.
In fact, the Hawks gave away the second period.
The Blues owned the puck and the period already, and then the Hawks gave them three power plays in 12 minutes.
That the Hawks were able to kill off all of them even with some of their best penalty killers in the box remained the best part of their game Sunday. That and Corey Crawford, which makes sense because the goalie has to be the best penalty killer.
But the drudgery of working so many shorthanded situations cost the Hawks any kind of flow to their game, especially because Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp spent a lot of time sitting on the bench.
The Blues outshot the Hawks 17-3 in the second period and held a 28-11 advantage after 40 minutes of the dreariest tied playoff game in a long time.
And then the Hawks remembered how to start a third period. Then they remembered how to work a power play. Then they remembered they were the defending champions.
Starting the third period with their first man-advantage of the afternoon, Jonathan Toews took a heads-up and unselfish pass from Duncan Keith and walked into the slot before torching Ryan Miller for a 2-1 lead.
Just 77 seconds later, Sharp took a sweet pass from Kane for a breakaway, surviving a vicious Kevin Shattenkirk stick to the face and sliding the puck under Miller for a 3-1 lead.
Unlike the way they handled leads earlier in the series, the Hawks continued to attack. They didn’t concede two-thirds of the ice. They knew they had to kill the clock, but this time they did far more of it in the Blues end.
And like that, Andrew Shaw deflected a Keith shot to make it 4-1 before the period was half over.
The Hawks did such a great job of controlling the puck and applying pressure that the Blues couldn’t get Miller off the ice for an extra skater.
And like that, Keith finished a great individual game by banging a puck into a virutally empty net in the dying minutes.
And like that, the Hawks became the first team to lose a Game 1 in triple-overtime and rebound to win the series.
This took some serious rebounding, believe me. The series started in brutal fashion -- physically and on the scoreboard. Then the NHL sent a supervisor to Chicago to tell both teams to cut out the stupid stuff.
Trailing two games to one, the Hawks got back to hockey. They rallied to take back the third period of Game 6 the way they took back the series in winning four straight. Full marks for that. The Hawks backed their talent with smarts and character.
They know that many parts of their game need work, but as it happens with elite teams, the Hawks will get another series to fix them.