By Jon Fromi
Despite watching a two goal lead evaporate in the last ten minutes of the contest, the Chicago Blackhawks were able to come away with a huge 4-3 shootout win over the St. Louis Blues Thursday night at United Center.
With the victory, the Blackhawks have taken four of six games from the top team in the Western Conference. They also move another step closer to locking up a spot in the postseason with a solid performance.
The pace favored the Hawks early, but Chicago didn’t get on the board until midway through the opening frame. Kent Huskins committed a high stick on Andrew Shaw a little over two minutes in. Although the Blackhawks got a shot on goal on the power play for the first time in nine attempts, a single shot was all Chicago could muster.
The first score came when Nick Leddy found Bryan Bickell in the neutral zone in the eleventh minute. Bickell entered the Blues zone with Dave Bolland, where he skated to just above the left faceoff circle before sending a wrist shot past Jaroslav Halak at the 10:38 mark.
St. Louis responded seconds after the resulting faceoff. Alexander Steen took a pass from Kris Russell, beat Leddy coming into the Chicago zone and sent the puck past Corey Crawford to tie the game. Despite outshooting the Blues 14-8, the teams were even going into the second period.
The Hawks finished killing a Shaw roughing penalty to open the second and then generated several offensive opportunities. Barret Jackman got a stick on a Marian Hossa shot in the third minute. Patrick Sharp took a pass from Viktor Stalberg but was foiled by Halak.
The Hawks kept the offensive pressure on, with Marcus Kruger centering Sharp and Stalberg very effectively. Chicago held St. Louis to just three second period shots. Just one of those came at even strength.
Patrick Kane beat Halak but hit the far goalpost in the waning minutes. Chicago came up empty on a Patrick Berglund tripping penalty and the teams went into the second intermission still knotted at a goal apiece.
St. Louis held the puck in the Blackhawks zone for much of the early going in the third period. Jackman redirected a shot to Steen in front of the crease, but Crawford turned the attempt away in the second minute.
With 4:15 gone in the third, Hossa swooped in from the left side and got off a shot that Halak stopped but couldn’t smother. Hossa got enough of a stick on the rebound to send it to the front of the net. Kane couldn’t get the rebound across the goal line, but Andrew Brunette knocked it in through the legs of a diving Jason Arnott to make it 2-1 Blackhawks.
Just over four minutes later, Stalberg got to a puck that Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo couldn’t get a handle on, resulting in a two-man breakaway that ended when Sharp took a pass and went stickside high over Halak to make the score 3-1 in favor of the Blackhawks.
The elation of a two-goal lead was short-lived, as Arnott took advantage of Sean O’Donnell losing an edge behind the net to take control of a Kane pass attempt behind the Chicago net. Arnott came around Crawford, who stopped the initial shot. Arnott knocked home the rebound to restore the Hawks lead to a single goal with 10:25 left.
Following Arnott’s goal, St. Louis took it to the Hawks in an attempt to tie the game. With 92 seconds to play in the game, David Perron got a stick on Russell’s shot from the point and what had been a two-goal advantage midway through the third was now dead even. Kruger got the puck to the net with 22 seconds left but couldn’t elevate it over Halak, so it was off to extra time for the division rivals.
A Brent Seabrook slap shot bounced invitingly in front of the net but no Hawks could get there to capitalize. A 3-on-2 opportunity ended up in Halak’s glove. Halak denied Michael Frolik twice following Stalberg’s rush up the ice. Hossa set up Kane for a prime opportunity in the last minute, but Halak refused to let the game end. Just like on March 13, the teams went to individual shooters to settle things.
Kane’s backhand was denied by Halak. Crawford gloved David Perron’s attempt. Sharp and T.J. Oshie both were stopped in the second round. Stalberg’s attempt to go five-hole was stopped, but Crawford turned away Steen to extend the shootout.
Dave Bolland finally beat Halak in round four, setting up one last showdown between Crawford and Berglund. The shot got past the Hawks goalie but found iron instead of twine, allowing Chicago to secure an important second point.
-Brunette was voted first star of the game, though my vote would have gone to Stalberg. The Swede with speed had six shots on the night, assisted on Sharp’s goal and created offense all evening.
-Crawford wasn’t exceptional in regulation as he didn’t see the action Halak did on the other end. Chicago outshot the Blues 40-20 65 minutes. Crawford came up huge in the shootout, though.
-Did you know that St. Louis just might win the President’s Trophy? Pat Foley mentioned this once or twice.
-Bolland’s shootout tally was his first in eight career attempts.
-The Blackhawks controlled most of the action Thursday. It would have been a shame to drop even the second point in the last ten minutes after having all the momentum and a two goal lead after nearly 50 minutes of play.
-Depending on Nashville’s game in Detroit, the Hawks could possibly leapfrog the Predators in the standings Saturday night. The puck drops in Nashville at 7:00 p.m.