By Brad Gardner
The Blackhawks hosted the St. Louis Blues at the United Center on Thursday night for the first meeting between the two teams since the end of February. Thursday’s tilt marked the first of three games scheduled between the Central Division rivals this month.
Another lead was given away in the third period by Chicago, but they managed to come away with a point in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Blues, who registered their first victory over the Hawks this season. The back-and-forth battle saw the Blackhawks out-shoot the Blues 36 to 22 in the game, while the Blues out-hit the home team 43 to 21.
Adam Cracknell opened scoring in the first period with his first career NHL goal. Duncan Keith lost an edge in the offensive zone and Chris Porter’s outlet pass sprung Cracknell on a 1-on-1 break. Brent Seabrook moved over to pick up the man, but appeared to get a piece of Cracknell’s shot that caused it to deflect past Corey Crawford.
The Blues took the 1-0 advantage into the first intermission, but the Blackhawks stormed back in the second period. Just after killing off a Dave Bolland penalty, the Hawks were able to draw the score tied at one. Seabrook got the puck on net from the left wing and Jonathan Toews, battling for position in the crease, was able to clean up the loose puck at 3:18 of the second for his 18th goal of the season.
Brandon Saad gave the Hawks the lead at 5:45 on a redirection. Toews sent a pinpoint pass from the side boards to the stick of Saad in front of the net, and the rookie winger made a quick play to deflect the puck past Elliott.
The home team maintained the lead into the third period, but Cracknell scored his second career goal three and a half minutes into the final frame. Even more open on this rush than his first, Cracknell faked the shot to get Crawford down, moved the puck to the backhand, and held it until he had the angle to squeeze the shot between Crawford’s skate and the post.
St. Louis’ new acquisition Jay Bouwmeester played in his first game for the club and earned the primary assist on the go-ahead goal for the Blues. His shot from the point got through traffic, but Crawford was unable to control it. David Backes was parked to Crawford’s right and put the rebound into an open net. The goal, scored at 7:06 of the third, gave the Blues their second lead of the game at 3-2.
Viktor Stalberg eventually scored the equalizer with just over four and a half minutes remaining in regulation. Michal Rozsival sent the puck towards the net, but Stalberg intercepted the shot, skated into the slot and threw the puck on net. Bryan Bickell‘s screen blocked Elliott’s view and the shot went right under the goalie’s pads.
The score held at 3-3 through the end of regulation and overtime, forcing a shootout. The Hawks got conversions from Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa over the course of the first four rounds, while the Blues received goals from Chris Stewart, Andy McDonald, and Alexander Steen. After each team’s top rookie winger failed to convert in round five, the Blackhawks sent out Michal Handzus in round six, but he was unable to beat Elliott to the glove side. Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored the decisive goal in the shootout with a shot fake that got Crawford down and a wrist shot to the roof of the cage.
– Marian Hossa returned to the lineup after missing six games to an upper-body injury. The top line created chances all night, led by Jonathan Toews. He had a half-dozen rushes of his own, and although he didn’t get a chance off of every one of them, he threatened to score way more than the two points he ended up with.
– Late in the second period, Barrett Jackman went awkwardly into the sideboards as Viktor Stalberg tried to finish a check. He didn’t get much of a piece of him, but Jackman was off balance and had one of his legs caught under him. No penalties were called on the hit, but Roman Polak instigated a fight with Stalberg, wearing the full face shield. The Blues handled the penalty kill, most of which carried over to the start of the third and presented a prime opportunity for the Hawks to extend their lead.
– The power play slump continued with the Hawks going 0-for-2 against the Blues. They now have one power play goal in their last 18 opportunities over the past six games.
– Michal Handzus played in his first game (of his second stint) with the Blackhawks. As advertised, he was strong on the dot, winning 71% of his draws, including five of his six defensive zone faceoffs. He created a couple chances as well, looking to set Kruger up on a centering pass early in the game and he had a breakaway attempt of his own stifled by Elliott.
– 3 Stars of the Game: 3. David Backes… 2. Jonathan Toews… 1. Adam Cracknell.
– The Blackhawks will play a home-and-home with the Predators on Saturday and Sunday, with the first game in Nashville beginning Saturday at 2pm central.