By Jon Fromi
It was a new look Chicago Blackhawks squad that came out in St. Louis Saturday night and dropped a 3-1 decision to the Blues. With most of the Blackhawks stars resting comfortably in Chicago, the lineup was filled with recent call ups from Rockford.
Three prospects made their NHL debut, including starting goalie Carter Hutton. Defensemen Ryan Stanton and Shawn Lalonde were also seeing their first action in Chicago. Recent IceHogs Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes and Ben Smith were also on the ice.
The Blues drew first blood in the fifth minute on a delayed penalty on Michal Roszival. With the extra attacker, Andy McDonald sent a shot to the net.Hutton made a nice kick save, but Patrik Berglund was there to convert the rebound at the 4:33 mark of the opening period.
Morin brought the puck up the ice and hit Pirri at the halfway point of the first but Pirri couldn’t get a handle on it. Hayes found himself on the left post with a shot opportunity a few minutes later but was foiled by a nice poke check by Brian Elliot.
Ken Hitchcock took his time out with 4:53 to play in the period after a marvelous pair of shifts by the young Blackhawks. No goals came of it, but Chicago completed a line change and kept cycling the puck in the St. Louis zone.
Late in the period the Blues struck again, this time off of a rebound off of a deflected shot. David Backes got a piece of a Kris Russell slapper which Hutton stopped. Jaden Schwartz was waiting to pounce on the rebound and slip it across the goal line for a 2-0 St. Louis lead with 2:36 left.
A Sheldon Brookbank tripping penalty put the Blues on the power play for the last 1:49 of the period. The Blackhawks held firm but trailed by a pair after the first 20 minutes.
Brookbank left the game after taking a slap shot to the knee five minutes into the second period. Jamal Mayers knocked away a loose puck in front of the Blackhawks crease to prevent a sure tap in goal by Backes. This led to a 2-on-1 by Hayes and Bryan Bickell that came up empty when Elliot stopped Bickell’s attempt.
Schwartz got his second goal of the evening in the ninth minute, swooping in down the right side and sending a backhand to the goal. The shot didn’t have much on it but the change of pace fooled Hutton, who was beat five-hole to put the Blues up 3-0 with 11:21 left in the middle frame.
Two minutes later, Stanton was called for high sticking. The Blues slammed away with the man advantage but the Blackhawks killed the penalty.
Late in the 16th minute Morin and Smith each had opportunities that were denied by Elliot. Michael Frolik’s backhand attempt a few minutes later met a similar fate. With 1:17 to go, Mayers fed Pirri coming into the Blues zone. Pirri got off a nice shot but Elliot closed the five-hole and smothered the attempt. The teams went to the second intermission with the Blues up 3-0.
When Chicago got on the board midway through the third period, it was via the Rockford connection. Morin gained control of the puck in the corner of the St. Louis zone and found Smith at the left circle. Smith sent a wrist shot over Elliot’s shoulder and into the top left corner of the net with 8:23 gone in the period, closing the gap to 3-1. Hayes picked up the secondary assist.
Morin drew a tripping penalty and the chance was there for the ‘Hawks to get back into contention. The passing wasn’t there, however, and Chicago came up empty. Late in the game, Andrew Shaw centered to a pinching Stanton for a huge scoring chance. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, the backhand redirect couldn’t find its way past Elliot.
Hutton was pulled in the 19th minute to no avail and the clock ran out on Chicago.
-Before Saturday’s game ended, Chicago got its first-round playoff opponent, the Minnesota Wild. That’s probably the biggest news coming out of Saturday’s action.
-I thought the kids put up a decent effort considering St. Louis was battling for home ice in the first round. As a guy who has watched the kids in Rockford throughout the season, it was a kick to see players get a shot at ice time in Indian head sweaters.
-Hutton was 25-28 on Blues shots on goal and got better as the game wore on. Stanton played a heady game and of course Smith potted the ‘Hawks’ only goal on the night.
-Brookbank returned to the game later in the second period after blocking a shot with his knee. It appears that Chicago got through the contest with no injuries to key players. Brent Seabrook took a stick to the face early but didn’t miss any time.
-Shaw, Bickell, Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy played in all 48 regular season games following their appearances Saturday.
-Morin, who has previously worn 27 and 26 with Chicago, donned the number 11 sweater since Oduya and Michal Handzus are currently wearing his old numbers.