By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks rode the back of goalie Corey Crawford Monday night in Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round series with St. Louis. Needing a big performance in net, Crawford shut out the Blues as the Hawks won 2-0 to pull to with a game of tying the best-of-seven series.
First Period-The Hawks began the game with an extended stay in the Blues zone by a top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell. Chicago controlled possession for much of the first four minutes. That dominance would soon pay off on the scoreboard.
Toews took a feed from Duncan Keith coming across the St. Louis blueline in the fifth minute, skated to the top of the left circle and fired a shot that got through Blues goalie Ryan Miller’s pads. 4:10 into the game, the Hawks held a 1-0 advantage. Sheldon Brookbank, playing in place of the suspended Brent Seabrook, got the scoring play started with a nice pass to Keith out of the Chicago zone.
St. Louis was able to start putting pressure on the Hawks defense, getting its first big scoring opportunity six-and-a-half minutes in. Vladimir Tarasenko robbed Niklas Hjalmarsson behind the Hawks net and got the puck to Vladimir Sobotka in the slot. The shot was off the mark, however.
Toews had another chance at a second goal a moment later but Bickell’s pass was at his feet. The Blues went back on the offensive. Patrick Berglund picked off a pass along the boards and seemed to have Corey Crawford beat on a wrap-around attempt in the ninth minute. Nick Leddy was at the right post with his stick on the ice and prevented the goal.
The game’s first penalty came when Andrew Shaw was called for interference with 7:25 to play in the period. Chicago made it tough for the Blues to gain entry for most of the man advantage and Crawford was able to glove a deflected puck in the closing seconds to complete the kill.
Toews hit Bickell coming up the middle of the ice, leading to a wrist shot that was denied by Miller. A few seconds later Kane made a run at the net after a similar feed from the captain. As he was bearing down on Miller, the puck went on edge and prevented Kane from getting off a decent shot.
The Hawks survived a scary moment when a loose puck slid toward the crease in the 17th minute. Crawford and Keith crossed wires on who was going to handle the puck, allowing Alexander Steen to get his blade on the biscuit. Keith sent the potential equalizer safely away, however.
Bickell was tagged with a hooking penalty on Jaden Schwartz with 1:44 remaining. Keith, Hjalmarsson and Michal Handzus got in front of several Blues attempts and Crawford shook off a very active Steve Ott to make couple of key stops. St. Louis had 16 seconds to go on the power play, but the first period ended with Chicago still up a goal.
Second Period-The Hawks killed off the remaining St. Louis power play, after which the teams traded possessions over the next few minutes. Chris Porter was denied by Crawford and Toews just missed Kane streaking to the net with a pass.
Miller stopped a Marian Hossa redirect of a Patrick Sharp shot on goal in the sixth minute. Kane had Miller down after Bickell set him up but was in too close to get off a shot.
Brookbank was hit from behind by Maxim Lapierre at the 7:10 mark to send Chicago to the power play. The Hawks held the puck in the Blues zone for much of the first 90 seconds but failed to convert. Just seconds later, Polak cross-checked Brandon Saad to give the Hawks another power play chance. However, Chicago was not productive at all and came up empty once again.
Crawford made a big stop after Steen and Berglund broke out for an odd man rush, gloving Berglund’s attempt with 8:35 to go in the middle frame.
Ben Smith made a nice effort to get a shot on goal late in the 12th minute though Miller knocked the attempt away. Just over a minute later, Miller snuffed out a close-range attempt by Toews.
Crawford made an outstanding save with 5:02 to play on a Ryan Reaves redirect of a Polak shot from the blueline. The play followed a save on a Berglund shot seconds earlier.
With 3:03 remaining, the Blues had an extra man on the ice and Chicago had a late chance to extend its lead. Little happened in the first half of the power play but Steen hooked Hossa to give the Hawks a 5-on-3 for 37 seconds. Hossa had a couple of strong attempts but the Blues held firm for the last 1:40 to keep the Blackhawks lead at 1-0 going into the second intermission.
Third Period-The Blues killed the remaining 19 seconds of the Chicago power play. Miller stopped a puck in front of his net once the teams returned to even strength. Tarasenko stole a pass from Leddy at the blue line but Crawford sent the shot away in the second minute.
Marcus Kruger was called for holding Steen at the 2:34 mark. The Hawks turned in another impressive kill to hold on to the lead thanks to another big block by Handzus. Porter backhanded a loose puck to the net but Crawford made a pad save and covered the puck.
The Hawks continued to handle the Blues push to knot the score as the midway point of the final period approached. Crawford denied Porter again in the eighth minute before Lapierre sent the rebound wide of the net.
The Blues put the pressure on over the next few minutes, pinning Chicago in their own zone and putting the Hawks on their heels. The St. Louis defensemen began pinching deeper and deeper into the offensive zone but Crawford kept turning away the Blues.
The Hawks didn’t generate a lot of offense in the last half of the period. Toews and Bickell couldn’t connect on a potential breakout pass into the St. Louis zone. Saad gained possession and led Kris Versteeg on a 2-on-1 but Versteeg was offside. Shaw had a scoring chance with just over three minutes to play but Miller broke it up.
Miller went to the bench with a minute to play. Chicago withstood the desperate St. Louis assault. It was Handzus who gained control of the puck in the neutral zone and sent it sliding down the ice. Saad caught up and took the puck around the empty net with Kruger sending it across the goal line to seal the victory with 20 seconds left.
Three Stars-Handzus (third), Toews (second), Crawford (first)
-Crawford certainly was the man Monday. After taking it upon himself to step up, he stopped all 34 shots he faced in posting his third career playoff shutout. That should shut up his detractors for a couple of hours.
–Joel Quenneville used Smith between Hossa and Sharp on the second line once the game got going. Handzus was crucial to the Hawks success killing penalties and played a great defensive game.
-The Hawks attempted to work the puck below the goal line on their four power plays but still came up empty for the evening. A tally late in the second when Chicago had two shots at St. Louis could have saved the lining of my stomach some wear and tear.
-Brookbank needed to step up and did so with a nice game in place of Seabrook. He played 14:32, blocked a couple of shots and got the ball rolling on the Hawks first goal.
-Roman Polak was allowed to punch Brandon Bollig in the corner about a dozen times when the teams were battling for a puck in the first period. For the most part, though, the shoving after the whistle was limited as both teams focused on hockey.
–Johnny Oduya and Leddy led the Hawks with four blocked shots apiece. Bickell played over 15 minutes, blocked a pair of shots and led Chicago with eight hits. In all, the Hawks blocked 24 shots on the night.
-Chicago hopes to even up the series Wednesday night in one of those great (not) 8:30 p.m. starts.