Chicago survives St. Louis despite being outplayed at home; cuts series lead to 2-1

CHICAGO – After two heart-breaking overtime losses in contests where they held late-game leads, Chicago returned to familiar ice with a raucous 20,000+ crowd behind them as they faced the resilient St. Louis Blues.  With the Blackhawks needing a critical win in their best-of-seven, opening-round series with St. Louis, the defending Champions delivered exactly what they needed by defeating the St. Louis Blues 2-0 in Game Three on Monday night in Chicago at the United Center.

Stanley Cup 2014 Playoffs

On a less-than-stellar goal by captain Jonathan Toews early in the opening period, Chicago relied on outstanding goaltending from Corey Crawford and a stingy defense to get the shutout and tighten the battle between two hated rivals.

 

Both teams started strong, trading hits and leaving little space for each other to move.  It was Chicago who lit the scoreboard on a rather easy goal Blues netminder Ryan Miller would like to have back.

The play started just over four minutes into the game when Duncan Keith sent a cross-ice pass out of his own zone to Jonathan Toews on the far side.  Using a defenseman as a partial screen, the Blackhawk captain sent a shot toward Miller that slipped underneath his stick and between his pads for a 1-0 Chicago lead.

With assists Duncan Keith and Sheldon Brookbank on the play, the Blackhawks registered their 12th and 13th points coming from their defense.  Suspended Brett Seabrook contributed 2 goals and 4 points in the first two games.  Should the series go to six games, Seabrook will be eligible to return to play.

After allowing the opening goal, the Blues picked up the pace.  At 6:30 of the period, Vladimir Sobotka fired a drive just missing the top glove-side corner on Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.  A few minutes later, Patrik Berglund, seeing his first action of the series deked Crawford to the ice and then attempted a wrap around drive which was blocked by Chicago defenseman Nick Leddy.

At the 9:00, Blues winger Jaden Schwartz shot wide after finding himself on the edge of the crease with Crawford deep in his net.

A penalty to Chicago’s Andrew Shaw with just over six minutes to play in the period resulted little pressure by St. Louis.  But the one chance the Blues had on a drive by Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold from the right point was snared by Crawford’s glove and held.

A minute later, Chicago’s Bryan Bickell sent a slick drive on net after crossing the blue line, but Miller made a brilliant save to thwart the attempt.  Just fifteen seconds later,

Patrick Kane received a stretch pass from the Chicago zone and cross into the St. Louis zone in on Miller.  The Blackhawk superstar shifted to a backhand and Miller snapped his glove wide open to save the drive and get a face-off.  It was the Blues’ netminders finest save of the period.

A minute later, Crawford misplayed a cross-ice pass which was deflected by Blues’ Game One hero, Alex Steen, and almost allowed the tying goal before he was helped by his defensemen.

With just over two minutes to play, Vladimir Tarasenko sent a drive which Crawford stopped, but could not hold onto.  The shot nearly slipped into the top right corner off the Chicago net.

To end the period, Bryan Bickell was whistled for hooking Jaden Schwartz.  The Blues power play went to work, but Crawford stopped three nice chances.  The first was to Tarasenko early-on and then to close to the end of the sequence, Kevin Shattenkirk’s drive from the right point and Steve Ott’s shot off the rebound where kept out of the net by Crawford.

Needing to play better than he had in the previous two games, Crawford was the difference in the opening period stopping all 15 St. Louis shots.  Miller stopped 6 of 7 at the other end.

Two minutes in, Blues forward Chris Porter accepted a pass as he streaked across the blue line and let a solid drive which Crawford got the left pad on and directed away from the net.

At the seven-minute work, Max Lapierre finished a check on Sheldon Brookbank right into the boards, the type of penalty St Louis needed to avoid.  Chicago went to work on their first man-advantage of the night.  Miller made a save in close from Keith from thirty feet out right off the draw, but was not tested the remainder of the penalty.

During the power play, Vladimir Sobotka took a drive off the right hand and continued defending for a minute until the puck cold be cleared.  At the first chance, Sobotka left the bench for the dressing room, but would return several minutes later.

No sooner did the Blues kill the power play did Roman Polak earn a cross-checking penalty on Brandon Saad.  Chicago went back to work with greater pressure, but still had trouble converting.  Aggressive forechecking in the Chicago zone during the shorthanded situation led to T.J. Oshie in close with an attempt on Crawford with 50 seconds remaining in the penalty.  The Blues ended up killing their second shorthanded situation.

With just give minutes to go in the period, Polak blasted a drive from the right point with the Blues Ryan Reaves in front.  Reaves swatted at it and the whistle blew with the puck still loose.  It was St. Louis’ best chance of the period.

Chicago answered when Jonathan Toews streaked down the left side and let a drive rip on Miller.  The Blues goaltender snared the high shot and held it for a face-off.  Miller settled down from the goal early in the first period and was building confidence as the Chicago shot total was getting close to surpassing that of the Blues.

With three minutes left in the period, St. Louis took a two-many-men on the ice penalty and Vladimir Tarasenko was elected to serve it.  Chicago pounced right from the draw.  With 37 seconds left in the penalty, Alex Steen was called for hooking Marian Hossa and would have a two-man advantage for that amount of time

Chicago buzzed the St. Louis net with traffic and several drives which were blocked or just missed the mark.  Perhaps the best was a drive high in the slot from Marian Hossa.  At the 40 second mark, Hossa let go of a drive, point blank on Miller who got his blocker on the puck he just barely saw at the last minute.

Chicago outshot St. Louis in the period, but the Blues held the edge through two period at 23-18.  While Chicago held the lead, St. Louis continued to have the better chances even though the Blackhawks held the 1-0 lead.  St. Louis was outhitting Chicago 30-20 through two periods.

Chicago was controlling the face-offs with Jonathan Toews leading the way in winning 15 of 17 through two periods.  As a team, Chicago led 30-16 in draws.

Entering the third, St. Louis still had 20 seconds to kill on the Steen penalty and did so without sustaining any damage, injury or goal-wise.  Just after the penalty, Chicago threatened, Miller stifled an attempt in close with a left pad save and smother.

The Blues gained a power play when Marcus Kruger was called for holding Alex Steen at the 2:34 mark of regulation, but despite several excellent chances, could not solve Crawford.  He was keeping the Blackhawks n the game and playing much better than he had in the earlier two games.

The team continued to trade chances with the Blues getting the edge with persistent forechecking and leaving little room for Chicago to move.  Just over eight minutes in, Max Lapierre had a golden chance when Chirrs Porter shot low on net.  Crawford kicked it out, but right to Max Lapierre who just missed the open net by firing wide.

St. Louis continued to press with more shots and better chances as Chicago went into a bit of a shell in their third of the ice.  St. Louis had the edge in shots 8-4 with nine minutes to play and you could sense the Blues might just have more late-game magic left in their sticks.

With just under seven minutes to play, Crawford came up big on a drive from fifteen feet out to keep the Blues shut out.  Three minutes later, Ryan Miller kept St. Louis in the game with a remarkable save on the open right side of the goal.

Chicago was in defense-mode while St. Louis continued to hammer away at the Chicago goal.  With less than two minutes to play, Ott fired a drive on Crawford who quickly handled the puck and sent it into the corner.

With 40 seconds left, Crawford made a game-saving blast from the stick of Alex Pietrangelo at the right point.  The Hawks then cleared the zone and on the strength of a strong neutral ice effort from Michal Handzus, scored an empty-net goal, credited to Marcus Kruger, to make it 2-0.

St. Louis outshot Chicago in the game 34-25 and outhit the Blackhawks 41-27.  The Blues outplayed Chicago the majority of the game, but not enough were it counted to win.http://

Game Four between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks is Wednesday night at the United Center in Chicago.  Face-off is set for 9:30 PM ET.

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