Jonathan Toews scored an early goal, and Corey Crawford did the rest as the goaltender made 34 saves as the Chicago Blackhawks knocked off the St. Louis Blues by a score of 2-0 on Monday night at the United Center.
Marcus Kruger ended up picking up an empty net goal in the closing seconds to preserve the win for the Blackhawks as they narrowed the series deficit to two games to one. Ryan Miller made 24 saves for the Blues, but it wasn’t enough as they couldn’t quite grab a stranglehold on the series.
Like in the first two games of the series, there was a good pace to the early stages of the contest, but unlike those previous meetings, it was the Blackhawks who got things started on the scoreboard first. After a great bit of transition puck movement by the Hawks, Duncan Keith feathered a pass in between two Blues skaters to Toews, who grabbed the pass in stride and put a shot on net. Ryan Miller couldn’t quite close his leg pads in time, and the puck squirted through as the Hawks took a 1-0 lead.
After the hot start by the Blackhawks, it seemed as though the Blues gained the upper hand in the momentum category, and they began peppering Crawford with chances. Vladimir Sobotka barely missed on a wraparound attempt that Crawford couldn’t quite get to, then Jaden Schwartz got a rebound in close and shot the puck just wide. A Blues power play continued the barrage, as TJ Oshie redirected a shot and Steve Ott had a chance at a rebound, but Crawford was able to stop both shots to keep the one goal lead intact for his team.
Bryan Bickell and Patrick Kane both picked up some chances for the Hawks after that successful kill, but the Blues resumed their offensive push as they got another power play. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Michal Handzus both made some courageous shot blocks, with the former ending up sprawled out on the ice in agony after the block. Crawford was able to make another stop with Ott right in front of the crease, and when the power forward got the puck on the rebound, Crawford made another huge save and smothered the puck in the crease to kill off the opportunity.
As the second period began, the Blues began to show some cracks in their disciplined façade, and by the time all was said and done, they had committed four penalties in the period. Fortunately for them, the Blackhawks continued their struggles on the power play, with possessions ending up abruptly and the Hawks seemingly passing up open shots. Nick Leddy did uncork a couple of solid slapshots, but with precious little traffic in front, neither had a chance to go in as the Blackhawks continued to cling to their one goal lead.
Late in the period, the Hawks got a 5-on-3 power play, but despite the decided advantage and some good puck movement they weren’t able to score. Patrick Sharp kept trying to find Kane in front of the net with passes, but Blues defenders cut off the passing lane on several occasions to prevent good opportunities. Hossa also got a good look from in close, but Miller was able to stymie the chance and avenge himself slightly for his early struggles to get comfortable in the crease.
As the third period got underway, the momentum that the Blues had been playing around the edges of became a full-fledged flurry of scoring chances. After Marcus Kruger went to the penalty box for an early holding penalty, the Blues started teeing off from all angles, and Crawford was more than up to the task. Jay Bouwmeester blasted a shot in from the boards, but Crawford steered it wide. Handzus got in on the act again too, blocking two shots toward the end of the sequence to keep the Hawks in front.
At even strength a few minutes later, a couple more Blackhawks stepped up in a big way. Sheldon Brookbank, in the lineup for the suspended Brent Seabrook, made several key plays on the sequence, blocking shots and disrupting passing lanes to keep the Blues from generating any real chances. Crawford made another save on a redirect from in close, and the game remained 1-0.
In the closing seconds of the game, the Blues did get a few more good opportunities, including a laser shot from Alex Pietrangelo, but Crawford made a nice glove save to keep the game 1-0. Handzus made one more diving steal in the neutral zone to break up another rush attempt, and eventually Kruger potted the empty net goal to give the Blackhawks a 2-0 victory.
The Hawks will look to tie the series on Wednesday night when they take on the Blues at the United Center at 8:30pm. The game will air locally on Comcast SportsNet and nationally on NBCSN.