Blackhawks Make Statement in 4-2 Win Over Blues

Kruger's insurance goal proves critical as Hawks win third in a row

The St. Louis Blues scored a goal less than two minutes into the game, but the Chicago Blackhawks roared back and secured a critical 4-2 triumph over their Central Division rivals on Sunday afternoon.

Jeremy Morin, Patrick Sharp, Marcus Kruger, and Ben Smith all notched tallies for the Blackhawks, as they won their third consecutive game and kept their hopes for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs alive.

For the second game in a row, the Blackhawks got off to a rough start as they surrendered an early goal. After Andrew Shaw was sent off to the penalty box for a cross-checking penalty, the Blues took advantage of a power play and scored less than two minutes into the game. Jaden Schwartz picked up the tally as Crawford scrambled in the crease, and in a flash the Hawks trailed in the game 1-0.

Following that goal, the Blackhawks tightened up on defense and began to push the tempo on offense. A Ryan Reaves slashing penalty didn’t result in a goal for the Hawks on the ensuing power play, but they still got several chances as the period went on. Joakim Nordstrom had a really good one just to the right of the net, and then followed that up with another nice shot that Brian Elliott was able to stop. Brandon Bollig was slashed by David Backes in the ensuing scrum, and the Hawks went on another power play.

Unfortunately for Chicago, the Blues got the first chance in the following sequence, but Crawford was up to the task as he stopped a Berglund breakaway attempt following a Sharp turnover. Kris Versteeg did get a nice chance at the side of the net off a pretty pass from Duncan Keith at the point, but Elliott centered the shot up perfectly and steered it aside.

The two sides traded power plays in the closing minutes of the period, with Sharp getting sent off for a hooking call and Carlo Colaiacovo getting the same infraction. Despite the multiple St. Louis power plays, the Hawks led in shots on goal 11-3 after the first period, but trailed in the game 1-0.

As the Hawks got to work on their second period power play, they got several more good scoring chances but couldn’t get any of them to go. Sharp’s shot from the point was stopped in front, and even though Versteeg and Shaw both got rebound chances, neither of them would go. Brent Seabrook then picked up an interference penalty at the blue line, negating the rest of the power play.

After several more quality chances by the Hawks following their second straight successful penalty kill, Morin tied things up. Bryan Bickell fired a gorgeous shot high that Elliott wasn’t able to control, and as the puck bounced in the crease, Morin crashed the net and slipped the rebound into the cage to cue the goal horn and tie the game at 1-1.

Near the end of the second period, the Blackhawks’ aggressive play paid dividends again as they took a 2-1 lead. This time, it was Morin doing the facilitating, as he made a nifty deke to create some space on a 2-on-1 rush. His perfect saucer pass across set up a Sharp one-timer, and the Hawks’ sniper didn’t miss as he buried a shot past Elliott to give the Hawks the lead with less than a minute remaining in the period.

Not content to sit on their lead, the Blackhawks added a critical insurance goal less than a minute into the third period. After Brandon Bollig nailed Steve Ott along the blue line and forced a turnover, Nordstrom picked up the puck and fired a shot that ended up bouncing off of both goalposts. As the puck sat in the crease, Kruger pounced on it and tapped it in, and with a 3-1 lead, the Hawks seemed to put things in cruise control.

They did get another chance on the power play a few minutes later, but they weren’t able to convert. Both Sharp and Hossa got some nice chances on a rush early in the power play, but after Michal Rozsival couldn’t quite keep a puck in the zone in the waning seconds of the man-advantage, the Hawks came out empty-handed.

As the period wore on, the Blues weren’t able to turn up the offensive pressure much on the Hawks’ defense, and Chicago continued to pound away to try to extend their lead. Nordstrom had the best opportunity as he swiped a puck at center ice and had a breakaway, but as his shot was Elliott was stopped, he was blasted by TJ Oshie with a massive hit for his efforts.

Just when it appeared that the game was on ice, the Blues ended up scoring with about two minutes left. On the rush, Vladimir Sobotka fired in a bit of a knuckler towards the Hawks’ net, but Crawford was unable to stop it as it bounced off the top of his left pad and went into the net, making it a 3-2 hockey game with 2:02 remaining.

With about 15 seconds remaining, the Blackhawks were finally able to put the game away. After a good shot block off a stick-shattering shot by Alex Pietrangelo, Smith collected the puck and beat the defender for an empty net to give the Hawks their third straight victory in the 4-2 triumph.

The Hawks will next take to the ice on Wednesday night when they play their final home game of the regular season at the United Center when they tangle with the Montreal Canadiens.

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