By Brian Hamilton
CHICAGO – At even a fleeting suggestion of frayed nerves in his dressing room, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews reared up early on Monday. “I don't know who's talking about losing composure,” he huffed after his team's pre-Game 3 morning skate, when the assembled media before him were talking about the defending champions doing precisely that. Chicago was down an 2-0 in its first-round series against the Blues, and the Blackhawks had often played without intelligence, poise or the puck. They were pursuing another title, in other words, while doing things that would ensure they'd have almost no chance of winning one.
Chicago rectified that on Monday night in a 2-0 win over the St. Louis that was far from perfect, but more in character. The Blackhawks successfully protected a late one-goal lead for the first time in this series with a disciplined, mostly steady effort, which was spearheaded by and early goal from Toews and finished by a resolute Corey Crawford in net. And that's all the Hawks needed. Instead of going out of their way to hit everything on skates, a club that wins with its speed and puck possession simply got out of its own way. And that got Chicago back in the series, with Game 4 coming up on Wednesday.
Some other quick thoughts on Monday's proceedings:
Game 3 recap | Box score
• After some morning skate misdirection, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville caved in and went with his Desperation Line on Monday. In both of the club's recent runs to the Stanley Cup, Quenneville went with a top line of Toews flanked by Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell to give Chicago a boost during moments of doubt and despair. So it was that the trio reunited to begin Game 3 -- this after Quenneville had Brandon Saad, and not Kane, skating with Toews and Bickell during the morning workout. Quenneville started the series looking for more balance across his lines, but the coach's combinations produced only one goal by a forward in two games. On Monday, the new/old top line combo paid immediate dividends, opening the scoring with Toews' first period goal. As the game wore on, the line was easily the Blackhawks' most dangerous. Kane, meanwhile, had multiple point-blank near misses that at least kept the Blues on their heels even if the payoff of a goal wasn't there.
• St. Louis needed its power play to provide a foothold or an answer after Toews' early goal, and it continued to flounder. The Blues entered Game 3 having gone just 1-of-13 with the man advantage in the first two games, and that lone score had come with their goalie pulled to give them a 6-on-4 in the waning seconds of Game 2. On Monday night, they came up empty on three power play chances, worrying Crawford with just seven shots. There was never any sustained pressure applied, nor momentum gained, by pelting Crawford with puck after puck. St. Louis actually had a gilded chance when Chicago's Marcus Kruger went to the box for holding early in the third period and the deficit at 1-0 ... and the Blues took exactly one shot on net in the next two minutes. Plenty of teams can succeed in the postseason with malfunctioning power plays – Boston and Chicago each won a Stanley Cup recently without much help in that area, actually – but St. Louis could have turned the game on its head on Monday with just one score. If they had been able to score on the power play, they might have started moving toward putting a stranglehold on the series.
• Everyone was on (relatively) good behavior in Game 3. St. Louis got its licks in, with 41 hits to the Blackhawks' 27. But the extracurricular pushing and shoving was limited to normal levels of friskiness. Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook began his three-game suspension for leveling Blues captain David Backes in Game 2, and it appeared that St. Louis recognized that attempting to even the score would cost them against a dangerous team playing in front of an energizing home crowd. “Right now winning the playoff series is the best revenge we can get,” Blues winger Ryan Reaves said before the game. “We can send them packing, shining up the golf clubs a little bit -- that would be the best revenge right now.”
That will have to wait, of course, for at least another two games.
The Blues and the Blackhawks meet in Game 4 in Chicago on April 23 at 9:30 p.m. ET