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St. Louis hands Blackhawks the Blues in 4-3 shootout loss

Hawks winger Michael Frolik is sent ice from hit by Blues defenseman Barret Jackman first period Chicago Blackhawks vs. St.

Hawks winger Michael Frolik is sent to the ice from a hit by Blues defenseman Barret Jackman in the first period of the Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues NHL game Thursday April 4, 2013 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 5, 2013 11:15AM



Michal Handzus is new here. Hasn’t been around the last couple of weeks. Hasn’t seen the Blackhawks squander third-period leads against hyper-aggressive, borderline-desperate teams. Hasn’t been in these glum postgame United Center dressing rooms.

But he already has an idea of what’s wrong and how to fix it.

“Obviously, when [the opponent] goes down, they’re going to come out hard,” Handzus said after the Hawks’ 4-3 shootout loss Thursday against the St. Louis Blues. “So you have to come out hard even more. You have to push back right away. We did after, but we didn’t right away. Those first five or six minutes in the period, we need to really establish our game and push them to their zone and not to play on our heels. I think that’s a lesson to learn. Even with the lead, you got to still play and push forward, not just sit back.”

The Hawks didn’t do that, and for the second straight game — and fourth in their last seven — they couldn’t hold on to a third-period lead, as the Blues scored twice in the first seven minutes of the third.

Viktor Stalberg’s goal with 4:31 left in the third salvaged a point for the Hawks, but Corey Crawford gave up four goals in the six-round shootout, including the game-winner by defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, and the Hawks lost for the fourth time in their last six home games.

“It’s frustrating,” winger Bryan Bickell said. “It’s happened a lot lately. We just need to keep it simple. The bounces are not going our way now, but those mistakes are coming between the blue lines, and we need to fix them.”

The Hawks led 2-1 after two — they fell to 20-1-2 when leading at the second intermission — on second-period goals by Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. But just like the Nashville Predators did on Monday, erasing a 2-0 lead before the Hawks escaped in the shootout, St. Louis took it to the Hawks early in the third and quickly erased the deficit.

Fourth-liner Adam Cracknell scored his second goal of the game — and of the season — when he took advantage of a Michal Rozsival turnover to score on a breakaway at 3:30 of the third. Less than four minutes later, David Backes jammed in a rebound to give the Blues a 3-2 lead.

Stalberg’s goal — his first in 15 games — got the game into overtime and averted a complete disaster.

“Everyone’s frustrated with giving up another lead and then having to battle back to tie it,” said Crawford, who said he “just didn’t feel that great” in the shootout. “In a perfect world, we want to be able to just shut them down and finish that game 2-1.”

Not too long ago, it pretty much was a perfect world for the Hawks, who raced out to a historic 21-0-3 start.

But the once-invincible Hawks are looking suddenly vulnerable — just 6-5-1 since the point streak ended — with only a dozen games left before the playoffs.

There was no sense of panic in the Hawks’ dressing room after the game. No wailing and gnashing of teeth. The frustration is starting to boil over, but that’s largely because the Hawks feel they’re so tantalizingly close to winning all these games.

“It was a weird game,” Crawford said. “I think we controlled most of it. Couple of bounces here and there, and they tied it up again, then took the lead. The positive thing is we were able to battle back and get a point.”

They just need to figure out how to slam the door shut in the third period.

“I like the way we played,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought we played a good game. . . . The games are tight. We won these games earlier on in the year. They’re all comparable scores; we were just finding ways late in games.”



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