Blackhawks’ finesse triumphs over Blues’ brawn
BY MARK LAZERUS Sun-Times Media April 14, 2013 10:28PM
Chicago Blackhawks center Michal Handzus (26) pins St. Louis Blues left wing David Perron (57) against the boards during the third period of their NHL hockey game, Sunday, April 14, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee) EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT ORG XMIT: MOSTP102
Updated: April 14, 2013 10:50PM
ST. LOUIS — The Blackhawks had better get used to this — to the clogged-up neutral zone, to the barrage of body checks, to the shoves and slashes, to the grind of brutally physical hockey. This is how the playoffs are going to be because, short of tying their skate laces together, this is the way — the Blue-print, if you will — to slow down the Hawks.
Not that it’s foolproof, mind you.
Skill beat strength Sunday, as the Hawks escaped St. Louis with all their limbs intact and with a 2-0 victory over the Blues. The Hawks improved to 7-0-1 in their last eight, but it certainly wasn’t easy — or painless.
“It’s definitely going to be like that,” said goalie Corey Crawford, who made 30 saves for his third shutout and the Hawks’ league-leading seventh. “Teams are going to come after us. You’ve just got to find a way to not get frustrated and [not] get into that chippy stuff. That’s not our game. We play a fast-paced game and just have to stay away from that stuff after the whistles.”
Indeed, in the opening seconds, Blues irritant David Backes took a couple of whacks at Marian Hossa after the whistle.
Hossa simply stood there, smiling broadly at Backes.
“You know there’s going to be tough [games] like this, but you also have to be smart and don’t try to give them an advantage to be on the power play,” said Hossa, whose short-handed goal off a clean Jonathan Toews faceoff win put the game away in the third period.
But the Hawks got involved a bit, too, particularly in a very physical first period. Dave Bolland picked up a well-earned cross-checking penalty, Sheldon Brookbank scuffled with Roman Polak and the Hawks nearly started an all-out brawl — guys sprawled out all over the ice — after Kevin Shattenkirk annihilated Andrew Shaw with a big, borderline-high hit.
“There’s going to be some frustration — you need to step up and defend yourself or defend your teammate,” Toews said. “But, for the most part, we did a nice job of staying out of all the stuff that happens after the whistles. That’s not part of our game at all.”
It helped to finally get a lead on Bryan Bickell’s second-period goal — a nice reach-back tap-in after he had hit the post. It was the first goal scored on Blues goalie Brian Elliott in 214 minutes — including three shutouts — and it forced the Blues to play a little more hockey and a little less Rocky.
Hossa made it 2-0, blasting the puck through Elliott’s legs during the second of back-to-back penalty kills for the Hawks.
“[Toews] told me where to stand,” Hossa said. “He’s so good on faceoffs.”
Crawford did the rest, coming up big when he needed to and relying on the active sticks of his teammates to clear away loose pucks during the many goalmouth scrums. It was just the latest effort in his seasonlong game of one-upmanship with Ray Emery.
The Hawks got a serious scare late in the first period when Backes — yep, him again — crunched Toews’ right knee along the boards. With three minutes left in the period, Toews limped off the ice and back to the dressing room.
But he came back for the opening faceoff of the second period and didn’t miss a shift the rest of the way.
Toews said he had taken a few hits on the knee the last couple of games and needed to put some ice on it but that he was fine.
It’s just something he has to get used to. This is how it’s going to be from now on — for the next seven games, as opponents (such as the Dallas Stars on Monday) scramble to get into the playoffs, and then for the duration of the playoffs, as opponents try to do anything they can to slow down the Hawks.
“Teams are going to try and get to us, try and push our skill guys around,” Crawford said. “We’ve just got to ignore it like we did today and just keep skating fast and keep playing our game.”