By LOUIE KORAC
CHICAGO -- What started as a small snowball early turned into an avalanche by the middle of the second period.
And even though the Blues made a valiant comeback in the third period to give themselves a chance to win a game, there were some mistakes early in the game to overcome a large deficit, both off turnovers and poor goaltending.
Untimely turnovers led to odd-man rushes, a lack of stops by Ty Conklin and some shoddy coverage on the penalty kill led to the Chicago Blackhawks' 7-5 win over the Blues Tuesday night at United Center, sending the Blues into their home matchup with the Washington Capitals tonight on a three-game losing skid.
The Hawks (14-11-2) won their third straight and second this season over the Blues -- both in this building. Aside from the turnovers and less-than-stellar goaltending, Chicago's power play, which was 3-for-5, played a big role. The Blues were 0-for-3, including a key power play opportunity down 5-4 in the third.
The Blues (12-8-3) were their own worst enemies, particularly in the neutral and defensive zone. Conklin did not have a strong night, allowing seven goals on only 24 shots, as the Blues outshot the Hawks 26-24.
The loss was stinging despite the strong play of David Backes and Vladimir Sobotka, who were paired on Patrik Berglund's line and the two combined for seven points, with Backes leading the way with a goal and three assists. The trio finished with eight points.
As much as the Blues were able to accomplish by turning a 5-1 deficit into a 5-4 margin early in the third period, it all came down to some timely saves the Blues could have used from Conklin, who felt like he let his team down in this one.
"We gave up a couple of chances, but if you look at the game, we didn't give up much," said Conklin, whose goals-against average jumped from 2.57 to 3.38 and save percentage bottomed out to .866 from .911. "It was a poor, poor game on my part. I don't feel like I give up too many of them, but that was a terrible game in my opinion."
It started rough from the beginning, as the Blues allowed two bad goals off turnovers that resulted in goals for Tomas Kopecky and Patrick Sharp
Chicago grabbed a 2-1 lead in the period on only six shots in the period.
Patrick Sharp took over Marian Hossa's role as Blues killer with a goal and an assist in the period, a period the Blues seemed to get the better of the play. Hossa missed the game and will be out 2-3 weeks after sustaining a lower-body injury Monday at practice.
Conklin, who got beat on Kopecky's wrister from the right circle 4:38 into the opening period for a 1-0 lead despite a turnover from defenseman Nikita Nikitin.
The Blues got the tying goal from Berglund tied the game 1-1 with 3:01 remaining in the period on a nice tie-tac-toe play from Backes and Sobotka, who found Berglund at the far side, and Berglund roofs the puck into the goal over Corey Crawford.
But another turnover led to a 2-on-1, and Sharp dragged the puck to his backhand and beat Conklin, who took a poor angle, then tried to poke-check the puck and missed out with 56.1 seconds to play in the period.
"There were a couple of tough bounces, but at the end of the day, we scored enough goals to win that game," Conklin said. "I wasn't good enough. That's really the bottom line. It's not hard to diagnose that one."
Jay McClement's line with B.J. Crombeen and Brad Winchester were also victimized for the early goals. They were on the ice for both. They finished minus-8 for the game.
"The way we started, things compounded there pretty quickly," McClement said. "I think when that happens, we've got to learn how to respond better. Teams are going to score on us, but tonight, they scored and came right back down and got another chance and scored some quick ones there. A couple power play goals obviously hurt us, too."
Added Blues coach Davis Payne, "I thought that other than some turnovers, we had pretty good intention for the most part of that hockey game. ... For the most part, I thought our players directed fairly well."
When asked if his goalie had a rough night, Payne said succinctly, "Yeah I feel that."
It went from bad to worse in the second period, as Chicago got a lucky-bounce power play goal from Troy Brouwer that caromed off the glass and into an empty slot as Conklin went to go play the puck that he thought was going to rim around the net. Jonathan Toews stuffed in another power play goal between Conklin's skates from the side of the net 9 minutes 16 seconds into the period and Patrick Kane knocked one in unchallenged from the slot at 11:07 to make it 5-1.
Crombeen certainly lit a fire under his team by taking on Nick Boynton and getting the decision. It was the Blues' second fight of the game, after Cam Janssen took on Chicago's hulking 6-foot-8, 258-pound forward John Scott in the first.
"At that point, you really have nothing to lose," Backes said of being down 5-1. "You're down by four in the new NHL where anything's possible. We've had plenty of teams that have come back on us, and we showed a little bit of that.
"I don't think we were deflated in this room. You saw a lot of character in this room fighting back, but we can't create offense at the expense of giving up odd-man rushes and plays defensively. They obviously have plenty of guys in that room that can make plays and put the puck in the back of the net, and they showed it tonight. We showed a little resilience, but too little, too late."
The Blues began the comeback as Eric Brewer made it 5-2 with 2:30 to play in the second as the Blues applied good pressure on a delayed penalty.
Alex Pietrangelo and Brad Boyes then got goals 2:45 apart early in the third to make it 5-4, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville called timeout to let his team have it at that point.
"We felt that we were getting chances," Payne said. "We felt that even with the deficit, we were going to allow the system to continue to work. We got a little more aggressive on the walls, but beyond that, it was plays going to the net. We got some traffic and it gave us some chances."
With Dave Bolland in the box for delay of game, the Blues had their chance to tie the game on the power play, and a couple chances nearly tied it to no avail. They got two shots.
"I thought we had some good looks," Payne said. "I thought we handled their pressure, got some clean looks at the net, had a tip on one, had a loose puck. It would have been nice to see us come all the way back, but another turnover to make it 6-4 hurt us again."
Conklin, who did make a key stop on Bolland seconds after Boyes' goal, had a chance to keep it at 5-4. But he left the near side open for an instance and Viktor Stalberg's shot got through the Blues' goalie, go off the post to the other side of the goal where Kane backhanded in the deflating goal into an empty net at 13:42 to make it 6-4.
"That (sixth goal) was awful, that was a bad goal," Conklin admitted. "I can look at a couple of them. The first goal was a bad goal. There were a couple of good goals, they scored some good goals, but I didn't make them work for a couple of them.\
"We were very resilient, but how resilient can you be? It's a little bit deflating when you're watching your goalie letting in all those goals."
Toews added his second one, Chicago's third power play goal, with 4:27 to play to make it 7-4, and Backes was able to tip in a Pietrangelo shot with 2:39 for his fourth point of the game.
"I'll take zero points tonight if we can get the win, but as a line, I thought we did a pretty good job and we need to do that again tomorrow night and try and lead the charge for us," Backes said. "They get a couple lucky ones, but ... they went in. That's the bottom line. We needed to fight back. We showed a little bit of that, but we needed a little bit more tonight."
"Our goal is to make sure we stay faithful to the process," Payne said. "I felt we did that. Obviously the seven on the board and the loss stings, but again, we did some good things tonight."