St. Louis fails to hold third-period for only third time
this season; team is 0-6-1 against Central Division in last seven
By LOUIE KORAC
CHICAGO -- The Blues holding a third-period lead is like money in the bank. It never leaves.
But a disturbing trend against upper-echelon teams for the Blues seems to be where they get a lead and fail to extend it, and in essence, put such team away.
Chalk another one up Sunday in Chicago, where the Blues had a lead, had a chance to extend that lead, failed and in the end, dropped another head-scratcher.
Duncan Keith tied it, and Dave Bolland won it late in the third period when his centering feed caromed off the skate of David Backes past Brian Elliott, and the Blackhawks used a three-goal third period to down the Blues 3-1 before 22,077 at United Center.
The Blues' Jamie Langenbrunner (right) battles Blackhawks' Jonathan
Toews during Sunday's game in Chicago.
The Blues (36-16-7) led 1-0 on Andy McDonald's third goal in as many games. They peppered the Blackhawks (32-21-7) in the first period and outshot the Hawks 15-4. There were opportunities to seize command in a building that's tough to win at -- just like those opportunities in Detroit. But the Hawks pushed back finally, and dropped the Blues' record when leading after two periods to 25-2-1.
"Not only let them hang around, their best players dialed it up," a frustrated Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Their best players were their best players at the end of the night. They were the guys that had the puck, they were the guys that created the scoring chances. They dialed it up and we didn't have an answer.
"The difference is we didn't have performances today from the start to the finish. It didn't come up in the first period, but it came up in the second and the third. They got pushed out."
The Blues got pushed out by a Chicago team that has now won three in a row after enduring a 0-8-1 stretch that knocked the Hawks down to sixth place in the Western Conference.
It's a similar theme, much in line with the last time the Blues blew a third-period lead in Detroit. In that game, they led 2-0, saw Nicklas Lidstrom score late in the second and succumbed when the Wings "dialed it up," as Hitchcock likes to say, and scored twice to win 3-2.
This one had a similar feel.
"It's a case to not sticking to our game long enough," Backes said. "We felt pretty good about our first period. We were on a roll. Andy McDonald's line does a great job of sustaining pressure. ... Scotty Nichol's line the same, but the other two lines not enough. When you only have half of your forwards going on the road, it's going to be tough to win. I think that's the case tonight.
"We let them hang around and ... I'd like to have that back, but Ells played fantastic in net and he deserves better."
With the Blues leading 1-0,
Keith finally got the Hawks on the board, when his one-timer from the top of the left circle beat Elliott glove-side. The Blues had just missed an opportunity to make it 20 on the other end and Chicago came back and cashed in to tie it 1-1 4:52 into the final period.
"I didn't even see (Keith). There's bodies there," said Elliott, who saw his shutout streak end at 163:53. "Sometimes those squeak through the crowd and you have a hard time reacting after trying to pick it up after the crowd."
Bolland gave the Hawks a 2-1 lead when his pass from the right of Elliott into the crease area caromed off David Backes' skate. Backes tried corralling the puck up it squirted in that gave Chicago the lead for good.
"I saw (Patrick) Kane just to my left and I was trying to give it to him but it went off Backes’ skate and into the net. I’ll take it," Bolland said. "We can’t wait for those pretty ones, they are going to be ugly ones and they’re going to be tight games. The one thing we have to be ready for is these games coming down the stretch are going to be tight."
Added Backes: "It's tough luck, but we should be out of the zone before that, (we) don't make plays to get it out and I boot one in the back of our net and failed on a couple opportunities to score in their net. Such is life.
"We need to be better all around and not have it go down to 10 minutes left where we're on our heels and they're really bringing pressure to us."
The Blues' Patrik Berglund (21) faces pressure from Chicago's Patrick
Kane during Sunday's 3-1 Blackhawks win at the United Center.
The Blues carried much of the play in the first period. McDonald had a shorthanded chance, but his backhand was high and wide of Crawford. They also got point shots off the post from Kris Russell and two from Alex Pietrangelo.
"I just missed," McDonald said of his shorthanded attempt. "I think I got a crossbar or elbow there. I had a couple chances there where I've got to bear down and put it in the back of the net. Langs (Jamie Langenbrunner) made a nice play to put me in there alone and Backs gave me the other one. I don't get too many chances like that, so you've got to capitalize."
But after Pietrangelo's shot late in the first clanked off the pipe, McDonald was able to get his third goal in as many games. The Blues led but didn't sustain their first period intensity.
"Yeah, but you've got to play 60 on the road," said Hitchcock, whose team is 0-6-1 in their last seven games against the Central Division. "We're a team right now that needs everybody to perform at a high level for us to win on the road. The way we're structured and the way we're built, we don't have offensive players to carry us, so if we have people who are not up to task, it reflects in our game.
"We get chances by volume, we get chances by rolling four lines. That first nine rotation, when we've got weak players, as the game wears on, we get exposed, and that's what happened again today. We got exposed."
After Langenbrunner kicked the puck towards the goal line on a mad scrum in front of Crawford, McDonald got a blade on the puck before it went in with 23.6 seconds left in the opening period to give the Blues, who outshot the Blackhawks 15-4, a 1-0 lead.
There could have been more, though.
"That first period, we played well. The shots were (15-4)," McDonald said. "Tough building certainly to come into. You know they're going to come out hard in front of their own fans. We just didn't back it up after that. We had some chances to score, put us ahead (by more than one goal) and we just couldn't capitalize. It's frustrating."
Chicago brought some more heat in the second period, but Elliott was up to the challenge on shots he could see and ones with plenty of traffic in front of him.
Crawford kept it a 1-0 game when he stopped Chris Stewart's breakaway attempt with 8:54 remaining. Stewart, who has been in a goal-scoring funk, tried to go five-hole on Crawford but was denied.
"I’ve been able to be more in control, not sliding around as much, I’ve been pretty focused," Crawford said. "This team, we have so much skill that I think eventually we’re going to score one.
"I think we’ve come a long way. I think even the last couple games we lost on that streak we were playing good hockey. We’ve just got to build off these wins, especially this one. That team’s been playing so well, they’re a tough team to play against, we know now we can play that type of game."
Marian Hossa's empty-netter with 49.1 seconds left sealed Chicago's three-goal third period.
"They came out harder in the second," McDonald said of the Blackhawks. "They had a pretty good push back.
"It's more about what we didn't do. We didn't have our best game. A strong first period, but after that, kind of sloppy in our own zone and even in the neutral zone at times."
* NOTES -- The Blues scratched winger Chris Porter and defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo for the second straight game. Colaiacovo missed one previous game with a right wrist injury. He declined comment after the game. ... According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Blues are the first team in NHL history to have two goalies with six or more shutouts in the same season. That came to fruition after Elliott blanked Minnesota Saturday for his sixth shutout of the season. Jaroslav Halak, who is out with the flu, also has six. ... Wingers Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini both continue to sit out nursing concussions. ... The Blues were 0-for-2 on the power play Sunday, making them 0-for-their-last-16 on the road dating back to Dec. 27 at Detroit, or nine games. Their last road power play goal came in that game against the Wings, by Steen in the second period. ... Minnesota's Warren Peters received a one-game suspension Sunday for his cross-check to the head of Backes during Saturday's game, the NHL announced. Peters will forfeit $2,905.41. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.