Central Division title hopes put on hold
after loss; team battles back from 3-1 deficit
By LOUIE KORAC
CHICAGO -- The bubbly will have to hold for one more day.
Not that there would be any champagne suds flowing like they do with baseball, but with a chance to clinch the Central Division title for the first time since 2000, the Chicago Blackhawks would have none of it in their building.
In a deja vu game, one that happened 16 days ago here and again on Thursday night -- just replace the names -- the Blues dropped a 4-3 shootout loss to the Blackhawks at United Center on Dave Bolland's shoot out goal in the fourth round.
The Blues (48-20-10) jumped back into first overall in the NHL, one point ahead of the New York Rangers (106-105) but the Rangers have one game in hand. They had a chance to wrap the Central Division up for the first time since their Presidents' Trophy-clinching team with a victory in regulation or overtime here tonight. It will be put off for one more game.
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (left) races past St. Charles, Mo.
native and Blackhawks enforcer Brandon Bollig Thursday night.
The Blues rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period on goals by Jason Arnott and David Perron, whose deflection with 1 minute 32 seconds remaining helped the Blues gain a point. But that was furthest from their minds.
"That would be the whole game except for seven minutes," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said when asked about his team's willingness to go into the hard areas. "We were outplayed badly. I don't even know how we got a point to be honest with you. We didn't compete at a high level and looked like we wanted the game to be easier. We jacked it up for about 10 minutes in the third period and got two goals because of it but not going to win many games playing against that team playing like we were playing. This is two games in a row in this building where we haven't really competed for 60 minutes. It's disappointing.
"I'm surprised because it was everybody. We weren't good right throughout the lineup. We weren't very competitive. ... We got a point, but it's disappointing. It's one of those games where you get a point but you're disappointed in the effort. We looked like a team that needs some good hard practices right now."
The Blues were outshot 40-20 and aside for stellar netminding from Jaroslav Halak, the Blues were lucky to get out of town with their 106th point.
"It's good that we tied it, but we didn't play well," said defenseman Kris Russell, who assisted on two goals, including Perron's tying goal. "We played well for a little bit and we got a huge point out of it, but for a team that pushed us around in this building, they played hard, they came at us and we didn't respond the way we should have. We've got to fix that. We've got to do better.
"It was us. It was puck touches. Sloppy plays, sloppy passes. It starts with the D's. Jaro was huge for us. The only reason we got a point was because of him. He put us in a position in the shootout to win. He stopped (the first) three. That's his job. Hats off to him. He competed."
Winger Alex Steen, who scored a goal but missed a chance to win it in the third round of the shootout, agreed: "I thought it was a very mediocre game on our part. Second to loose pucks, just felt like a step behind. Chicago played very hard and we just didn't match their work ethic tonight.
"It was one of those games tonight where we were slow. We tried talking on the bench, in the room and getting everybody going and it seemed slow for us. Jaro stood on his head, gave us a chance to win anyway. We came up short in the end."
Bryan Bickell, Andrew Brunette and Patrick Sharp scored for the Blackhawks (43-26-9), the ladder two giving Chicago a 3-1 lead in the third period.
After Sharp gave the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead 8:40 into the third period after Carlo Colaiacovo lost a puck in his skates and fell down, creating a two-on-none with Viktor Stalberg. It seemed like the deal-clincher for Chicago.
But Arnott got the Blues back within one 55 seconds later, converting after Patrick Kane's turnover, using a wraparound and sliding a second chance between the pads of Corey Crawford at 9:35. That gave the Blues some hope.
They got the equalizer when Russell's shot from the blue line was tipped in front by Perron.
"I just wanted to get there and get a tip," Perron said of his 18th goal of the season. "In this league, you've got to screen the goalies. They're too good. I was able to get one and it went in. I was real happy at the moment to tie the game like that, but the way we played the first two periods wasn't very good."
Added Russell, who credited Chris Stewart with creating a lane for him: "I kind of had a give-and-go with Stewy. Stewy did a really good job sucking that high forward in and creating that lane for me. I knew there were guys going to the net and I just wanted to get a hard shot there and trying to get some havoc. Perry obviously touched it and it went in."
Jaroslav Halak stopped 37 shots Thursday night but lost in a shootout
against the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night.
Halak, who is 3-0-2 in his last five starts against Chicago, made several key stops, including one on Patrick Kane with 32 seconds left in overtime. The Blues had a chance of their own, but Steen's tip with 14 seconds left in the extra frame was blocked off by Crawford, who made 17 saves.
"We were way too sloppy with the puck," center David Backes said. "Our puck touches were abysmal at best. Tape to tape, just executing on a lateral pass to moving the puck forward, we were having troubles executing that. They were pressuring us to create some of that lack of execution. We just need to be better for the whole 60 minutes. We ended up getting one point out of it, but it's really the consolation prize and it's not satisfying at all.
"You can take maybe some sort of victory from that, but it's far from what we're desiring. It's something where we need that desperation and sense of urgency for 60 minutes. We've shown that at times, but the quicker we get to that, the better we're going to feel about our chances going forward. We've got four games to really establish our game.
"It's the willingness to go into the hard areas, the willingness to take an extra hit so your teammate's got an extra second, willingness to concentrate and bear down, put it on the tape to receive a pass and shoot it into an empty net. We had enough puck possession where we should have gotten more, but we fed their offense way too much."
Halak and Crawford were up to the task in the shootout, with each making a trio of stops. But the right-handed Bolland went wide to his right and slid a shot past Halak's outstretched pad in the fourth round. And Patrik Berglund's attempt rung off the post to end the game.
It was the Blues' ninth shootout this season, six of them by a 1-0 score. Halak was the losing netminder in all of them, and if they fall short in their quest for a conference title and Presidents' Trophy, the Blues can look back on those 1-0 decisions.
"It's a long schedule," Perron said. "You can look at the first few games of the year, you can look at the middle point or right now. I still think it's a big point for us at this time of the year. We'll take it the way we played. At one point when it was 3-1, I'm not sure we thought we would get one, but we battled back and found a way to get one."
"If we want to be a team there in June, these kinds of games can't happen," Russell said.
* NOTES -- Bickell's goal snapped the Blues' shutout streak of consecutive minutes at 201:32. ... The Blues activated Matt D'Agostini (concussion) off injured reserve but he did not play. D'Agostini missed 25 games, last playing Feb. 7 at Ottawa. Also, Andy McDonald (shoulder) did not play, missing his sixth game, but Hitchcock said McDonald will play Saturday against the Blue Jackets. ... Defenseman Roman Polak (bruised knee) did not make the trip but could be ready to play Saturday.