St. Louis gets humbled by defending champs,
sees nine-game points streak come to halt
CHICAGO -- Somehow, one got the sense the Chicago Blackhawks weren't going to go away quietly.
The Blues were all set to become the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff spot. It didn't happen Wednesday night, but it's a formality.
The Blackhawks, playing a lot of mediocre hockey -- by their standards -- lately, stepped up to the plate and showed why they're the defending champs.
The Hawks got goals from four different goal scorers, Ryan Miller proved he is human, and the Hawks humbled the Blues 4-0 Wednesday night at United Center on a 23-save shutout by Corey Crawford.
Jaden Schwartz (left) and the Blues had a rough night in Chicago against
Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) and Corey Crawford Wednesday night.
The win for the Hawks (40-15-15) moved them within six points of the Blues (47-15-7) for first place in the Central Division.
The Blues were looking to put a stranglehold on the division title, which would be their second in two seasons.
The Blues were going for their fifth straight win against Chicago, which would have been a first in franchise history as well as going for a third win in a row in Chicago, which would also have been a franchise best.
Chicago's message: not so fast.
"Early we were really good. The first 10 minutes we were good ... they dialed it up and we started reacting and they took it to us," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team fell in regulation in divisional play for the first time this season (20-1-2). "Good wakeup call."
The Blues made uncharacteristic mistakes, lost pucks in all three zones of the ice, were not aggressive with their forecheck.
The Blues saw their 8-0-1 run go down the tubes. They simply didn't have it on this night and helped former coach Joel Quenneville earned his 700th career victory.
"I don't if it wasn't there or we didn't put forth the necessary effort," Blues captain David Backes said. "They played hard and were in a groove from playing last night. We didn't respond real well. Lesson learned. We beat them three times this year. They were hungry looking for revenge and brought it up to a level and we needed to match it and we didn't. The result is on the scoreboard."
Barret Jackman was more forthcoming.
"It was a poor effort by us," Jackman said. "They outplayed us the entire game in all areas of the game and we let them tonight. We just didn't come out with the hard start that we needed and they did. They competed and they came at us the entire game. We didn't have an answer for it tonight."
Ian Cole took a costly interference penalty late in the first period and it resulted in Keith's fifth goal of the season that gave Chicago a 1-0 lead.
Keith stepped into a one-timer from the left point, going high stick side on Miller, who was screened by Andrew Shaw in front with 54.4 seconds left in the first period.
"I was just trying to get into his leg going to the puck," Cole said, who got called for interfering with Peter Regin. "I do it multiple times a game. Maybe hit him a little too hard I guess, but I don't know. It's obviously an inopportune time. Obviously a goal against doesn't help a team at all."
Things didn't get any better for the Blues in the second period. Too many disrupted pucks through the neutral zone and when they got their few offensive chances, there were too many one-and-done plays.
Chicago extended its lead to 2-0 when Shaw deflected Nick Leddy's shot from the blue line with 4:25 left in the second.
Chicago had zone pressure and the puck would eventually get to the point for the shot and tip in front of Miller. The play was reviewed for a high stick but nothing on video showed a high stick.
Chicago put the game away in the third period on goals by Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith, which saw Blues coach Ken Hitchcock pull Miller after allowing four goals on 27 shots. Miller suffered his first regulation loss since joining the Blues (7-1-1).
"They're the Stanley Cup champions for a reason," Hitchcock said of the Blackhawks, who beat the Blues for the first time this season. "They know when to turn the temperature up. It's our responsibility ... no matter what happens in the regular season, everybody in the West, if you're going to give them a go, you're going to have to dial it up. They're getting ready. And it's up to us to get ready. That's the task. They dialed it up. We didn't play that well, but this is March. This isn't December and January, the middle of the season. They're cranking it up to another level. They competed hard on every puck from start to finish. We had control early and they took it from us. Good on them."
Ryan Miller (right) allowed four goals on 27 shots Wednesday night vs.
Chicago. Andrew Shaw (65) goes to the net with Roman Polak defending.
Chicago, which is an amazing 11-1-3 on the second of back-to-back games,
"It almost looked like we were the team who played last night," Backes said. "We were getting tired and slowed down and they were speeding it up. Not an effort we were thinking we were going to have in an important game like this but better to learn about yourselves and that sort of way and have some self-evaluation here in March rather than April when it's do or die."
So, best to throw this one away?
"No you don't throw it away," Hitchcock said. "You learn from it."
The Blackhawks didn't come out of the game unscathed. Star winger Patrick Kane left in the first period and Quenneville announced afterwards Kane would miss approximately three weeks with what looked like a left ankle injury after Blues winger Brenden Morrow fell awkwardly into Kane.