Sunday, February 8, 2015

Chicago doubles up Blues with decisive third period

Hossa's two goals enable Central Division 
rivals to close gap in division with 4-2 victory

ST. LOUIS -- The past two games against the rival Chicago Blackhawks, the Blues were on level ground.

To make an implant against one of the teams the Blues need to overcome in the Western Conference, winning the final 20 minutes was the necessity.

And doing it in front of a national audience on NBC would prove beneficial.

But for the second time in as many meetings, it was the Blackhawks that took the game over and displayed the superior game needed in games against top-notch competition.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (74) takes the puck at Chicago defenseman Brent 
Seabrook during action Sunday at Scottrade Center.

Marian Hossa scored twice in the third period, including the game-winning power play goal with 8:41 remaining as Chicago wrapped up a seven-game trip with a 4-2 victory against the Blues on Sunday afternoon before 19,657 at Scottrade Center.

The Blues, who have dropped two straight after a 12-0-1 run, carried a lot of the play through two periods despite the game being 2-2. The shots were 24-16 in the Blues' favor and majority of pucks were played in Chicago's end. 

But Chicago (33-18-2), which pulled within four points of the Blues in the Central Division, once again showed why they are one of the superior teams when push comes to shove.

The Blackhawks outshot the Blues 12-3 in the third period playing in front of a large contingency of their fans in the Blues' home rink.

Once they got the lead, the Blues could muster little to nothing against Corey Crawford aside from a high-percentage look from Alexander Steen with 2 minutes, 36 seconds remaining.

"I thought in the third period we looked tired, played tired," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of his team playing its seventh game in 11 days. "Whether it was what they did or what we did, I think a lot of it was us having to come back in the game. The whole game today, we had to mount a comeback. We ended up exerting a lot of energy, probably shortened our bench a little bit more than we normally do."

The Blues, who got goals from Vladimir Tarasenko and David Backes, spent all their energy playing catch-up hockey. And playing catch-up hockey was not in the Blues' best interests playing on fumes and against a skillful group.

"But we felt we were still in it," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "It wasn't like Columbus (a 7-1 loss on Friday). We felt like we were still (within) reach, 2-2, going into the third. Three in four days, we thought we had a lot of opportunities to end the game there. Some good looks in the third, it would have been nice to capitalize on those."

And much like the Blues' 4-1 loss at Chicago on Dec. 3, a game which was 1-1 heading into the third, the Blues were in retreat mode and playing in their zone much of the period.

"It takes a lot to chase a game against a good team," Hitchcock said. "I thought their checking was better in the third. Everybody knew it was going to be a one-goal game the way both teams started in the third. We couldn't keep a puck in the offensive zone, took a penalty and then we made a mistake on the rush on the PK.

"That's some of our issue. We really had it going in the second and then we still don't trust that type of game. That's a winning game, but we ended up playing a little bit too sideways. I think it's hard lessons like this that hopefully we can learn from and continue to grow."

On the game-winning goal, Chicago's Brandon Saad took a pass from Bryan Bickell in stride in the neutral zone, beat Marcel Goc before getting into the Blues zone, turned and found Hossa in the left circle. The veteran Hossa wasted little time in firing a one-timer past goalie Brian Elliott on the short side with 8:41 remaining.

"I think all three kind of changed direction and they got the bounces," Elliott said. "It's tough when those go in. That's kind of the difference. They get one power play at the end and when you have two pretty good teams in our division, it's going to be a battle right to the end. 

"They've got a lot of skill on their line, so if they see an opening, they're going to try and take it. It's not something we're not prepared for." 

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester was in the box after he took a hooking penalty on Chicago forward Brad Richards after missing a puck in the offensive zone after an errant Patrick Sharp clearing attempt.

"That's the first time I've seen them use that play on their rush attack and they got us on the gap on the rush," Hitchcock said of the power play goal. "... I think just gap up. We had new people on the ice, people that hadn't played together. When Bouwmeester goes up, you've got different people killing penalties. We didn't have a tough enough gap in the middle with the forward."

The Blackhawks got a goal from Marcus Kruger, a goal and an assist from Bickell and two assists from Saad. Corey Crawford made 25 saves.

The Blues (34-15-4) got 24 saves from Elliott. 

The Blues overcame a 1-0 deficit after the first period to tie the game, 2-2 after the second period. 

Tarasenko's team-leading 28th goal tied the game 1-1 after he scored on a breakaway, deking Crawford before finishing a backhand at 6:52. 

Bickell gave Chicago a 2-1 lead after David Rundblad's long-range shot was saved by Elliott, but the rebound in the slot came to Bickell, who split defensemen Carl Gunnarsson and Ian Cole before beating Elliott with a wrist shot high glove side at 11:25 of the second. 

The Blues tied it 2-2 when Backes beat Crawford after he initially saved T.J. Oshie's shot. Oshie crashed the net and got shoved into the crease by Hossa and Niklas Hjalmarsson, which obstructed Crawford from getting back in position to stop Backes' shot from the side of the net at 12:53. 

"I really thought after the second period based on the way we played in the second that we had a real push going, but we didn't sustain much in the third period," Hitchcock said. 

Backes agreed.

"We got away from what we had a lot of effectiveness with in the first two periods," Backes said. "That was shooting pucks from everywhere and then making them face their goaltender, then going to get it again and shooting it again. We were able to score a few key goals, but you get away from that ... we got a little cute and their transition game with their speed and their top two lines especially, they'll make you pay. We were playing catch-up."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Chris Butler (25) goes to pass the puck past Chicago 
forward Brandon Saad on Sunday afternoon.

Chicago took a 1-0 lead 4:38 into the first period when Kruger scored his first goal in 28 games and got his first point in 20 after he converted a 2-on-1 from the slot with Daniel Carcillo. 

Gunnarsson turned the puck over in the offensive zone and was caught on a pinch that led to the odd-man rush. Kruger beat Elliott to the blocker side with a wrist shot.

Hossa added an empty-netter with 13.5 seconds remaining to seal Chicago's win.

"Thats two good teams in the Central Division going after two points that really matter," Backes said. "I think it's a pretty darned even game. They end up with a power-play goal, we end up with nothing on our power play. If you lose the special teams battle it's tough to win games and they showed it. They won it tonight, they got the two points and walk out of here happy."

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