Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Blues rally past Blackhawks 4-3, take 3-1 series lead

St. Lousi has defending champs on verge after winning two at United Center

CHICAGO -- The Blues had an agenda: win two games in a tough building against the defending Stanley Cup champions and grab a stranglehold on the Western Conference First Round series.

The Blues could have been happy with a split in Chicago just to get home ice advantage back. These aren't the same old Blues. They want more and got it.

The Blues scored three unanswered goals after falling behind, got two goals from Vladimir Tarasenko and defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in Game 4 Tuesday night before 22,212 at United Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Vladimir Tarasenko (top right) celebrates a first-period goal with teammates
Joel Edmundson (top left), Robert Bortuzzo and Jori Lehtera on Tuesday.

Jaden Schwartz and Alexander Steen scored in the third period when the game was tied 2-2 and the Blues now go home and can wrap up the series in five games and eliminate the defending champs Thursday at Scottrade Center (8:30 p.m.).

Since 2009, Blackhawks were 43-14 under Joel Quenneville in Games 4-7 coming into Tuesday.

"It feels good, especially in this building," said Tarasenko, who has 13 goals in 17 career playoff games. "They come back from this situation a lot of times. We need to forget about this game tomorrow and try to prepare for the next one."

The Blues responded to adversity -- again -- in this series when they fell behind 2-1 when Duncan Keith scored moments after a crazy melee started by Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford but somehow, the Blues were faced killing a penalty.

They scored three times, including third-period goals by Schwartz on the power play and Steen's breakaway goal.

They haven't closed the defending champs yet -- the fourth game is always the toughest as the cliche goes -- but these aren't the same old Blues, the ones that have quietly bowed out of the first round in each of the past three seasons.

"I don't know if it's just Chicago; we just have the belief that we can beat anybody," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We know what we're up against a formidable opponent. ... There are some things that happen during the year that force you to go one way or the other. What happened to us earlier in the year forced us to go one way and we went the right way. There's a group togetherness in there that's strong and we're going to need it. We're going to need it to win this series, we're going to need it every shift. We've been able to draw upon it when we needed it because we had no choice for six weeks.

"We're a blue-collar team. We've got some good players, but we're a blue-collar team and we need to play with a blue-collar effort. That's what we did. ... We're trying to play as gritty as we can knowing how difficult the opponent is. It feels like every shift on the ice a player's going to play. That's the level of desperation and intensity that this series has going for it. We need to match that to give ourselves a fighting chance. I would say we've done that the last three games."

The Blues started the second well and had chances to extend their lead but couldn't do it before Chicago tied it when Andrew Shaw got a piece of Marian Hossa's wrist shot that caromed off Brian Elliott's glove and ties the game 1-1 at 9:12.

Things got -- let's just say -- really testy when Crawford made two solid saves on Robby Fabbri, who was pushed from behind by Jonathan Toews before tumbling over Crawford at 11:54. Crawford took exception and went after Fabbri and a big melee ensued. 

After all was said and done, Chris Rooney and Francois St. Laurent felt compelled to give the Blues an extra two minutes with Fabbri getting somehow called for goaltender interference. Four roughing minors also went out, but Crawford somehow escapes for instigating an altercation.

"There's nothing I can do much there," Fabbri said. "Just protect myself. I thought I did my best to try and avoid (Crawford). He wasn't too happy after that.

"I didn't see too much of the scrum, so I couldn't tell you what the calls should have been."

Hitchcock said he didn't even see it.

"Mostly what the hell happened, because I was watching the play go down the other end," Hitchcock said. "It looked like something out of the Western Hockey League."

Eventually after two more off-setting minors, Duncan Keith gave the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead at 13:09 when a loose puck came through the crease and the Chicago defenseman came around the backside and shot one high over Elliott.

But the Blues found a response, again by their sharpshooter Tarasenko, who wired another wrist shot from the right circle past Crawford at 17:31 using Keith as a screen after Andrew Ladd was called for interference to tie the game 2-2.

"It's especially nice right before period over," Tarasenko said. "Maybe give us more confidence in the third."

Schwartz scored his second in as many games 1:36 into the third period when he followed up Kevin Shattenkirk's shot that defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk tried to clear but put it on Schwartz's stick, and he beat Crawford short side for a 3-2 lead.

And Steen got on the board when he made a great read of van Riemsdyk, who tried to pass to partner Michal Rozsival, intercepted the pass and beat Crawford high glove side with a breakaway shot at 4:46. It turned out to be the winning goal when Keith scored his second of the game, a shot from the blue line that deflected off Tarasenko's stick and bounded over Elliott with 5:20 remaining.

"We're going to have to (overcome adversity) to beat this team," Schwartz said. "We're going to have to find a way to come back when we're down, find a way to get some insurance goals when we're down by one, do all the little things.

"We're enjoying battling for each other right now. They're fun games to be a part of."

But Shaw, who had a goal and two assists for the Blackhawks, all but squelched their comeback hopes with a silly interference penalty on Jay Bouwmeester with 2:04 remaining. And as he went to the penalty box, Shaw was seen on TV giving the officials a two-handed bird, and monitors showed him in the box allegedly using a homophobic slur that he was asked about.

"Emotions are high," Shaw said. "I don’t know what’s said. Like I said, I was obviously upset with the call, being that late in the game. It doesn’t give us a chance to tie it up."

When asked again, he replied, "Like I just said, I can repeat myself of you. Emotions are high. I don’t know what I said. Obviously I was upset with the call. It’s late in the game like that. I wasn’t happy with the call."  

Despite being outshot 14-5 in the first period and a puck laying on the goal line that Elliott was able to swipe back, the Blues led 1-0 on a dart from Tarasenko, his 12th Stanley Cup Playoff goal in 17 games.

Jori Lehtera was able to race to a puck behind the net, beating Brent Seabrook, fed Tarasenko in the right circle and the Blues' right wing whistled a wrist shot that beat Crawford high glove side at 14:02.

Robert Bortuzzo was a surprise addition to the Blues' lineup when he was inserted in for Carl Gunnarsson, who was a scratched with an upper-body injury.

"I was told to be ready in the morning," Bortuzzo said. "Kind of halfway through the warmup, 'Gunny' gave me a fist bump, said, 'Be ready to to.' It was nice to get in there and contribute to a win.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (19) takes down the Blackhawks' 
Patrick Kane in the goal mouth Tuesday in Chicago.

"As you guys know, I do everything I can to be prepared and ready to go. I've always considered myself a guy who can elevate his play this time of year. It's nice to get in there. The group made it easy and it was a lot of fun out there. ... This is what we're playing for. This is the time of year that is most exciting. Everyone's elevating their play. We've got a lot of gamers in there that make it easy and have fun."

And then there's Elliott, who played the role of brick wall again with 39 saves.

"It wasn't that (play) that got us to respond," Elliott said referring to the Fabbri-Crawford altercation. "It's just keeping our resiliency, just keeping our heads down and keep pushing, pushing, pushing. ... (Game 5) is obviously an important game and they're going to have their backs up against the wall."

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