Blackhawks aware these Blues are 'not the same team' as years past

Blackhawks aware these Blues are 'not the same team' as years past

On paper, the Blues are every bit as good as the Blackhawks.

The fact they battled for first place in the Western Conference until the final game of the regular season despite the amount of injuries to quality players they'd had to overcome proves that.

It's the mental hurdle that's the biggest issue, which may not be one anymore for these Blues.

"Whatever's happened in years before, they're not the same team," Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford acknowledged following a 3-2 loss on Sunday afternoon.

It appeared, however, the Blues were headed in that familiar wrong direction stemming from mental lapses that has plagued them in previous seasons.

They opened Game 3 by committing three undisciplined penalties before the first television timeout even occurred.

If the national anthem didn't fire up the sold-out crowd of 22,207 at the United Center, those early man-advantages did. The Blackhawks capitalized on one of those, and it was the very first shot of the game.

"Obviously, first shot of the game, you never want to give it up," said Blues goaltender Brian Elliott, who stopped 44 shots in the win. "We got some tough calls right away, after that we killed them off and we did a great job, like you said it kind of, definitely settles you in. You're down one and you got to come back, so now the rest is kind of up to your teammates and they did a good job coming back."

Viktor Svedberg committed the Blackhawks' first penalty of the game at the 12:04 mark of the first period, and the Blues wasted no time, cashing in before the 6-foot-7 defenseman could take a seat in the penalty box seven seconds later.

The Blues, overall, committed five penalties — one of which was a double-minor — and didn't allow a goal on the power play after that first shot. Give credit to another stellar performance by Elliott, who staved off 23 of his 44 shots in the second period.

"That's how many shots they had? Well that's pretty good," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock jokingly responded when informed of the Blackhawks' 24 shot attempts in the second.

The only one Elliott didn't stop was an Artem Anisimov shot in the slot that fluttered past Elliott, which came 64 seconds into the frame.

The Blues kept bending and bending. But they didn't break, and that was good enough as they escaped the period trailing by one goal that felt like much more.

All the Blues needed was a break to go their way, and they got it.

Early in the third period, Patrik Berglund snapped a wrist shot as he entered the Blackhawks' zone and it ricocheted off Michal Rozsival's skate, took a funny bounce on the ice, and knuckle-balled past Crawford to even the score 2-2.

"We were due a bounce," David Backes said. "After that, that gave us a huge jolt. I think the first part of the third period we feel that we had a heck of a push and we're playing our game, and it was great to see from this group. It took us maybe eight periods to get to it, but we finally saw shades of St. Louis Blues out there."

Patrick Kane was guilty of a four-minute high-sticking penalty with 8:09 to play in regulation, and the Blues wouldn't squander the opportunity, as Jaden Schwartz buried a tic-tac-toe play to give the Blues a 3-2 lead and the win.

The Blues handed the Blackhawks their first regulation loss when leading after two periods in almost two years — they were 70-0-4 entering Game 3. But more importantly, they regained home-ice advantage in a series that's just getting started.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, when teams are tied 1-1 in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoffs series, the winner of Game 3 holds an all-time series record of 194-97 (66.7 percent).

On the contrary, the Blackhawks are 43-14 in Games 4-7 under coach Joel Quenneville, reinforcing the tough task at hand.

"This series isn't over," Backes said. "It's going to be a heck of a grind. Who knows, it may take seven, but every game is going to be this one-goal, tight-checking, every-play-counts and we love the group that we've got and the feeling has been consistent, and that's lessons we've learned that's pulled us into a 2-1 lead in a hostile building."

Said Hitchcock: "Every game's been up for grabs, probably going to be like that (the rest of the series). No quit in either team."

That no-quit attitude is evident in this Blues team, and it's exactly what they need in order to eliminate the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to Blue Jackets: Looking at the bigger picture

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday night:

1. Blackhawks squander two leads.

For the 13th time in their past 16 games, the Blackhawks scored the first goal of the game. They had won their previous three instances when doing so, but couldn't seal the deal this time and fell to 5-6-2 in those 13 games.

What strung even more is that the Blackhawks held two one-goal leads and couldn't hang on to either of them. They have the seventh-worst win percentage (.571) when scoring the first goal this season with a 20-10-5 record.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza continues to produce offensively.

If you're trying to look for a rare bright spot on the Blackhawks roster this season, here's one. Hinostroza registered a secondary assist on David Kampf's goal for his fifth point in six games, and was on the ice for 16 shot attempts for and seven against during 5-on-5 play for a team-leading shot attempt differential of plus-9 (also known as Corsi).

For the season, Hinostroza has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 32 games and he's doing so while averaging only 13:27 of ice time. His point-per-game average is up to 0.63, which is tied with Jonathan Toews for third on the team; only Patrick Kane (0.92) and Nick Schmaltz (0.71) are producing at a higher rate.

Hinostroza deserves more minutes, but at the same time his ability to produce on any of the four lines has allowed Joel Quenneville to put him in a bottom six role for balance.

"I like his speed," Quenneville said recently on why Hinostroza has been so effective. "I think with the puck, he's been good with it as well. More strength, on it, managing it, better decisions with it, and good plays off it. He definitely brings you energy and some speed, he can catch people with that quickness."

3. Ryan Hartman's benching.

Hartman was part of the fourth line that contributed to the Blackhawks' first goal of the game, and he was on his way to having a strong one. But that changed quickly after he took an ill-advised penalty in the first period.

Already leading 1-0, the Blackhawks had a 2-on-1 opportunity developing involving Hinostroza and David Kampf but Hartman was whistled for high-sticking at 17:06 behind the play. The Blue Jackets converted on the power play, and that was the end of Hartman's night.

He took only five shifts and finished with a season-low 4:16 of ice time, with Quenneville using it as an opportunity for a teaching moment.

4. Tomas Jurco building confidence back up.

It's been a tough season mentally for Jurco. He started the season with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs after failing to make the team out of camp, and compiled 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 36 games. 

It earned him a call-up on Jan. 8, with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman praising the way he progressed: "He looks like he's totally different, in terms of his composure and ability to make plays. That's why we brought him up here."

The problem? He was a healthy scratch for five straight games and went two weeks without seeing game action with the Blackhawks. Not exactly the best way to keep someone's confidence building. And since then, he's been fighting for a spot in the lineup.

For the last three games, Jurco has been given a shot on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane and he cashed in for his first goal of the season tonight and first since March 27, 2017. It's also the second straight game he's recorded a point.

While he may not be worth much if the Blackhawks were to deal him ahead of Monday's deadline, perhaps a change of scenery to a team that believes in him as a fit will bring out the best of his abilities. The Blackhawks tried and it just hasn't worked out.

5. Blue line observation.

This is more of a big-picture takeaway, but the Blackhawks have gotten only 20 goals from their defensemen this season. The Blue Jackets have gotten a combined 19 from just Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Last season the Blackhawks had 30 total.

The Blackhawks just haven't gotten the offensive production needed from their back end and it's so important as it helps alleviate some of the pressure off the forwards.

I asked Quenneville about this after Friday's game and here's what he had to say: "Whether you score or not, you need the D to be part of your attack, be it off the rush, in zone. But I think the whole game, the whole league is four-man rush game, five-man attacks, coming at you, night-in, night-out, wave after wave.

"But you need to get your D involved in your support on the attack and you need them on the offensive zone off the point. You need some shooters on the back end that can get them through as well. I think offensive production from the back end in today’s game really enhances your offense and your possession game."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks hit road to face Blue Jackets

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. One big reunion.

The Blackhawks will square off with the Blue Jackets for the first time since Oct. 7, which was the second game of the season. In that game, they won 5-1 led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad, each of whom scored a goal and added an assist.

Of course, that was the first game since the offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and Saad back to Chicago, along with Anton Forsberg. Artem Anisimov, of course, was part of the original deal that sent Saad to Columbus in 2015, so there are a lot of emotional ties between the two teams.

Forsberg didn't get a chance to face the Blue Jackets in the first meeting, but there's a chance he will this time with it being the second of a back-to-back and Jean-Francois Berube getting the start in Friday's 3-1 win over San Jose.

2. Panarin and Kane bromance.

The emotions of a difficult break-up have probably died down by now, but Panarin and Kane gave us this moment at center ice during pregame warmups in their first game against each other and it hit Chicago right in the feels:

Panarin has spent enough time apart from Kane for people to realize how big of a star he is in his own right, leading the Blue Jackets in all three scoring categories: goals (17), assists (32) and points (49).

He hasn't gone more than three games this season without recording a point, and is looking to extend his point streak to four games, which would tie a season high.

3. Struggling Blue Jackets special teams.

The Blue Jackets got off to a great start but are barely clinging onto a wild card spot going into Saturday's game, and a big reason for that slide is their lack of success on special teams. Usually one can pick up the slack for the other, but they've been brutal in both departments.

The Blue Jackets are 0-for-9 on the power play in their past five games and are ranked 31st overall, converting on only 14.1 percent of their opportunities. They also have own the 27th-ranked penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate.

So if there's an area the Blackhawks can exploit, it's that. But, you know, still be mindful of that Russian winger's one-timer from the faceoff circle.