Blackhawks

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.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: What else can the Blackhawks do this summer?

On the latest edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast, Charlie Roumeliotis is joined by Scott Powers of The Athletic to discuss Stan Bowman's comments following the Marian Hossa trade and debate whether they're finished making moves this summer.

They also provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks' top prospects and which players have caught their attention as development camp winds down.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews: 'Our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs'

Jonathan Toews watched a lot of playoff hockey this spring. 

"Quite a bit," he admitted Wednesday before making his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut at MB Ice Arena. "More than usual."

That's because the Blackhawks missed out on the postseason for the first time since his rookie year in 2007-08. It's obviously not a position he'd like himself or his team to be in, especially after experiencing three Stanley Cups in a six-year span.

But you have to find a way to take the positives out of it at this point and let it fuel you for the upcoming campaign.

"You always want to be there playing," Toews said. "But when you can maybe step away from the game a little bit and just kind of breathe and — at the same time, look back and realize you’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of success. Obviously there’s no satisfaction there, but you understand it’s not the worst thing to stop and smell the roses and appreciate what you’ve been able to experience, because I think failing to get to the playoffs makes you realize how difficult it really is and maybe it’s something you took for granted.

"But watching more hockey this spring, I think, is something that was really motivating and kind of inspiring and exciting to want to get back to that level again. You dream of playing in the NHL, but at the end of the day, you want to play playoff hockey. That’s what it’s all about."

There were plenty of things that went wrong for the Blackhawks last season and contributed to why they watched the playoffs from home, whether it's the Corey Crawford injury, the down season from Brandon Saad, or the inexperience on the blue line.

For Toews, who turned 30 in April, it's about regaining that old form that made him one of the top players in the NHL and hoping it can filter down the rest of the Blackhawks lineup.

"For me, it’s part of just recapturing that energy, that motivation, excitement and that mindset of a young player who takes nothing for granted, that you had in your younger days," he said. "But also carrying the experience with you and understanding the impact of what you say, what you do, how you carry yourself can impact your teammates, especially the young guys. For me, it comes down to knowing what to say at the right time. But letting my play be the thing that helps me lead by example. No better time than now to use that experience and that excitement trying to rebound off the season we had last year."

If there's any reason to have belief that the Blackhawks can turn it around quickly, look no further than the two teams that collided in the Stanley Cup Final: Vegas and Washington. 

The Golden Knights had the longest odds to win it all at the beginning of the season while the Capitals' championship window was perceived to be closed after they failed to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017 in the second round yet again with a loaded roster. But it's not about what's on paper.

"Watching that last series, you just knew it came down to who had the most, the deepest belief in themselves," Toews said. "I even had a hard time predicting who was going to win every series. It could’ve gone either way in a lot of situations. It’s not only motivating, seeing how fast that play was and to have missed out on playoff hockey this year and to have the drive to get back there, but knowing if you do sneak into the playoffs it doesn’t matter. You can go a long way.

"For us, thinking, 'OK, we're gonna back and win a Stanley Cup this year,' it sounds like a long shot. But as always, our No. 1 goal is getting back to the playoffs and being ready to hit our stride when we get there."