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.

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut


Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!