Blues put Blackhawks' backs against the wall

Blues put Blackhawks' backs against the wall

It wouldn't be a Blackhawks-Blues series without some sort of physical altercation playing a large role in the outcome of a game.

It took a while, but that moment came in Game 4 on two separate occasions.

The first happened midway through the second period of a 1-1 tie when Corey Crawford took exception to the fact Blues forward Robby Fabbri nearly bulldozed the Blackhawks goaltender, but got enough of him to trigger an emotional response from Crawford.

Crawford got up, skated to the corner where Fabbri had slid to and initiated a scuffle, waking up a restless United Center crowd of 22,212.

"That looked like something out of the Western Hockey League," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock joked after Tuesday's win.

"I felt like I got pushed from behind," Fabbri said of the play. "I tried to do my best to fall away from him. I guess he didn't like that.

"A little surprised at first and then we just got in a little jousting match there," Fabbri continued, discussing the aftermath. "That's playoff hockey. There's a lot of emotions flying around. That's what happened.

"There's not much I can do there. Just protect myself. I thought I did my best to try and avoid him, but like I said, he wasn't too happy after that."

[RELATED: Blackhawks can't keep momentum in Game 4 loss to Blues]

The Blackhawks, somehow, came out of that with a power play opportunity and converted thanks to a Duncan Keith goal — his first of two on the night — giving his team a 2-1 lead.

The momentum had quickly shifted back into Chicago's favor, but Vladimir Tarasenko had other plans. He scored his third goal of the series — second of the game, and eighth against the Blackhawks this year, counting the regular season — to even up the score, and the Blues wouldn't look back.

They went on to score two more in the opening five minutes of the third period, and sealed the deal on a 4-3 win to take a commanding 3-1 series lead back home to St. Louis.

"This is a great group," Blues captain David Backes said. "We're more cohesive, playing for each other, doing the right things all over the ice than we've ever had in this locker room. ... I've seen it for four straight games, and it's solidified what I said before: We've got all hands on deck, everyone bought in and doing what it takes. It's only building our belief system now, all the success we've had."

Hitchcock echoed those sentiments.

"I don't know if it's Chicago, we just have a belief that we can beat anybody," he said, then referenced the resiliency they've had to face all season long with their injuries. "We know we're up against a formidable opponent. I said to you before, there are some things that happen during the year that force you to go one way or another and what happened to us earlier in the year forced us to go one way, and we went the right way.

"There's a group of togetherness in there that's strong, and we're going to need it. We're going to need it to win this series, and 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."

The Blackhawks have trailed a series 3-1 five times under head coach Joel Quenneville. They've come back to win in one of those.

The finish line for eliminating the defending champions is so close, yet so far away, especially for a team that squandered a 2-0 series lead the last time these two teams met in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

"It felt good," Tarasenko said of winning both games in Chicago. "We know this feels good, especially in this building. We know they come back from this situation a lot of times. And we need to forget about this game tomorrow and try to prepare for the next one."

[MORE: Five Things from Blackhawks-Blues Game 4]

Oh, and the second altercation of the night?

The one at the final horn, which was a carry-over from the interference penalty committed by Andrew Shaw with 2:04 remaining.

The Blackhawks strongly disagreed with it.

Shaw slammed his water bottle on the ground when he got inside the penalty box, not because he was frustrated with himself, but with the actual call itself.

Jonathan Toews pleaded to the official until he had to take the faceoff in his own zone.

Quenneville said after the game, "The consistency went out the window with that call."

When the third-period buzzer sounded, Shaw, who had exited the box in the final seconds, sparked a line brawl, where the majority of the 140 minutes of penalty time came from.

And it surely won't be forgotten when the Blues look to end the Blackhawks' chances of repeating Thursday night in Game 5.

"This is so much fun, this series," Hitchcock said. "It is a lot of fun. To coach in something like this where you can literally remove yourself from the emotion because the players on both sides are taking care of everything. This is fun. This is what hockey's about. This is why you coach, this is why you play.

"Both teams are going at it, they're leaving everything on the ice. Whatever happens, happens. We want to win this series, they want to win this series, I just want to see our players play as well as they can and play with as much grit as they can, and that's what they're trying to do. We're trying to keep up with the pace here."

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators


Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four or five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

In a 10-part series, we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-09 season, the start of the Blackhawks dynasty.

Starting a dynasty means you have to identify a group of core players to build your team around. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews were those guys, along with Marian Hossa, who joined that mix later on.

You also need a mixture of young talent and strong veterans to fill out the depth to become successful. That's exactly what the Blackhawks had at the beginning of their dynasty and throughout.

On the first day of NHL free agency in 2008, the Blackhawks inked All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal, which solidified Chicago as a destination players wanted to commit to long term. That same year, Kris Versteeg emerged as the Blackhawks' third Calder Trophy candidate in two years, Martin Havlat and Andrew Ladd set a career high in points with 77 and 49, respectively, while youngsters Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien began to make a name for themselves as valuable pieces to the puzzle.

"Real good group of guys," Joel Quenneville said on Oct. 18, 2008. "I can say that it's the first time I walked in the room where, wow, I was impressed."

Six of the Blackhawks' Top 10 scorers in 2008-09 were aged 23 or younger. The average age for the other four? 27. The youth movement was real and they all contributed in a big way.