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."

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!