CHICAGO -- They could easily have folded up and played out the string after just one period of hockey.
Instead, the Chicago Blackhawks decided to fight back on Tuesday night -- literally, with their fists, as well as on the scoreboard -- against the League-leading and red-hot St. Louis Blues. Despite trailing by two goals after the first period against a team riding a five-game winning streak, the Hawks found a way to come back and earn a hard-earned, if somewhat-improbable, 4-3 shootout win at the United Center.
"I think everyone thought it was going to be a huge game for us, especially what happened in their building last time [a 5-1 Blues win last Tuesday]," said Hawks star Patrick Kane, who used Marian Hossa's advice and scored the lone goal of the shootout by backhanding a shot between the pads of Jaroslav Halak. "They handled us pretty easy and then still got up 3-1 on us [tonight], but still you see the fight in the locker room and in the team to not give up. It's just a fun team to play for."
Almost all the statistics were on St. Louis' side after the first 20 minutes. Despite putting just six shots on net to Chicago's 13, the Blues led 3-1 heading into the first intermission. The Blues (45-18-8) were 36-0-0 coming into the game when scoring three goals or more and had won nine of their previous 10 games.
They also had Halak, who's been scorching hot of late and had already beaten the Hawks twice this season. There were plenty of reasons for those not in the Chicago locker room to think the Hawks might just call it a day and move ahead.
Inside their locker room, however, it was an entirely different feeling. Despite trailing by two goals, which usually spells disaster against the Blues, optimism ran rampant in the Hawks locker room -- especially after an incident right before the first horn sounded to end the opening 20 minutes.
St. Louis forward Ryan Reaves laid out Jamal Mayers with a big hit in the Hawks zone, which promoted rookie enforcer Brandon Bollig to jump in and start a fight with Reaves. Mayers shook off the pain and headed toward the St. Louis bench to give the Blues a piece of his mind.
Instead of being down, the Hawks were fired up.
"To be honest, I think the feeling was that we had a good chance," said Viktor Stalberg, whose goal with 4:01 left in the second cut the lead to 3-2 and gave Chicago new life. "We know they're a good defensive team, but we felt like we dominated that [first] period. We had some really good looks and felt like we deserved some better bounces, but they also made some great plays out there. We felt like if we kept pushing like that, it was going to be tough for them to withstand that the whole night."
Turns out, it was.
The Hawks eventually got even at 7:41 of the third on a power-play goal by Brent Seabrook, who launched a blast from the blue line that found its way through traffic and eluded Halak to bring the crowd to its feet. It was Chicago's fifth of six power plays and also stopped St. Louis' string of consecutive successful penalty kills at 51.
Hossa and Patrick Sharp picked up assists, but the biggest contributor might've been 5-10, 180-pound rookie forward Andrew Shaw -- who screened Halak as the puck zipped by.
"It looked like he was about 6-5, 250 pounds standing in front there," Seabrook said. "He got in the right spot. [Hossa] made a great pass and I just tried to put it on net. [Shaw's] just one of those kinds of players and it's great to see. He's got a lot of his success off going to those dirty areas and getting in front of the net, getting ugly goals."
Two of the Hawks' three goals were of the "dirty" variety, as Stalberg's deflected through the pads off his right skate after rookie center Marcus Kruger threw the puck in his direction from the boards. Andrew Brunette scored the Hawks' other goal, which was of the "pretty" variety.
Kane tipped a pass to Hossa early in the first and he found Brunette with a pass to the slot for a mini-break that ended with the puck getting roofed over Halak's catching glove just 2:51 into the game. That seemed to be just the kind of message Chicago wanted to send, but the Blues countered with three straight goals against Hawks starter Ray Emery, who stopped only half of the six shots he faced.
Jamie Langenbrunner beat him with a slap shot at 3:50 to tie the game. Andy McDonald completed a nice tic-tac-toe play with a hard wrister almost three minutes later, and Patrik Berglund [one goal and one assist] made it 3-1 by tipping a point blast home with 4:01 left in the period. After that, the Hawks found ways to pour on the offense -- ultimately outshooting the Blues 46-24, including 22-10 in the third period and overtime combined.
Halak was outstanding, as usual, but just couldn't overcome the constant pressure.
"The lead came too easy to us," said St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team got one point and leads the League with 98. "We didn't have to work for it, and then when we got on our heels. We couldn't get back off our heels. They were coming at us. We were on our heels and we stayed on our heels most of the night."
It was atypical of the way his team has played over the last month or so.
"When we had the lead 3-1, we started playing with skill over work, started turning the puck over at the offensive blue line and that gave them all the momentum," Hitchcock said. "When you turn it over against this team, they're so good offensively. They killed us."
The Blues now haven't won at the "Madhouse on Madison" since Feb. 3, 2010 and are 1-5-3 in the last nine trips here. But they were assured of a point and had to feel good going into the shootout.
That's where the evening's other big Blackhawks story, Corey Crawford, rose to the occasion.
Crawford hadn't started since a Feb. 29 game against Toronto in which he was pulled after one period and watch Emery earn the comeback win. This time, it was Emery who lasted just one period and Crawford who pulled out the win -- making 18 saves and stopping both T.J. Oshie and McDonald before David Perron's attempt went wide to end it.
"We battled back," said Crawford, who recently expressed frustration at his own inconsistency this season. "When we don't give up like that, stick with our game, you know we could come back in almost any game. We're doing the right stuff. After getting down early, we stuck with it and that's a huge two points for us."