CHICAGO – The preseason is in the books, there are only a couple of roster moves left and it's almost time for the Chicago Blackhawks to start defending their Stanley Cup title for real.
On Sunday, the Hawks had one last dressed rehearsal against Central Division foe St. Louis, and there was some good and bad mixed into the Hawks’ 4-3 win in front of 19,692 at the United Center.
The good included scoring three times in six power plays and getting goals from Tomas Kopecky, Troy Brouwer, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa in the second period for a three-goal cushion heading into the third.
It turned out to be a necessary cushion, as some of the Hawks' negative play led to the Blues scoring twice in the third – including a goal by Patrik Berglund 17:51 into the period to make the home fans sweat. The Hawks finished the preseason with a record of 3-4.
Neither matters anymore, as Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has some tough decisions to make to get the team's final roster set for Thursday’s season-opener at Colorado.
"I think that some of the (exhibition) games were better than others," Quenneville said. "I thought our other two home games were better than tonight's game. Today was … OK. We're getting close to playing for keeps this week, so it kind of appeared like that. (But) we've still got some work to do on our team game and in our line combinations."
B.J. Crombeen and T.J. Hensick also scored for St. Louis, which now has to wait until Saturday to open the regular season at home against Philadelphia.
"We're all going to play 82 by the time April rolls along, starting Thursday or starting Saturday," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "At different times of the exhibition season, parts of our game were in pretty good shape. Now we've just got to tie them all together for Saturday."
Sunday was important for a couple of Chicago prospects vying for roster spots, including 19-year old rookie forward Jeremy Morin and 24-year old forward Viktor Stalberg, who came to the Hawks in an offseason trade that sent Kris Versteeg to Toronto.
Both players assisted on goals in the second period, while 19-year old rookie Nick Leddy started on the blue line next to Niklas Hjalmarsson -- in place of injured Brian Campbell. Leddy, who finished with a minus-1 rating in 19:02, is likely to stick with the team at least until Campbell returns in four to five weeks.
"Leddy continued to have another big game for us," Quenneville said. "He looked good back there again. He seemed to have the puck a lot, seemed to have a nice gap. We like his instincts and how he moves."
Kopecky got the scoring started on Sunday by potting his second goal of the preseason at 8:43 of the second period. He deflected a shot by Duncan Keith past Blues goalie Ty Conklin just four seconds into a four-minute power play that resulted from Nicholas Drazenovic high sticking Hossa in the face.
Toews won the faceoff, passed it to Keith and he blasted a slap shot that Kopecky redirected. Kopecky also assisted on Toews’ goal at 17:36 into the second that made it 4-1 Chicago. He received a pass from Patrick Kane near the side of the goal, waited for Conklin to drop down and passed to Toews in front for a one-timer.
Toews and Kopecky both had a goal and assist each, and Quenneville likes the way Kopecky looks heading into the season -- especially on a line with Hossa and Toews.
"The way he trended last year, he progressed," Quenneville said. "This year he's been really good in training camp and that whole line has been really dangerous."
Brouwer made it 2-0 in the second on a nice pass from Stalberg just over two minutes after Kopecky's tally and Hossa extended it to 3-0 on a power play at 13:55 of the second by deflecting Morin’s shot. Morin collected the puck on a carom off the half wall, was tripped and shot the puck toward the goal as he fell to the ice.
Morin finished with a minus-1 rating and played on a line with Kane and Patrick Sharp.
"Those two guys make plays that most guys can't do," he said. "Those are the kind of guys I look up to, so it's fun."
Crombeen got the Blues on the board at 16:58 of the second by deflecting a rebound past Chicago goalie Marty Turco on a rush, but the Hawks countered 39 seconds later with Toews' marker. Toews' shot finished off a pretty play started by a long pass from Turco to Kane, who skated into the zone and found Kopecky with a quick pass.
It was the second time this preseason that Turco found Kane with a long pass that eventually resulted in a goal. It was a perfect example of what many think will be a good combination between Turco's passing out of the defensive zone and the Hawks' up-tempo attacking style. However, Hensick's goal came as the result of a Turco turnover and made it 4-2 just 1:50 into the third.
"His play selection can complement our game," Quenneville said of Turco. "Sometimes we don't always have to make a play, but the fact that he's capable of that -- I think we can take advantage of it."
Neither team scored in a first period controlled mostly by the Blues, who outshot the Hawks 12-5 thanks largely to a pair of power plays.