Rarely has the United Center been as loud or as red as it was Monday night. Someone turned the sound system to a throbbing level, and Stanley Cup playoff towels were given to the 22,112 fans constituting the 268th consecutive hockey sellout.
Jim Cornelison, who when last heard sang a portion of “O, Canada” in French, stayed with all English for the Star Spangled Banner. He did don a tuxedo, and might as well have worn earplugs.
Chicago obviously was amped to will the Blackhawks back into this preliminary series against the St. Louis Blues, but nobody proved more ready than Corey Crawford. Every goal is his fault, even when it really isn’t, and after twin horror shows in St. Louis, he took off his mask and put on the goat horns.
Crawford said he had to be better, and he couldn’t have been much better than he was in Game 3. The Blackhawks had to have it, and he got it for them with a 2-0 masterpiece. He played big in the net, looking bigger certainly than Darren Pang or Greg Millen, bless them both. They are former netminders here, and they were both in the building, famous and prosperous broadcasters.
Not until Marcus Kruger punctured an empty cage with 20 seconds remaining in regulation could the Blackhawks count on their first victory of the tournament. Until then, the Blues forced the issue in the third period, lacking neither premium chances nor time of possession.
But in a taut game that was clean, hard and minus conniptions, Crawford nursed a lead arranged by Jonathan Toews, whose low-octane shot slipped through Ryan Miller in the fifth minute.
Toews opened between Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell. In the absence of suspended Brent Seabrook, Sheldon Brookbank took his post beside Duncan Keith and performed admirably.
Neither side’s power play tapes will be requested by Hockey’s Hall of Fame, but that’s the way it has been for the entirety of the series. Killing penalties is an art, too, although restlessness was palpable in the UC when the Blackhawks embarked on a brief two-man advantage in the middle period and still whiffed.
On the other hand, Kruger took a holding penalty early in the third, depriving the Blackhawks of a shorthanded specialist. As he sat, on came Michal Handzus, the grizzled veteran who spends many of his waking hours packed in ice. He’s not fast, but he sure is smart.
“ZEUS!! ZEUS!!” came the chorus. Eventually, the hymn returned to “COR-EY!! COR-EY” but it was nice that a selfless pro such as Handzus is appreciated for grunt work. He could have been traded elsewhere, remember, but asked for the Blackhawks last spring. Doug Wilson, a Norris Trophy winner here and now general manager of the San Jose Sharks, obliged.
“A warrior,” Head Coach Joel Quenneville said of Handzus.
Q’s bookend, Ken Hitchcock, heaped praise on the Blackhawks. You won’t beat them on skill, he said. You have to beat them on resolve.