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NHL Winter Classic

Blackhawks unable to shake outdoor demons

Have lost four of five games after being defeated by Blues in Winter Classic

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Blackhawks left the ice with their heads down. They did not stop to look back, to see the St. Louis Blues raise their sticks to the sellout crowd at Busch Stadium, celebrating a 4-1 win in the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Monday.

The Blackhawks didn't need to watch. They have seen it all before.

Chicago has played in five outdoor games, one in each of the past four seasons. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who has two goals and four assists, is the NHL's all-time leading scorer in outdoor games. Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have each played in the five games for Chicago.

And yet, all that experience has yielded little. The Blackhawks are 1-4-0 in outdoor games, with losses by a combined 10-2 in the past two seasons, after losing 6-1 to the Minnesota Wild in the Stadium Series game on Feb. 20.

"Especially coming into today, we wanted to do a better job and put together a better performance in these outdoor games," Kane said. "For whatever reason, we haven't come out on top, haven't really played too well in them.

"It's frustrating because it's on a national stage, it's a lot of hype. You want to put a good show on for your fans. Maybe sometimes we're thinking too much about that instead of just going out there and playing a simple game."

It was something acknowledged by Chicago before the game. The Blackhawks knew what had gone on before. They knew what they needed to do. They weren't able to do it, allowing three goals in the third period - two by Vladimir Tarasenko - in losing to the Blues.

"We talked about it a little bit, not necessarily before the game, but going into the game today, that we haven't done too well in these games," Kane said. "We knew it in the back of our head. It was made aware to pretty much everyone on our team."

Still, the Blackhawks couldn't change their fortunes. Though Chicago played St. Louis evenly through the first two periods, with Michal Kempny scoring on a knuckling puck 1:02 into the game, and Patrik Berglund tying it at 7:45 of the second, that changed in the third.

Video: CHI@STL: Kempny opens the scoring with tricky slapper

The Blackhawks did not manage their first shot on goal in the third until 10:13 of the period, by which time the Blues had seven. Then after Chicago had come up empty on a power play, the Blues came back with a goal at 12:05 when Tarasenko's pass to Jori Lehtera never met its intended target, instead going off Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson's skate.

Less than 7:55 later, the Blackhawks were skating off, disappointed and frustrated.

And the Winter Classic loss continues an even more pressing concern: The Blackhawks are 1-4-1 in their past six games, five of which have been played without forward Marian Hossa, who is tied for the team lead with 16 goals. He left after the first period of Chicago's Dec. 20 loss to the Ottawa Senators and has not played since.

"We know we miss him," Keith said. "He's a huge part of our team, offensively and defensively. He's a powerful player for us, hangs onto pucks and he's hard to take the puck away from. He enhances our whole game, whether it's puck possession, guarding pucks and being smart with the puck. He's a good example for all of us."

Hossa skated on Jan. 1 in Chicago and is improving, though not enough to play in the Winter Classic. The hope is that he will not be out much longer.

The Blackhawks need the help. Their schedule gets a bit more manageable coming up, with four consecutive games at home, against the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, and Detroit Red Wings, none of whom are holding a Stanley Cup Playoff spot.  

"We've lost five of our last six here, so it's probably time to start turning it around," Kane said. "We've got four games in a row at home, so try to get back to where we were, get back to playing the way we were, trying to get some points in these games and hopefully play a little bit better, make 2017 a good year."

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