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Blackhawks troubled by blown leads vs. Blues

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks coughed up 3-2 leads against the St. Louis Blues late in regulation of each of the first two games of their Western Conference First Round series at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

The Blues scored in overtime each game to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

Chicago is a combined 1:51 away from heading into Game 3 at United Center on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, RDSI, FS-MW, CSN-CH) as the team with the 2-0 series edge. The Blackhawks were 6.4 seconds from closing out Game 2 on Saturday, but Vladimir Tarasenko tied it 3-3 on a power play caused by defenseman Brent Seabrook's major penalty for an illegal hit.

"Six seconds away," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday at United Center. "I thought we killed that penalty … I was going to say 'perfect.' It was six seconds away from perfect."

It was also reminiscent of a trend that developed through the course of the regular season. In their 22 games that went past regulation, the Blackhawks blew third-period leads in seven of them.

Among those seven lost leads were four two-goal margins, including one that vanished against the Blues on Dec. 28 in an eventual 6-5 shootout loss in St. Louis.

The first two games of this series felt like deja vu, with Jaden Schwartz tying Game 1 at even strength with 1:45 left in regulation before Tarasenko sent the game Saturday into OT with a two-man advantage after Blues goalie Ryan Miller headed to the bench for an extra attacker.

"In the [first] game we didn't give up many scoring chances for a long stretch in that third period, as well," Quenneville said. "You're almost there, and I just think we have to be better across the board, knowing that in those situations, if you want to be out there in that situation, you want to make sure you put it into the empty net next time."

Blackhawks forward Michal Handzus, who plays on one of Chicago's penalty-killing units, noticed another issue that's led to the late meltdowns.

"I thought our puck management sometimes, not as well, especially in the last five [to] six minutes," he said. "I think we've got to play the score, got to play the clock, and that's what we're talking about in the locker room. We've got to keep reinforcing that. I think when you have five minutes left, you've just got to be really careful to [not] turn the puck over and just play deep, still play in their zone, but don't try to do too much. I think the puck management, we've got to really learn from it and just be a little bit better."

Avoiding penalties down the stretch would help too.

Prior to the major penalty against Seabrook, who was suspended three games Sunday, forward Bryan Bickell was sent to the box for a kneeing minor with less than seven minutes left in the third period. Combined, the Blackhawks were killing penalties for the final 6:05 of regulation and first nine seconds of overtime. Captain Jonathan Toews then went off for a high-sticking minor 3:07 into OT, just 2:43 before Jackman won it.

Did the Blackhawks get too far away from their usual puck-possession game trying to match the Blues' physical style?

"I think a little bit we might have played into their hands, but we've got to get back to our hockey, because when we're playing that way, we do a good job and that's how we win," forward Brandon Saad said. "At times we might have gotten out of our game, but for the most part I think we've played a couple good games."

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