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Hawks can taste playoff berth after beating Blues

by John Kreiser
The Chicago Blackhawks are one point away from their first playoff berth in seven years. However, their sights are set higher than merely ending a postseason drought.

The Hawks limited St. Louis to 17 shots and got goals from Jonathan Toews, Samuel Pahlsson and Colin Fraser on Wednesday in a dominating 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues that moved them within sight of the playoffs. If the Blues don't win at Detroit on Thursday, the Hawks are in.

"I wasn't aware of that," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We want to get fourth in the conference. That's the motivation for us."

Chicago moved back into fourth in the West, one point ahead of Calgary, by ending a two-game losing streak with a solid checking job and opportunistic scoring.

"We had a good effort, a good start," Quenneville said. "We checked well, had support around the puck. We had the puck a lot and won some battles."

Toews opened the scoring with 8:15 left in the first when came off the right boards, drove across the slot and beat Chris Mason with a low wrist shot. Pahlsson, acquired from Anaheim on March 4, scored his first goal with the Blackhawks just over four minutes later to make it 2-0.

"St. Louis has checked hard against us all year," Toews said. "We went out there and took it to them. That we dictated most of the game was good. We kept them away from our net and made our goaltender's job just a little bit easier, for once."

While Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin went long stretches without facing a shot, Mason kept the Blues in the game with a series of superb saves, including one on a point-blank backhander by Patrick Sharp early in the second period and another on a stuff try by Patrick Kane with 4:30 left in the period.

"It's not too often I can say we got outworked," Mason said. "Tonight we got outworked, we got outplayed. It was one of our worst games, I think, in a long time."

Fraser put the game away when he scored on a shorthanded breakaway with 4:31 remaining in the third period. Jeff Woywitka spoiled Khabibulin's shutout when he scored a power-play goal with 1.5 seconds left.

The Blues were last in the Western Conference on Feb. 18, but have gone 13-5-2 since then to climb back into playoff contention. They took a detour on Wednesday and remained stuck at 83 points, one out of a playoff berth with five games remaining.
"Give the Hawks credit. They outplayed us in every aspect of the game and outworked us," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "There are no reasons. It needs to be different and it has been different. We were not ourselves, and we need to get it back."

Coyotes 3, Avalanche 0 | Video

Al Montoya's NHL debut couldn't have gone better. He stopped all 23 shots he faced and got goals from Mikkel Boedker, Shane Doan and Zbynek Michalek to blank the struggling Avs, who've dropped eight in a row.

Boedker gave Phoenix the lead when he picked up a loose puck out of a scrum in front, moved to his left, and wristed a shot past Andrew Raycroft 6:28 into the game. Doan ripped a slap shot from just inside the right circle past Raycroft 7:17 into the third period for his 30th of the season, and Michalek hit the empty net with 2.2 seconds left.

Montoya did the rest to become the first goaltender to post a shutout in his NHL debut since Dallas’ Mike Smith blanked the Coyotes 4-0 at Phoenix on Oct. 21, 2006.

"It’s unreal to get the win, but at the same time the shutout is like the icing on top," said Montoya, a 2004 first-round pick by the Rangers who was acquired by Phoenix last year and recalled from the minors last week. "I felt good, the team gave me a chance to win. They really battled for me.

"Coming away with a shutout is just unbelievable. It’s one game. I still have a long way to go. Not every night is going to be like this so just enjoy tonight."

The Avs had eight regulars out of the lineup -- and lost a ninth when forward Ryan Smyth left with a hand injury in the second period. Smyth, who leads the team with 59 points, is one of two Avalanche players to play in all 77 games this season.

Colorado mustered little sustained pressure against Montoya.

"He played well," Avs forward Ian Laperriere said. "We didn't put enough pucks on him, but he did a pretty good job."

Colorado's eight-game losing streak matches the franchise's longest, set in January 1992 when the team was based in Quebec.

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.

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