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NHL Winter Classic

Niklas Hjalmarsson victim of bad bounce

Blackhawks defenseman doesn't get puck luck in loss to Blues at Winter Classic

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

ST. LOUIS -- If anyone wanted to create an instructional video for defensemen on how to defend a 3-on-1 break, using a clip of Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson in the third period of the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Monday would be a great place to start.

And if you wanted to add in the importance of shot blocking and bravery in the same video, showing Hjalmarsson's effort earlier in the third period would be front and center as well.

But in the end, Hjalmarsson's bravery and pain threshold, as well as his perfect positioning defending an odd-man rush, were turned against him in a 4-1 loss against the St. Louis Blues at Busch Stadium.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored the game-winning goal at 12:05 of the third period off a 3-on-1 rush that began very dangerously, but which Hjalmarsson had largely defused with a brilliant defensive play before Tarasenko banked a pass off his skate and in the net to give the Blues a 2-1 lead.

"It makes it even worse," Hjalmarsson said when told how well he played the 3-on-1 break. "I felt that I had put him to a good angle and he made a good play. He just threw it in there, it tipped my skate and in [the net]. It's just a bad bounce. It happens, but it's a big game and it's a big goal. So it stinks extra."

The play began off a turnover by Blackhawks forward Richard Panik deep in the offensive zone. Hjalmarsson scrambled back as Tarasenko gathered the puck and sent it to Robby Fabbri skating up the left side.

Hjalmarsson immediately charged at Fabbri, forcing him to make a decision and rush a bouncing pass back to Tarasenko, with Hjalmarsson already reversing his field to cover the new puck carrier. As his teammates caught up to the play, Hjalmarsson successfully angled Tarasenko into a non-threatening position on the ice, leaving him no option but to try to center the puck back to Jori Lehtera in front of the net.

The pass found Hjalmarsson's left skate and slid past Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.

Video: CHI@STL: Tarasenko banks puck off skate and in

"It's an unlucky break," said Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who was on the ice chasing down the play. "[Hjalmarsson] played it as perfect as you can."

Earlier in the third period, Hjalmarsson showed how willing he is to sacrifice his body when he blocked a point shot from Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson with his left foot, causing him to go down in pain for a moment.

But Hjalmarsson got back up and continued to play while the Blues buzzed around the Blackhawks zone, only to have Alex Pietrangelo take a shot 29 seconds later. Hjalmarsson went down and blocked that one as well, appearing to take it off his other foot.

Hjalmarsson got up again and continued defending, getting a stick on a Fabbri shot attempt, only to have Blackhawks forward Ryan Hartman get called for slashing Fabbri on the play.

Again, Hjalmarsson did everything right, and the play wound up being a negative for the Blackhawks.

"He blocked a couple right in a row, and obviously that first one stung," van Riemsdyk said. "They have some heavy shooters out there, but it doesn't faze him. He's hurting and he's still right in the lane for the next shot. He's an absolute warrior, he played a great game and unfortunately we just couldn't come out on top this time."

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