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Toews, Crawford lead Blackhawks past Blues

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks didn't waste another opportunity to close out a game against the St. Louis Blues.

After coughing up a one-goal lead in the third period and losing in overtime in each of the first two games of the Western Conference First Round series in St. Louis, the Blackhawks held on Monday for a 2-0 win at United Center.

It was anything but easy, after getting an early goal from captain Jonathan Toews and then fighting hard the rest of the game to make it stand up. The Blues again poured on a late charge in the third, seeking the equalizer, but this time goalie Corey Crawford and the Blackhawks were up to the challenge.

"Losing back-to-back in OT, after having the lead in the third and having them tie it up late, that's definitely hard to take," said Crawford, who got his glove on a wrist shot by Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with 43 seconds left in regulation. "But this group has gone through some pretty tough moments the last couple years. Even this year, we've gone through some tough things and we've always been able to just stay calm and have that confidence. Our leaders do a great job of that. They set the tone and everyone else just follows."

The Blues lead the best-of-7 series 2-1, with Game 4 on Wednesday in Chicago (9:30 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, NBCSN, FS-MW, CSN-CH), but St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock knows how difficult it will be to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions in this series.

"When you're knocking off just a team in the League, it's a different animal," he said. "When you're knocking off the defending champion, they're not a defending champion because they have skill. It's because they've got resolve. You're trying to beat the resolve. You're not trying to beat their skill. Everybody's got skill. And it is one helluva of a challenge."

Toews gave the Blackhawks their first 1-0 lead of the series 4:10 into the game with his first goal of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Crawford really stood out after absorbing his share of the blame for the Blues' late goals in the first two games. He helped Chicago kill off three St. Louis power plays -- the Blues are 1-for-16 on the man advantage in the series -- and had to make a couple strong saves in the third to preserve a 1-0 lead.

The guys in front of him also sacrificed their bodies to block shots, with veteran Michal Handzus' effort in the third standing out most.

"He's a warrior," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Handzus. "You can't say enough to what he brings the team and the little things he does so well. He leaves it out there. He's a great pro."

Unlike Game 2, when Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko scored with 6.4 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, Chicago put the puck into an empty net to seal the win. Brandon Saad chased down a loose puck behind the St. Louis goal and fed a short pass to Marcus Kruger, who slammed it home from the right post at 19:40.

"This series, it's not going to slow down as far as the intensity," Quenneville said. "It's extremely high-paced, passionate, and we've just got to keep persevering, because we expect that team to not change a bit that approach."

The only thing that changed from Game 2 was the amount of action after the whistle. There was noticeably less of it, even though the hits kept coming from each side.

The Blues outhit Chicago 41-27 and finished with a 34-25 edge in shots, but Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell continued to make his presence felt. He led Chicago with eight hits and was a force all game long.

Blues forward Steve Ott countered with eight hits of his own and delivered a big one in the third against Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith, who was at the center of controversy that developed late in Game 2.

That's when the Blues lost captain David Backes to an injury after an illegal hit by Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook at Scottrade Center. Seabrook served the first of a three-game suspension for the hit Monday as Backes sat out with an upper-body injury.

Sheldon Brookbank started in Seabrook's spot alongside Keith, who bristled when asked by reporters before the game Monday about his saying, "Wakey, wakey, Backes," after Seabrook's illegal hit on the Blues captain.

Brookbank was credited with an assist on Toews' goal and played solid on the defensive end.

"It's nice to get on [the] board," Keith said. "We needed it tonight, obviously. It would've been a huge hole going down 3-0. We're back in the series here. We'll get some rest tonight and rest up [Tuesday] and get ready for Game 4."

Alexander Steen took Backes' spot centering the Blues' top line, and forward Patrik Berglund, who missed the first two games with an injury, returned to center the second line.

The Blackhawks got exactly the kind of start they wanted.

Quenneville juggled his lines from how the Blackhawks skated during pregame warmups, most notably moving Patrick Kane from the third line to right wing on the top line with Toews.

Chicago controlled the action as Quenneville rolled through all four lines in the first few minutes and took a 1-0 lead on Toews' goal.

After winning a faceoff in the defensive zone back to Brookbank, Toews and his linemates took off toward the Blues zone. Toews took a pass from Keith, carried the puck into the St. Louis zone and fired a wrist shot from the top of the left circle that snuck through Blues goalie Ryan Miller's pads.

It turned out to be the only goal Miller allowed, despite the Blackhawks getting four power plays and 37 seconds at 5-on-3 in the second period.

"It was a weird puck," said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was defending on the play. "I didn't get to see it, obviously, because I was facing [Toews]. But [Miller] says it just [took] a weird bounce off the ice and gets by him. I mean, he made some really big saves the whole game. Ultimately, it's a 1-0 game. If we get a couple of chances here and there and put it in the back of the net, I think we're happy with the turnout."

The teams went a combined 0-for-7 on the power play.

St. Louis nearly tied it on a couple scoring chances in the first, but good work by Chicago defensemen around the net helped Crawford keep the puck out. Aided by two power plays, the Blues held a 15-7 advantage in shots at the first intermission.

There were no goals in the second, but the middle period had its share of action. The four Blues penalties gave the Blackhawks ample opportunity to increase their lead, but strong work by Miller, who stopped 23 of 24 shots in the game, and shot-blocking by the defenders in front of him kept it a 1-0 game.

In the third, the Chicago had to kill off an early power play and weather another late push by the Blues. Knowing they came into the game just 1:51.4 away from leading the series 2-0, the Blackhawks tapped into that resolve Hitchcock mentioned to come out victorious.

"In some instances [in the third], I wouldn't say we were thinking about Game 1 and Game 2, but there's that thought there that you've got to be extra careful, and we're just throwing pucks out of our zone and making sure that we're not turning pucks over in dangerous areas," Toews said. "A lot of times we did have time to skate it and time to control it down in their zone. If we can do that and stay with our game a little bit more, I think we'll be better off."

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