CHICAGO | Even though they won Game 3 against the St. Louis Blues 2-0 behind Corey Crawford’s stouthearted performance in goal, the Blackhawks realize they need to amp up their efforts tonight in an attempt to tie their Western Conference quarterfinals series.
The Blues defense stopped the Hawks cold offensively after Jonathan Toews’ early goal, which Crawford nimbly nursed as a lead until Marcus Kruger tallied an empty-net goal with 20 seconds left.
The Hawks admitted the Blues had them on their heels throughout the third period, and they won’t always be able to survive such an onslaught without responding accordingly.
Despite Crawford’s masterful shutout, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said his team played its best game so far in the series. If the Blues, intensely desirous of the Hawks’ championship success, elevate their game beyond that high base, trouble lurks.
“That's something that we can probably get better on,” Hawks winger Patrick Kane said.
He will likely continue teaming up with Toews and Bryan Bickell in a loaded line for Game 4 and beyond.
Chicago apparently cannot drop into a defensive stance once they get a lead against the Blues.
“Especially the first three games of this series, you have leads in the third period,” Kane said. “It kind of feels like you’re sitting back a little bit. I think it’s important to get in the offensive zone, have some shifts down there and take the pressure off your defense and your goaltender.
“It seems like it’s kind of been the same trend the first three games of the series. (In Game 3) we kind of got away with it and ended up winning the game. It’s important to not sit back when you have the lead, especially in the third, kind of step on the gas and try to keep them in their end.
“(St. Louis is) a good team. You got to give them credit for the way they play. I feel they’re a group that really want to prove themselves, too. It’s a tough matchup for us and a great challenge.”
The Blues outshooting them 34-25 is an uncommon occurrence this season.
“I think it’s just tightening up our zone a little bit and just getting the puck out of our zone a little cleaner,” Hawks defenseman Sheldon Brookbank said. “The less time we spend down in our zone, the less opportunities they’re going to have. They got a lot of shots on the power play, stuff like that. ... We’re just going to lock it down a little more in our own zone and keep them out of there.”
The United Center crowd will need to be an even more raucous sixth man to help the Hawks against what seems to be their most determined playoff opponent throughout their Stanley Cup contending seasons.
“The next game’s huge,” Kane said. “I thought the crowd was really into it (Monday), which gave us some confidence and some energy. It probably was one of the loudest I heard since I’ve been here.
“Our team’s been through a lot, whether it’s been different situation, where we won or where we lost, too. We’ve learned a lot and have a lot of experience in this locker room that we can kind of look back to and rely on. That’s been one of our strengths with our team.”