Jonathan Toews got the Chicago Blackhawks on the board just over four minutes into Monday's game inside the United Center, and the defending champions didn't slow their roll throughout the night as they went on to record a 2-0 shutout victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their opening-round playoff series.
Like the two previous matchups throughout the postseason, Monday's game could have really gone either way as the Blues put on a strong performance — head coach Ken Hitchcock went as far as to say it was one of the best road games he's seen from his team — especially throughout the first and third periods. It wasn't until Marcus Kruger scored an empty-net insurance goal with just 19.2 seconds remaining in the night that Blackhawks fans could let out a sigh of relief.
Now as the last few games of the series play out, both teams will have to focus on the small details in order to squeak out wins. Head coach Ken Hitchcock said the Blues have a tough one to prepare for as Game 4 approaches now that the Blackhawks have gained some momentum from their win.
"(The Blackhawks) said it. They felt like we got away with one in Game 2 and they got away with one in Game 3, so 2-1 for either team is probably where the series should be at," Hitchcock said on Tuesday. "They said it best today when they felt like (Corey) Crawford was the difference for them and a timely goal or two was the difference for us in Game 2. It is what it is, but it's who's going to move forward from here because we still have home ice advantage, which we're going to obviously need, but we've got to take advantage of it by playing better and better in a few elements of our game will give us a better chance to win the hockey game because I thought we had them had them pushed pretty hard yesterday early and late but not in the middle where we needed to build some more momentum."
It was good showing from both teams on Monday night, but it was Crawford who turned out to be the X-factor for the Blackhawks as he went on to make 34 saves for his third-career postseason shutout. At this point, the Blues are taking the time to acknowledge what they did wrong in their loss, but for the most part they're trying to take advantage of their rest time prior to Game 4.
A postseason series is always a tough grind for NHL players, and that's especially been the case for the Blackhawks and Blues over the last week. But the Blues aren't letting that take away from all they've experienced the last three games.
Despite Monday's outcome, defenseman Barret Jackman said he and his teammates are enjoying the rush that playing the Blackhawks brings.
“It's fun. You see the triple-overtime game, I don't think many guys have experienced that," he said. "You're exhausted, but at the end of it you sit back and you're pretty excited, obviously, that it went our way. It was fun to be a part of. And then Game 2, it was the same intensity and it went our way again, but it could have went in Chicago's favor.
"It was a battle, big hits, a lot of stuff after the whistle and between the whistles," Jackman continued. "That is what playoff hockey is all about. In Game 3, I thought we played well, but Chicago got the edge. That's the way the series is gonna go. We didn't think it would be a four-game series and I'm sure they didn't either. It's the way a lot of people saw it would play out. Right now, we're up 2-1 and have a pretty big game coming up.”