ST. LOUIS – The hitting came early and often on the Chicago Blackhawks, much as they expected. But here’s the thing about all that physicality: scoring usually trumps it.
Bryan Bickell scored the game-winner and Corey Crawford notched his third shutout of the season as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 2-0 at Scottrade Center on Sunday afternoon. The Blackhawks have now won five in a row as they focus on playing at the highest level possible as the playoffs loom.
Marian Hossa scored a short-handed goal for the Blackhawks, who had a somewhat black-and-blue game, at least to start. But they weathered that part of it, avoided post-whistle retaliation, and totaled numbers in the category that counted.
“We stuck together there and got better as the first went on,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Physically, they were read to play, so getting the lead was important. We stuck together and played a strong game.”
The Blackhawks, who got center Dave Bolland back from a lower-leg injury on Sunday, were without Patrick Sharp (upper body), who is also likely out tomorrow vs. Dallas. And one of those Blues hits left Jonathan Toews hobbled late in the first period. Blues forward David Backes collided with the Blackhawks captain, knee to knee, prompting Toews’ trip to the locker room. But Toews returned to start the second, and assisted on Hossa’s goal.
Toews said afterward that the knee was fine, and that the Blackhawks just rolled with what the Blues were dishing out.
“There’ll be some adversity. There’s a lot of physical play, running around. But as the game went on we just stuck with it; it didn’t frustrate us,” he said. “Of course there’s going to be some frustration; you have to step up and defend yourself and your teammate. But for the most part we did a good job of staying out of all the stuff that happens after the whistles.”
The Blackhawks got “revenge” their way: by scoring. And against Brian Elliott, that hasn’t been easy lately. Bickell broke through in the second period, knocking a rebound past Elliott for a 1-0 lead. It was the first goal Elliott had given up in 214 minutes.
“They check well and the play that tight game and don’t give up much space and time. It’s different game when (a team’s) chasing,” Quenneville said. “It’s so important to get the first one.”
After that, Crawford did the rest. Crawford was strong in his second consecutive start, stopping all 30 shots for the shutout.
“Guys are battling; blocked shots, loose stuff, they’re taking away sticks,” Crawford said of the Blackhawks in front of him. “They’re getting their bodies out of there. It’s a good job when everyone comes down and clears those pucks. Makes it easier.”
Hossa’s goal, his 15th of the season, was big insurance just 6:34 into the third period. Hossa said he was just listening to the captain.
“Johnny told me where to stand,” Hossa said. “He’s so good in the faceoffs and I tried to open up and just take a slap shot. I didn’t hit it exactly where I wanted to, but it was a good bounce.”
No, the Blackhawks aren’t going to match a team like the Blues hit for hit. They’ll take their lumps, fight for their space and bide their time. It worked on Sunday. And they know it’ll have to work in the postseason, too.
“It’s physical, there’s not much room to move,” Hossa said. “Every game’s different, but we have to be ready for that type of hockey. There’s not much room t dangle and play the nice hockey like we do sometimes during the (regular) season. That’s how it’s going to be.”