Four minutes into regulation, Blackhawks defenseman Sheldon Brookbank fired a pass across the “Stanley Cup Playoffs” logo in his own zone to fellow defender Duncan Keith. Keith carried the puck up ice, roping a perfect pass to forward Jonathan Toews, who picked it up in stride at the midline and entered the Blues’ zone. Chicago was outnumbered 3-2. Patrick Kane had followed his captain into the offensive zone, but he was well-behind the play on the left wing and there were two Blues skaters begging him to make a move for the puck.
The play was defended so that Toews could only do one of two things: pull up and let his team reset its offense or fire a shot on net.
He opted for the latter, lobbing a shot towards goalie Ryan Miller from just above the right circle.
Usually, that’s a routine save—it’s a relatively soft shot from almost 25 feet away. But Monday night, that seemingly harmless shot somehow found a way through Miller’s pads and into the back of the net.
He stopped 23 of 24 shots, but the third shot of the game proved to be the difference. Chicago went on to add an empty netter at the end of regulation and claim Game 3 2-0.
"It's not a good goal. We'll leave it at that," Miller said.
“It was a weird puck,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “I didn't get to see it obviously because I was facing [Toews]. But he says it just takes 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.”
“We knew we were going to play well today. We're really starting to gain out confidence back again and we're going to need every piece of it to beat this team,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “But [Miller] has bailed us out so many times here especially late in hockey games. It wasn't a big deal. We knew we could weather any storm they were going to throw at us and keep going. I thought after that, we really started to play.”
It was a disappointing, but not frustrating loss.
The Blues absolutely outplayed Chicago.
In fact, they downright dominated that game.
"Best game by far. Played a great game," Hitchcock said. "Would have been nice to see ... a little bit of the momentum got taken away when we had to do some PK, but man we poured a lot into today. We really played well, we did a lot of things that you want. That's one of the best road games I've seen us play.
They outshot their opponent 34-25, racked up 41 hits (27 for Hawks), committed only three giveaways, picked up nine takeaways and were a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill. The only negatives could be found in the faceoff circle (won 27 of 66) and on the power play (0-for-4, now 1-for last 13). However, Hitchcock was even able to extrapolate some positives from the team’s sagging power play.
"I really liked our power play today. I really liked it," Hitchcock said. "We made a lot of adjustments. For having like 10 minutes of practice, I thought our guys really did a good job on the power play."
The difference on Monday night was Corey Crawford. After allowing eight goals through two games, he buckled down in Game 3, denying all 34 shots he faced for his third career playoff shutout.
"I'm just going shot by shot," Crawford said. "It's all I could do the whole game was worry about the next one and focus on the next shot and stop that. I don't want anything else going through my mind through that hockey game."
“[Crawford] made some saves ... we saw three from our bench he made, didn't even see; just hit him,” Hitchcock said. “We've got to stay the course. If we continue to play at this pace, at this level, we're hoping that that's good enough to win the next game.”
The product on the ice was clearly tilted towards the visitors. Their physicality was once again the story of the game. Defensively, they suffocated the Hawks, denying them clean access into the zone and forcing them to the periphery whenever they did manage to get it across the blueline.
If they can duplicate Monday’s performance on Wednesday night, the Blues will return to St. Louis with a chance to clinch the best of seven series Friday night.
"They know that we're not going away easy,” Hitchcock said. “If we're not good enough at the end of the day, that's fine, but we're not going away in any game. This is the level we're going to play at. We get Backes back in the next two or three games, we're going to even go higher, and if that isn't good enough, that's not good enough, but it has nothing to do with blowing games like some track stars write about. There's a certain resolve that is required to win a championship, and that team over there's got it and we're trying to take it back from them.”
"We didn't win the game," forward Alexander Steen said. "The focus is not to come in and have a decent hockey game. It's to win the game. We're obviously not happy we lost the game. We'll regroup, bring the positives from this one.”
Brian Haenchen is a St. Louis Blues hockey and Saint Louis men’s basketball columnist for InsideSTL. Follow him on Twitter @Brian_Haenchen and check out his website Hank’s Sports Blog.