CHICAGO -- Whether or not the Chicago Blackhawks admit to letting their minds wander to Games 1 and 2 of their first-round series with the St. Louis Blues in the final minutes of Monday's Game 3, everyone else watching was likely doing just that.
It wasn’t difficult to connect the dots between the three games. The Blackhawks had taken a one-goal lead into the final two minutes against the Blues in the first two series games, and those contests ended terribly for the Blackhawks. The Blues twice scored dramatic tying goals in the third period and finished off the Blackhawks in overtime. Chicago could have easily been up 2-0 in the series, but was down 2-0.
Game 3 was following that same script. The Blackhawks took a 1-0 lead into the game’s final minutes. The Blues pushed and pushed for the equalizer just as they had in the first two games, but this time the Blackhawks were able to thwart them and close out the victory. With the addition of an empty-net goal in the final minute, the Blackhawks defeated the Blues 2-0 at the United Center.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville felt the win could do wonders psychologically for his team considering how crushing the first two games were.
“Absolutely,” Quenneville said of the importance of winning like that. “It was tough walking in here yesterday down 2-0 and could have one in there at least. So it was two brutal losses, and today was a little tight at the end as well. I think from that we can get a lot of momentum and enthusiasm off it, certainly confidence the stretch as well in games.”
Goaltender Corey Crawford, who stopped 34 shots, thought adversity in the past helped the Blackhawks overcome this latest trouble spot.
"I mean, losing back-to-back in OT after having the lead in the third and having them tying it up late, that's definitely hard to take,” Crawford said. “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."
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews didn’t think he and his teammates were thinking specifically about their recent results in Monday's final minutes, but he thought they learned some lessons from them.
“In some instance, 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."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said he wasn’t surprised by the Blackhawks battled to win Game 3. He knew they weren’t going to easily disappear just because they were dealt two early losses in the series.
“I said this morning when you're knocking off just a team in the league, different animal,” Hitchcock said. “You're knocking off the defending champion. They're not the defending champion because they have skill; it's because they've got resolve. You're trying to beat their resolve. You're not trying to beat their skill. Everybody's got skill and it is one helluva challenge.
“Sometimes you do it, and sometimes you don't, but I can tell you one thing, every time we play like we played, we get better as a team and better as an organization and we get closer and closer," Hitchcock added. "They know that we're not going away easy. 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 [David] 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.”