Chicago-- The Chicago Blackhawks stepped onto the ice and made a statement against the seemingly unstoppable St. Louis Blues Wednesday at the United Center.
The Blackhawks knew they had to play a complete game against the first place Blues in order to keep pace in the central division. Currently sitting in third place, eight points behind the St. Louis and one behind Colorado, The Blackhawks knew there was a statement to be made tonight; that they are still an elite team in the NHL. With Colorado losing in Winnipeg, the Hawks had the opportunity to move into sole possession of second place, and they were on a mission. The game was full of intensity from first puck drop, with both teams battling with the speed and physicality brought out by playoff-type atmosphere, and also may be a potential Western Conference Finals matchup.
St. Louis headed into the matchup at the United Center as the favorite with the mentality that they are the kings of the central division. Since goaltender Ryan Miller joined the team via trade he has put up remarkable numbers going 8-0-1 in his first nine games, and the Blues have also dominated the Central Division for the entire season compiling an undefeated record of 20-0-1. With Tuesday night's gut wrenching overtime loss in Philadelphia, the Blackhawks knew they had to accept the loss and forget about it as quickly as possible because the St. Louis Blues were already waiting in Chicago.
The result was a dominating 4-0 victory for the defending Stanley Cup Champions with points being scored by Duncan Keith, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith, and, not to mention, a perfect night from goaltender Corey Crawford, who earned his second shutout of the season saving all 23 shots thrown in his direction. The Blackhawks played a very well rounded game for 60 minutes with great puck control, solid defense and constant bodies in front of Ryan Miller, and were able to pull out a scrappy win against the Central Division leaders.
The victory was important for the Blackhawks for more reasons than just Central Division standings, as both Joel Quenneville and Michal Handzus earning career milestones. Quenneville, who earned his 700th career victory as an NHL head coach, could not ask for a better team effort in the victory, and Michal Handzus delivered a solid performance playing in his 1,000th NHL game until ending his night in the penalty box with exactly two minutes left in regulation.
The victory, unfortunately, was taken with a grain of salt as the Blackhawk's leading scorer, Patrick Kane, was injured late in the second period after a collision with the Blues Brenden Morrow. After further examination the initial time Kane is expected to miss is around three weeks, which brings and end to his regular season. With only 12 games left in the season, and a very heated Central Division race, it becomes crunch time for the the Hawks. The final three weeks of the season are going to be a great test for the Blackhawks, but they know that, even without their leading scorer, they match up well with any team in the league and have a chance to win every night.