Dave Bolland scored what would prove to be the lone shootout goal in the fourth round and Corey Crawford stopped all four he faced to lift the Chicago Blackhawks to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues Thursday night.
With the win, the sixth-place Blackhawks have posted a 6-1-1 record over the course of their last eight contests, pulling to within a single point of the Nashville Predators and just two short of the Detroit Red Wings -- both of which hold a game in hand on the 'Hawks. With 95 points, Chicago moved seven points ahead of the seventh-place Los Angeles Kings and eighth-place San Jose Sharks, and gave them nine points more than the 10th-place Phoenix Coyotes (totals not including the outcome of the San Jose-Phoenix late game).
The shootout loss snapped a two-game winning streak and gave the Blues an NHL-high 106 points, but losing the extra point spoiled what would have been a Central Division-clinching night. With four contests left in their schedule, the Blue Notes hold a nine-point lead on Detroit, who have five games remaining.
It was actually the first game in the last four that the stingy Blues defense would even allow a goal, as Brian Elliott had posted shutouts in the last three contests (2-0-1).
Two goals would be scored midway through the first period -- one by each team -- encompassing all of a nine-second span.
Chicago got on the board first when Bryan Bickell's shot from the top of the left circle appeared to surprise Halak and squeezed through the netminder's body and left arm and into the net for Bickell's ninth goal of the year at 10:38 of the opening stanza.
But the United Center crowd barely had time to celebrate the Blackhawks tally, as Alexander Steen took a pass from Kris Russell and sent a shot past Crawford and inside the far goal post for his 14th goal of the season just nine seconds later to knot the score at 1-1.
Halak would be tested heavily as Chicago poured shots at the St. Louis cage, outshooting the Blues by a wide 24-11 margin through two periods. But the goalie would not yield, keeping his team tied at 1-1 heading into the third.
The Blackhawks kept the pressure on the St. Louis net early in the third frame, and they would capitalize to take the lead when Andrew Brunette was able to corral the rebound of a Patrick Kane rebound and backhand a shot for his 12th goal of the year at the 4:15 mark.
Carlo Colaiacovo lost control of the puck as the last man back and fell to the ice, giving Chicago a two-on-zero breakaway on Halak. Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg worked the give-and-go to perfection, as Sharp took a pass from Stalberg to Halak's right and snapped a quick one-timer past the netminder for his 31st goal of the season to give the home team a 3-1 lead at 8:40.
As they had in the first period, the Blues would again use the quick-strike response, this time scoring just 55 seconds after Sharp's goal. This time it was Jason Arnott doing the honors, beating Crawford on his own rebound for his 17th of the year to cut the Chicago lead to 3-2 with 10:25 remaining in regulation time.
It looked as though the 'Hawks would hold on for the victory until late in the third, when David Perron deflected a Russell point shot past Crawford for his 18th of the season with only 1:32 left in regulation to even the score at 3-3.
After overtime couldn't determine a winner -- despite the Blackhawks' 7-2 advantage in shots on goal in the five-minute session, making it a 40-20 Chicago margin for the contest -- and the game was destined for the shootout.
Halak stoned Kane, Sharp, and Stalberg in succession, and Crawford stopped Perron, T.J. Oshie, and Steen to send the skills competition to a fourth round.
Bolland faked a shot that dropped Halak to the ice, and the 'Hawks center stick-handled around the goalie and tucked a forehand shot past Halak's desperation dive.
Patrik Berglund had an opportunity to keep the game alive if he could score, but after his shot beat Crawford to the blocker side, it hit the goal post and stayed out to give Chicago the win.
Chicago improved to 6-5 in the shootout. St. Louis fell to just 4-9.