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Last-minute goal hands Blackhawks first regulation loss of season

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Updated: November 2, 2013 12:42AM



ST. LOUIS — There’s no way of knowing what the Central Division standings will look like 79 games from now. No way to tell if the Blackhawks will look back on the two points they gave up in Wednesday night’s gut-wrenching, last-minute loss to the St. Louis Blues as the ones that got away. They very well might mean nothing in the long run — after all, the Hawks finished 17 points ahead of St. Louis last season in a mere 48 games.

But right now? In the short term?

“It’s frustrating,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said after Alexander Steen scored on a three-on-one with 21.1 seconds left to give the Blues a 3-2 victory in a rollicking affair at Scottrade Center. “That’s two games in a row. I feel like tonight we got robbed of two points. And last game [against Tampa Bay], we got robbed of one point, just from making some small mistakes late in the game. Normally, that would be when we feel like we take over and we get even better.”

Instead, after squandering a 2-0 third-period lead and settling for a shootout loss against the Lightning on Saturday, the Hawks squandered a stellar Corey Crawford performance (31 saves) and two power-play goals, coming up empty against the Blues.

It was the manner in which the Hawks gave up the game-winner that had Joel Quenneville upset. As the clock wound down, the Hawks had the puck deep in the Blues’ zone. And instead of playing it safe, they went for the jugular. With three forwards already down low, defenseman Brent Seabrook pinched in, too. So when Toews’ soft shot toward the goalmouth was taken by St. Louis’ Alex Pietrangelo, it left only Duncan Keith back to defend against a sudden three-on-one. Crawford was kicking himself for not making a save he said he makes “a bunch of times,” but Quenneville blamed the over-aggressive play of his team.

“Brutal loss,” he said. “Look back at the last three points we left on the table. We’ve got to get that game to overtime. I don’t know what we were thinking about. We’ll take one [point] and then maybe two. Getting none is unacceptable.”

The loss soured what had been a tremendous back-and-forth game, and a strong effort from the Hawks, who twice answered St. Louis goals almost immediately. Despite a sparse (albeit boisterous) crowd affected by the Blues’ “Keep the Red Out” effort and the Cardinals playoff game down the street, the game lived up to the made-for-TV “Rivalry Night” billing as the two powerhouses matched punch for punch, hit for hit, and big Crawford save for big Jaroslav Halak save.

“It was a great hockey game,” Quenneville said. “To come up with nothing, it hurts right now.”

Vladimir Tarasenko gave the Blues a 1-0 lead late in the first period — on another odd-man rush, this one precipitated by a rare Marian Hossa giveaway in the neutral zone — but Patrick Kane tied it up 77 seconds later, just seven seconds into a power play.

After David Backes deflected Pietrangelo’s shot past Crawford on a power play midway through the second, Toews scored 39 seconds later, swatting in a Kane rebound just 15 seconds into another power play.

So the Hawks’ penalty-killing unit — so strong last season — gave up a fifth power play goal in its eighth kill (it later killed off a penalty in the third). And the Hawks’ power-play unit — so weak last season — scored two power play goals in 22 seconds, upping its total to four in three games.

Quenneville had Michal Handzus taking most of the shorthanded shifts alongside Marcus Kruger, with rookie Joakim Nordstrom getting only five seconds of PK time — the time it took for T.J. Oshie to win a faceoff against Kruger, and for Pietrangelo to fire and Backes to score.

“Want to get it stabilized a little bit,” Quenneville said of the personnel switch. “[The power play] was very encouraging. And it was all shots. After the shots, [good] things happened.”

But in the end, “one play, as Quenneville put it, cost the Hawks a chance to at least get a point, and gave them their first regulation loss of the year — preseason included. So there’ll be no 24-game point streak this time around, and more importantly, no huge early cushion in the Central Division. The Blues are considered Stanley Cup contenders for a reason, and this game was only the opening salvo in what could be a season-long battle — one in which every point counts.

“We paid the price, we’ve given away a potential three points from some of those mistakes,” Toews said. “It’s not one or two guys, it’s everyone that has to learn from it. We’ll move forward. We’re not going to sit around and make excuses and dwell on it, but we have to be better.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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