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Morin making case for playoffs; Blackhawks drop rival Blues

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Updated: April 6, 2014 4:24PM

Early in the first period of Sunday afternoon’s game against the Blues, Blackhawks forward Jeremy Morin attempted to launch his shoulder into Patrik Berglund, only to catch nothing but air. Morin’s momentum carried him into his own bench, his head in his teammates’ laps and his feet dangling over the ice, his torso riding the top of the boards for a good four or five feet.

It might be the last time Morin rides the Hawks bench for a while.

Morin continued making his case for a spot in the playoff lineup with a goal and an assist as the Hawks beat the rival Blues 4-2, their third win in four days without the injured Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

“I’m just more comfortable out there,” said Morin, who has two goals and two assists in the three-game streak. “I’m not really thinking. Before, I was kind of thinking too much. I’m just kind of playing the game right now. … It’s a lot of fun.”

Winning usually is. The Hawks withstood the usual St. Louis physical onslaught, dominated the puck and held the Blues to just 23 shots on goal despite missing defensive standouts Toews, Brandon Saad (healthy scratch) and Johnny Oduya (lower-body injury) — as well as Kane, one of the game’s best possession players. It was their second convincing win over the Blues in three weeks after dropping the first three in nail-biting fashion.

The Hawks can’t catch the Blues for the division title — they’re still chasing Colorado for second place — but they certainly sent a message that the top team in the Western Conference won’t have it easy should the two rivals meet in the second round.

More importantly, the win reinforced the message the Hawks have sent themselves all week, that if they focus on their team defense and keep things simple offensively, they can win no matter who’s out of the lineup.

“Without the top guys, mentally, we’re thinking, OK, we have to play stronger defensively — that’s how we’re going to get a chance to win the game, because we don’t have as much offensive power,” said Marian Hossa, who had no points but was a menace at both ends of the ice.

St. Louis had been 41-2-5 after scoring first, which they did when Jaden Schwartz scored 12 seconds into an early power play. The Hawks took over from there, though it took until Morin crashed the net to knock in a Bryan Bickell rebound at 8:23 of the second period to tie the game at 1-1. Patrick Sharp then scored on a two-on-one in the final minute of the period, one-timing a perfect pass from Morin after the pair was sprung by a Shaw pass.

Marcus Kruger made it 3-1 less than a minute into the third period, going hard to the net himself and putting home a Joakim Nordstrom rebound. Vladimir Sobotka scored with 2:02 left, but Ben Smith scored an empty-netter with 3.3 seconds left.

As Corey Crawford pointed out, the Blues weren’t at full strength, either, with leading-scorer Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko both hurt. But that didn’t diminish the significance of another gutty victory.

One week earlier, the Hawks were mired in a three-game losing streak, and coming to grips with the loss of their captain. Quenneville said the Hawks were “on fumes” at that point. Now, after a three-day respite followed by a three-game win streak, the Hawks are building confidence and momentum — and creating some difficult lineup decisions for Quenneville — at just the right time.

“A very workmanlike three games in a row, and we got rewarded each night,” Quenneville said. “It was a good week for us. I like our response to a real tough week prior.”


Twitter: @marklazerus

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