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Crawford shuts out Blues as Blackhawks take Game 3

Updated: April 22, 2014 3:28PM

Corey Crawford and Joel Quenneville had a chat on Sunday.

It didn’t take long.

“The task at hand was pretty obvious,” Crawford said. “The performance we needed was obvious, too.”

Crawford made a statement to his teammates and his coach by calling himself out after allowing goals late in Games 1 and 2, then losing in overtime. He made a bigger one on Monday by bouncing back with a 2-0 shutout of St. Louis in Game 3, making 34 saves and keeping the relentless Blues off the scoreboard in an excruciating third period. The Blackhawks now trail the first-round series 2-1, with Game 4 on Wednesday night at the United Center.

The Hawks needed every one of those saves, as Crawford made Jonathan Toews’ early soft goal on Ryan Miller stand up for more than 50 tense minutes until Marcus Kruger’s empty-netter with 20 seconds left allowed the 22,112 fans at the United Center to finally exhxale.

Michal Handzus called it the Hawks’ worst third period of the series, as the Blues camped out in the offensive zone and peppered Crawford with 11 shots. But they never beat him.

“They had the chances, we were kind of on our heels,” Handzus said. “But Crow played great and he stepped up, big-time.”

Toews was glad to see it. He also was glad to see him step up and assume responsibility after Game 2.

“It just sets an example for everyone in this room when you have guys with attitudes like that, that are very selfless and not thinking about themselves and whether they’re being criticized or not,” Toews said. “He wants to win. That’s all that matters to him. And I think that shows a lot to the rest of the guys in the room.”

With the score so close and the stakes so high, everything else — the scrums, the dirty play, the revenge for Brent Seabrook’s high hit that knocked out Blues captain David Backes and earned Seabrook a three-game suspension — faded away. It was two very good teams playing very good hockey. And the Blues were the better team for much of the night, playing their best game of the series. They dominated the puck and kept the pressure on Crawford all night.

But Crawford stood tall to record his third career postseason shutout. He got plenty of help by the likes of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Handzus, who blocked several shots on the penalty kill; Sheldon Brookbank, who stepped in admirably for Seabrook; and Bryan Bickell, who delivered a game-high eight hits while staying within the bounds of legality. In all, the Hawks blocked 24 shots and killed three power plays — offsetting a dreadful power play (0-for-4) and an offense that was suffocated by the Blues.

Toews’ seemingly harmless wrist shot four minutes into the game somehow went through Miller’s legs, and that’s all it took.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called it his team’s “best game by far.”

“We did a lot of the things we needed to do to win the hockey game, but you’ve got to give their goalie credit,” he said. “He was good, especially late.”

And because of that, the Hawks are right back in the series.

“It was tough walking in here [Sunday] down two-zip; we could have had one in there, at least,” Quenneville said. “I think that we can get a lot of momentum and enthusiasm off [the win], and certainly some confidence down the stretch.”

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