Updated: April 22, 2014 12:04AM
Veteran center Michal Handzus was credited with three blocked shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their Western Conference first-round series at the United Center. But it seemed like 30. It was one of those nights.
Every selfless defensive play was magnified in a huge playoff game in which the Blackhawks spent 55 minutes protecting a one-goal lead — most precariously in a third period that at times looked like a 20-minute penalty kill. At 37, Handzus came up as big as the Hawks needed him to.
“He can hardly walk,’’ 25-year-old Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “He’s got ice bags strapped to every limb. And he still goes out there and puts his body on the line every game.
“When an older guy, a more experienced guy like that is laying it on the line and wants it that bad, it sends a message throughout your locker room. It sure as hell did tonight.”
Handzus only had 12:18 of ice time in Game 3. But more than a quarter of that (3:45) was on the penalty kill. Handzus blocked shots twice in a 10-second span in the third period as the Blackhawks were finishing off Marcus Kruger’s holding penalty. It had the United Center crowd chanting ‘Zeus’ in celebration of a job well done by a player many of them were probably demanding to be benched just a day or two earlier.
“It’s fun, but you’re in the game, you don’t hear it too much” a sheepish Handzus said. “But I heard it. The guys were killing me on the bench.”
Handzus earned the “championship belt” the team awards to the player of the game.
“The doctor — he’s a warrior,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You can’t say enough to what he brings the team and the little things he does so well. He leaves it out there. He’s a great pro.”
But despite all the accolades for his performance, Handzus was a reluctant hero.
“I don’t think I had a very good game,” Handzus said. “I blocked a couple of shots and that’s about it. You want to help as much as you can with anything that you can. Obviously today it was me blocking shots. But I feel I can play way better than I played tonight.”
Though it was a valiant effort, Handzus was just hanging on with the rest of his teammates in a shaky third period against the Blues. He seemed to know that after the Hawks lost one-goal leads in the third period in Games 1 and 2, they got away with one this time.
“I thought it was maybe our worst third period in [the series],” Handzus said. “We were really passive and we didn’t skate as much. We didn’t play with the puck. We didn’t sustain presure on them in their zone.
“They were coming at us with really high speed. They had the chances. We were kind of on our heels. But Crow [goaltender Corey Crawford] played great and stepped up big time. I think we know we need to play a little bit better than we did [Monday night]. But we won it and that’s all that matters. Now we’ve got to focus on Game 4.”