CHICAGO – Back from a long and successful road trip and playing on home ice for the first time in 16 days, the Chicago Blackhawks were nearly lulled into a false sense of security.
Looking strong with a 5-1 lead, the defending Stanley Cup champions eventually needed late goals from young stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to hold off a determined rally by the St. Louis Blues for a 7-5 victory Tuesday night.
“It’s easy to feel you’re losing the game all of a sudden. The momentum swung so much in their favour,” Toews said after Chicago improved its home record to 6-7.
“It was a huge difference from when we’ve been there before, when we’ve given away games in our own building. Everybody on the bench was positive. … But you shouldn’t have to score five, six, seven goals to win.”
Kane scored on a rebound off a shot by Viktor Stalberg with 6:18 left to put the Blackhawks up 6-4. Toews then added his second power-play goal of the night about two minutes later to give Chicago a three-goal cushion on its way to a third straight win.
David Backes scored for St. Louis with 2:39 left, but the Blues couldn’t come all the way back and lost their third consecutive game.
“We kind of stopped playing there when we had a lead,” said Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, who got his team-leading 16th goal in the first period. “It seems like we’ve done that a few times this year. Nice to see the response after the timeout.”
That timeout came after the Blues scored three times to make it 5-4. And apparently coach Joel Quenneville had plenty to say as his team struggled to keep it together.
“We were a little too casual there in the third to start the period and they got themselves back in the hockey game. We’ve had some games like this in the past, where we need to be looking to make it 6-2, rather than be happy with what we have,” Quenneville said.
“Tonight was a real dangerous game, first game back after a long trip, against a team that plays hard. You’ve got to stick with it mentally in games like this.'”
Tomas Kopecky had a goal and three assists and Troy Brouwer also scored for Chicago. Rookie goalie Corey Crawford ran his winning streak to five games, holding off the Blues’ rally. He made 21 saves.
Patrik Berglund, Eric Brewer, Alex Pietrangelo and Brad Boyes scored goals for the Blues, while Backes and Vladimir Sobotka had three assists apiece.
“At that point you really have nothing to lose. You’re down by four,” Backes said of the Blues’ rally. “You’re in the new NHL and anything is possible. We’ve had teams come back on us. We showed a little bit of that, but kicked the offence a little too much and didn’t continue to take care of our defensive zone.”
Playing without injured forward Marian Hossa, the Blackhawks appeared to build a comfortable lead with three second-period goals against Blues backup goalie Ty Conklin.
But St. Louis, which did some switching with its top two lines to start the game, rallied with three goals in an 8:32 span of the second and third periods to make it a one-score game.
“We obviously needed to play a little bit longer before we gave up that sixth goal,” Blues coach Davis Payne said. “We felt we were doing some things out there.”
Hossa is expected to miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury after colliding with teammate Nick Boynton during practice Monday.
Jeremy Morin, just called up from the minors with Hossa out, made an immediate impact. His hard check behind the net on Nikita Nikitin forced an errant pass, and Kopecky collected the puck in the right circle and rifled it past Conklin just 4:38 into the game.
The Blues tied it with about three minutes to go in the opening period on some nice 3-on-2 passing. Backes skated in the centre with the puck, moved it to Sobotka, who made a crossing pass to Berglund for the score.
Just two minutes later, Sharp skated down the right side, faked a pass to get Pietrangelo off balance and then converted for his 16th goal of the season to make it 2-1.
Morin got an assist on Chicago’s third goal early in the second on a power play when the Blackhawks took advantage of a strange bounce. Morin dumped the puck in and when Conklin went behind the net to make a play, it bounded off the glass and came right out in front of the unguarded goal. Brouwer was there to tap it in for a 3-1 lead.
Toews took a pass from Kane just to the right of the net and quickly stuffed a shot between a falling Conklin’s legs for a 4-1 lead. Kane scored Chicago’s third goal of the period, poking in a shot from in front on a nice pass from Stalberg. Brewer’s shot from the slot late in the period eluded a screened Crawford and made it 5-2.
Pietrangelo’s long slap shot from beyond the right circle made it 5-3 early in the third and Boyes’ rebound about three minutes later cut it to one, prompting the Blackhawks to take a timeout.
NOTES: Sharp, the Blackhawks’ leading scorer, has goals in five straight games.