CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks are taking a more direct approach to generating offence without injured star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
So far, it’s working.
Rookie Jeremy Morin scored and set up Patrick Sharp’s go-ahead goal in the second period, and injury-depleted Chicago held on to defeat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday afternoon for its third straight win.
The Blackhawks ground out the victory despite playing without Toews’ powerful skating and Kane’s puck-handling skills for the third game. Forward Brandon Saad was a last-minute scratch.
“We’ve simplified our game quite a bit,” said Sharp, who scored his team-leading 33rd goal. “We’re not trying to make as many plays offensively. We’re battling hard.
“Usually when you battle hard individually and as a team, good things happen. We’ve raised our battle level lately, but we’re just keeping things simple. Getting pucks in, getting pucks out.”
And some younger players, such as Morin, are getting more ice time and showing just how deep defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago is.
“I’m just taking it day by day every time I’m in the lineup, trying to make the most of it,” Morin said. “We’re comfortable out there.
“I’m just playing the game right now and letting things come.”
Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith also scored for Chicago, which is two points behind Colorado for second place in the Central Division and home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks have three games left. The Avalanche, who lost in a shootout to Pittsburgh on Sunday night, have four games remaining.
Toews, Chicago’s captain, sat out his third game with an upper-body injury suffered last Sunday when he was drilled by Pittsburgh defenceman Brooks Orpik. Kane, who has resumed skating, missed his ninth with a lower-body injury suffered against the Blues on March 19.
Toews and Kane are expected to return for the start of the playoffs.
Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka connected for St. Louis, which lost its second straight and remained two points behind idle Boston for the NHL’s overall point lead and race for the Presidents’ Trophy.
Both the Blues and Bruins have four games remaining.
Chicago’s Corey Crawford made 21 saves and St. Louis’ Brian Elliott made 31.
“We had moments where we did everything to ourselves and gave them opportunities really out of nothing,” Elliott said. “It’s a wake-up call right now and we’ve got to figure it out.”
The Blues skated without two of their top forwards, including leading goal scorer Alexander Steen who missed his third game with an upper-body injury. Vladimir Tarasenko has been sidelined since mid-March with a hand injury.
The Blues, who were shut out by Colorado on Saturday, have scored two goals or fewer in eight of their past 10 games.
St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said his team is looking a “little bit tired” and needs to “find a way to re-energize” and start skating, buzzing and shooting again in the offensive zone.
“Our offensive game is based on offensive energy,” Hitchcock said. “When we don’t have it, we don’t have near enough zone time.
“We score by volume (of chances) and when we don’t get the volume we don’t score. The last couple of games we haven’t gotten the volume we normally get.”
Blues defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk agreed.
“A lot of our offence comes when we’re grinding away down low,” he said. “When we’re shooting, there’s rebounds and we’re beating guys to pucks.”
Chicago dominated territorially in the chippy first period and outshot the Blues 11-3, but trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes.
Schwartz’s power-play goal at 1:57 of the first opened the scoring. After taking Brenden Morrow’s pass, Schwartz fired from the left circle, but his shot hit traffic in front of the net and bounded back to him. His second shot got through the screen and beat Crawford low.
Crawford made a pad save on Patrik Berglund’s short-handed breakaway attempt midway through the first.
Elliott stopped several prime Chicago chances in the final minutes of the first as Chicago turned up the pressure. With 1:30 to go, he blocked a point-blank short-handed shot by Marian Hossa, who rocketed in alone past Blues defenceman Alex Pietrangelo.
Morin tied it at 1 at 8:34 of the second, when he drove to the net and pushed in a rebound of Bryan Bickell’s shot. Bickell had picked off a pass at centre ice before cruising back into the Blues’ zone and firing from the left circle.
Sharp put Chicago ahead 2-1 with 27 seconds left in the second when he completed a 2-on-1 break with Morin. Morin carried the puck down the right side, then passed to Sharp who fired a shot past Elliott’s stick side from the left circle.
Kruger made it 3-1 just 56 seconds into the third. Elliott got a piece of Joakim Nordstrom’s shot from the right wing, but the puck trickled to the left goal post. Kruger punched it in.
Sobotka cut it to 3-2 with 2:02 left when his flipping shot from the left wing knuckled under Crawford’s glove. Smith scored into an empty-net with 3.3 seconds left.
NOTES: Blackhawks D Johnny Oduya sat out his third game with a lower-body injury. Healthy scratches for Chicago were D David Rundblad and forwards Teuvo Teravainen and Matt Carey. … Blues scratches were defencemen Ian Cole and Jordan Leopold and F Dmitrij Jaskin.