ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Blackhawks are making life rough for those Western Conference teams fighting to stay in the playoff race.
Count the St. Louis Blues among those in survival mode and trying to beat the team with the best record in the National Hockey League proved too tough a task Sunday afternoon.
Bryan Bickell scored his ninth of the season, Marian Hossa added a shorthanded goal and Corey Crawford earned his third shutout in the Blackhawks' 2-0 win over the Blues at Scottrade Center.
In a game that the Blues wanted to offset Chicago's speed and skill with physicality and punishment, the Blackhawks' speed was opportunistic on the first goal, and some skill off a faceoff accounted for the insurance tally. The Blackhawks see it from many teams they face. The Blues are no different.
"You don’t have much room to dangle or play the nice hockey," said Hossa, who netted his 15th goal of the season.
Added Crawford, who stopped 30 shots: "We can play physical, too, but just stay away from that crap after the whistles."
Chicago improved to a League-best 17-2-2 away from home and continues to strengthen its hold on the top spot in the League at 32-5-4, good for 68 points. Crawford was able to keep the Blues off the board, stopping 30 shots for his eighth career shutout.
"I thought we got better as the first period went on," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Physically, they were ready to play.
"It’s a hard game. Getting that lead was important. I thought we stuck together and played a good, hard game."
The Blues (23-16-2), who have dropped two straight after winning a season-best six in a row, got 24 stops from Brian Elliott. The Blues were blanked on home ice for the third time this season, including the second time by the Blackhawks, who won 3-0 here Feb. 28. Coach Ken Hitchcock also missed out on his second bid to win his 600th career game.
"It was a good hockey game. It was a playoff game," Hitchcock said. "They had guys that were great, we had guys that were great. Some of our guys we need more from."
Despite winning six of eight in the month of April, the Blues have now scored five goals in five games.
"I think it's a fine line the whole season at this time. Everybody's on the fine line," Hitchcock said. "You need something positive to happen, somebody to step up and get us to the next level.
"We're playing pretty well 5-on-5, our penalty killing really gives us a chance every night, but whether it's top players scoring or whether it's a little more contribution from the power play, whatever, that's the edge. We have to find that edge."
The first period was scoreless but certainly spirited. Both teams played physical and the skirmishes after whistles were certainly indicative that this had a playoff feel to it.
"We want to play our best games going into playoffs," said Crawford, who improved to 9-1-2 against the Blues in his career. "This team is a good test for us, for playoff hockey. They play hard they play physical. They were trying to get us off our game but we stuck with the way we play and waited for our chances.
"Teams are going to try to get to us, push our skill guys around and we just have to ignore it like we did tonight just keep playing our game."
Elliott made the two best stops of the game early, the first on Patrick Kane from the right circle on a one-timer, then on Dave Bolland alone in front after a rebound.
St. Louis' Kevin Shattenkirk had the biggest hit of the game with 1:56 left in the opening period, catching Andrew Shaw with a shoulder check that sent the Blackhawks' wing spiraling to the ice.
It was that kind of beginning, but the Blues had nothing to show for an inspired opening 20 minutes.
"I think we worked fine. We were doing some good things," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "It's one of those things where maybe if you do score a goal, it changes the game, get that momentum. You just have to battle through it. You know you're playing a good team."
The game was more under control in the second period, and Chicago got the lone goal when Bickell netted his third in five games.
Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko missed on a chance to shoot the puck in the offensive zone and lost both an edge and the puck. It allowed the Blackhawks to take off on an odd-man rush. Elliott made the initial stop, but Bickell was on the backside post and stuffed the puck in 4:31 into the second period for a 1-0 advantage.
"They check well and they play that tight game," Quenneville said. "They don’t give up much space and time.
"It’s a different game when you are chasing that team. It was important to get that first one."
The goal broke Elliott's shutout streak at 214 minutes. He has the franchise record for most consecutive shutout minutes at 241:33, set last season from March 15-April 4. Elliott came into the game with three consecutive shutouts -- all on the road.
"It bounced side to side and it went right on the guy's tape and he hit the post first and I almost got it on the second one," said Elliott, who was 5-0-0 with a 0.84 goals-against average and .968 save percentage in his last five appearances. "I'm not concerned about the streak. It's getting the win."
The Blues, mired in a deep power-play funk, made things worse when Hossa snapped a shorthanded goal through Elliott's pads 6:34 into the third period after Jonathan Toews won an offensive zone faceoff from Andy McDonald to make it 2-0. It was the Blues' third power-play of the game, and they are now 6-for-72 in the past 27 games.
"That's what makes them a great team," Blues captain David Backes said of the Blackhawks. "They're even missing a few of their potent guys up front with [Patrick] Sharp out and a couple other guys. They magnify your mistakes in a heartbeat."
Once given a lead, Crawford got better after the Blackhawks gave him another goal to work with.
"I thought Crawford was great in the net," Quenneville said. "Big, solid tracked the puck well especially with the traffic and action at the net.
"Our goalies have been doing whatever they can to keep us in games and winning games."
Said Crawford: "I've been pretty focused all year. I felt good today. The main thing is everyone is playing well. We need everyone to play well every night."
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