The Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues are Western Conference upstarts on the outside of the playoff race looking in.
They had to play as if their postseason chances depended on it, and when their missions collided Tuesday night, it was the Blues who came away with a 5-1 victory before a crowd of 19,150 at the Scottrade Center.
St. Louis snapped the Hawks' three-game winning streak on the strength of three power-play goals, including two in the third period that broke open a 2-1 game.
"Penalties hurt us," Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "We got into the box too much, and that killed us. They have some great players who, when given the opportunity, can put them in the back of the net."
A four-minute penalty on Tuomo Ruutu at the 7-minute-36-second mark of the third period was the turning point. Ruutu was called for high-sticking and boarding as he drilled David Backes. Lee Stempniak scored to make it 3-1, and as he was taking the shot, the Hawks' Adam Burish was called for slashing. Keith Tkachuk cashed in 1:22 later to put the game out of reach.
"You don't want to take a four-minute penalty at that time when you're down 2-1," Ruutu said. "That was a bad penalty. That's hockey. We're going to move on."
Martin Havlat gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead when he scored 1:05 into the first period. Havlat broke in alone on goaltender Manny Legace, who stopped his first shot but couldn't do the same on the rebound as Havlat fired in his ninth goal.
"[The Hawks] have been so good, especially watching the way they've been playing ever since they've gotten everyone back [from injuries]," Legace said. "They have been rolling into teams and rolling over teams."
But not Tuesday night. The Blues got their first power-play goal from Barret Jackman midway through the first period, and Brad Boyes' even-strength goal in the second gave them a 2-1 lead.
"They wanted it more than we did," Hawks coach Denis Savard said. "They won a lot of battles, they battled for loose pucks [and] they blocked shots. It wasn't our best effort, no question. Give them credit, but I know we're a better team than that. We didn't battle hard enough."
The Blues entered the game tied for last in the NHL on the power play. But after going 3-for-6 Tuesday, they're 6-for-13 over their last two games. Jay McClement scored into an empty net for the final margin.
Power boostSavard said veteran Jason Williams would be in the Hawks' lineup Wednesday night when they take on Minnesota at the United Center. Williams hasn't played since Nov. 28, missing the last 35 games with a groin injury followed by sports hernia surgery. The winger's return could provide a lift to the Hawks' 26th-ranked power play, with Williams quarterbacking the top unit.
"I like to be the guy making the plays, trying to get into the zone, setting things up and trying to use my shot whenever I can," said Williams, who has five power-play goals this season. "I'm sure I'll be rusty, but once I get back into the scheme of things I'll be able to help the power play a little bit."
"He's one of the best at it," Savard said of Williams' power-play skills. "He did a great job with it at the start of the year. It's a big part of the game. Special teams are what's going to get us to the playoffs."
The Hawks went 0-for-5 on the power play against the Blues.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun