What should have been a big Blackhawks lead very much wasn’t

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Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford cannot make the stop on a goal by Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz during the third period in Game 3 of a first-round Stanley Cup playoff series Sunday. The Blues won 3-2. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

There were times in the second period Sunday when it felt as if the Blackhawks were ahead by three goals. They weren’t.

A legion of scoring opportunities gave the distinct impression that they were in the driver’s seat against St. Louis. To reiterate, they very much were not.

The reality was they were ahead by one goal, which, as cushioning goes, is the approximate thickness of Kleenex. In hockey, a one-goal lead is something to sneeze at.

The 3-2 loss to St. Louis means that the Hawks squandered all sorts of scoring opportunities Sunday but, more importantly, that they trail the Blues 2-1 in this first-round series. It means that … well, I’m not sure what it means. The Hawks have seen just about everything in the last seven seasons, so to assign any meaning three games into a seven-game series seems like the height of foolishness.

The Hawks outshot the Blues 24-13 in the second period. They scored one goal in that period. A shot by Andrew Ladd looked like a goal, but a post disagreed. That’s hockey.

“Early on, we couldn’t distance ourselves,’’ Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said.

“Probably had more chances in the second than any period we had all year,’’ Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “It was still a one-goal game though.’’

To say that either team should have taken more advantage of their scoring changes would be to minimize the efforts of the Hawks’ Corey Crawford and the Blues’ Brian Elliott. Both goalies were outstanding. In one short span in the second period, Crawford made a terrific glove save on a Jori Lehtera shot, then stopped Vladimir Tarasenko out of a scrum in front of the net. Both times, he was greeted by chants of “Cor-ey, Cor-ey’’ by the United Center crowd.

Crawford stopped 33 of 36 shots. Two of the goals he gave up were deflections off his own defenders. The game-winner came on a power play by Jaden Schwartz in the third period.

“You lose momentum when you give up a power-play goal,’’ Crawford said. “We did play well in this game. We had a lot of chances. We had some good looks. It’s a tough one. It’s a tough one to let slip away.’’

Elliott stopped 44 of 46 shots. The Hawks aren’t in the cap-tipping business, but sometimes they have to tip theirs. This was one of those times.

“We created a lot of great chances that didn’t go in, but by no means was it any different on our end,’’ Toews said. “I think we gave up a lot of chances that Crow came up huge on. If we want to win games, especially if it’s going to be tight and pucks aren’t quite going in for us, we’ve got to be a little bit better in our own end and help our goaltender out a little bit better than we did (Sunday).’’

Patrick Kane’s high stick drew blood on the face of Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, and the penalty eventually set up Schwartz’ goal. Kane said he was trying to lift Pietrangelo’s stick and instead pulled out the carving knife. It brought a four-minute double minor.

“Just got be smarter in that situation,’’ Kane said. “Obviously can’t take a penalty at that time of the game, especially when the score’s 2-2. I’ll take responsibility on that one for sure.’’

Again, and this can’t be overstated, that’s hockey. Kane was trying to make a play. Things happen. The Blues were called for five penalties in the first period, and the Hawks managed just one goal, by Brent Seabrook. Sometimes things don’t happen when you think they should.

The next game is Tuesday. There is the danger of the Hawks falling behind 3-1 in this series, with Game 5 looming in St. Louis. But they have seen so much during their Stanley Cup run that it’s hard to picture them shaking in their skates at the prospect.

“We’ve been through it all with this group,’’ Kane said.

“You want to think that in the end the better team is going to earn their way to move on from this series,’’ Toews said. “But I think as we saw (Sunday), you’ve got to work for your bounces.’’

After the game, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said this series has the emotional level of a series much farther up the playoffs ladder. Emotions can be so misleading, though. The Hawks surely felt like they were the better team Sunday. The final score disagreed.


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