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Chicago Blackhawks defeat the big, bad Blues 2-0

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Corey Crawford pitched a shutout and his teammates were dialed in to a winning effort as the Chicago Blackhawks defeated St. Louis 2-0.

The big, bad Blues came out and played as physical as possible in the opening period. The hit total was heavily slanted toward St. Louis but they couldn't instill their will over the Hawks.

With another very impressive performance, the Blackhawks are now four points ahead of Pittsburgh in the pursuit of the Presidents' Trophy. As remarkable, or maybe more so is Chicago has allowed six fewer goals than Boston, a total of 85, and that's the best in the NHL. The last time the Blackhawks finished with the top record in the league was in the 1990-1991 season. Led by goalie Ed Belfour during the 1994-1995 campaign, the Hawks finished with the fewest goals against.

Although the Blackhawks didn't capture the Stanley Cup after winning either award, this season could be different.

Over the last 41 games the Blackhawks haven't been consistently winning by using mirrors. Anyone who doesn't consider them among the best teams in hockey is ignoring facts. Winning awards during the regular season does not automatically lead to a Cup but the Hawks have shown they are a versatile group.

St. Louis head coach Ken Hitchcock knows down deep down that if the Blackhawks played their best hockey and the Blues did the same his group would fall in a seven game series. Hitchcock is able to talk hockey better than almost any coach and his remarks after the game are telling.

"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," Hitchcock said, according to

As it stands today, almost every head coach in the NHL should feel exactly as Hitchcock does.

If the Hawks don't suffer serious injuries and don't beat themselves no Western Conference opponent will defeat them during the postseason. They would all need something positive to happen, which might be the same as saying they would need to get lucky. As Hitchcock mentioned, to beat Chicago players would have to step up to another level.

The Blues play a solid system, have good goaltending and are physical. They tried to punish the Hawks and pounded away in the opening frame, but they couldn't keep up the same pressure. It would be better for the Blackhawks to not face the Blues in the playoffs. My thinking isn't based as much on the likelihood of St. Louis winning a best out of seven, but they could cost the Hawks the next series.

The Blues and others will be hell bent on inflicting punishment. The way to offset their plan is to be able to provide some hard-hitting directed at the more skillful players. Then it comes down to talent and determination which should be an edge for the Blackhawks.

Those waiting for the Blackhawks to match another team hit-for-hit have been off-base for quite awhile. The Hawks aren't constructed that way, but they do play tough. It isn't only hitting which is important in hockey. In this case it is the ability to not let the will of another club deter the Blackhawks and change their effectiveness. So far it is safe to say no Western Conference opponent has had lasting success knocking the Blackhawks off their game.

What is most impressive is when dialed in the Hawks can win high scoring games as well as low scoring affairs. This season, what has been most significant is strong team defense. Crawford was really good in St. Louis, but the Blues were controlled primarily by tight checking. When Crawford did allow a rebound chance the Blues were outnumbered by Blackhawks.

Many times it can be said the team that captures the Cup has the best bottom six forwards in the league. That was true here in 2010.

On Sunday the opening goal was the result of hard work, speed and simple effective hockey. Joel Quenneville went back to this year's most often used third line combination of Bryan Bickell-Andrew Shaw-Viktor Stalberg as Dave Bolland returned. The trio had a fine outing, and in the playoffs like Sunday, they could be difference makers.

Quenneville has some decisions to make over the next seven games. He needs to decide on a set third line, the fourth line might be more of an issue of interchangeable parts. Competition is a great motivator and fourth line players are feeling the heat to perform.

Newcomer Michal Handzus will be in the lineup because of his prowess at the faceoff dot. Michael Frolik has been a fixture on the fourth line and has been a great penalty killer. Frolik did what was needed once again versus the Blues and even had a team high four hits. The other fourth line wing position is up for grabs but having choices should bode well for Quenneville.

The 2010 Cup team was an outstanding club that could wear out opponents and steamroll them late in a game. The 2013 Blackhawks are more surgeon-like, and can play smothering team defense.

Unfortunately there have been a few more concussions sustained by top players since 2010 and that is a worry that won't go away.

On the bright side, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are better players today than three years ago. That's a fact, and head coaches like Hitchcock and others realize the same.

Monday night, another game, another desperate playoff bubble team will pay a visit to the United Center. The Dallas Stars are two points out of a playoff spot in a tightly bunched Western Conference.

The Stars like the Hawks are riding a five game winning streak. Dallas has to hope the Blackhawks won't match Sunday's performance. If so the Stars winning steak will end Monday.

I will be back Tuesday morning and you can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia.

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