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updated: 4/7/2014 1:36 PM

Blackhawks get message, send one to Blues

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  • Blackhawks' Marcus Kruger, right, tries to get to puck while the St Louis Blues' David Backes holds him during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago on Sunday, April 6, 2014.

      Blackhawks' Marcus Kruger, right, tries to get to puck while the St Louis Blues' David Backes holds him during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago on Sunday, April 6, 2014.
    Associated Press

  • Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) and St Louis Blues' Brenden Morrow, center right, get separated during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago on Sunday, April 6, 2014.

      Blackhawks' Niklas Hjalmarsson (4) and St Louis Blues' Brenden Morrow, center right, get separated during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago on Sunday, April 6, 2014.
    Associated Press

  • Blackhawks Marcus Kruger, left, scores against the St. Louis Blues in an NHL hockey game in Chicago on Sunday, April 6, 2014. The Blackhawks won 4-2.

      Blackhawks Marcus Kruger, left, scores against the St. Louis Blues in an NHL hockey game in Chicago on Sunday, April 6, 2014. The Blackhawks won 4-2.
    Associated Press

  • Blackhawks Brandon Bollig (52) and St Louis Blues' David Backes wrestle in front of the Blues goalie Brian Elliot, left, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago on Sunday, April 6, 2014.

      Blackhawks Brandon Bollig (52) and St Louis Blues' David Backes wrestle in front of the Blues goalie Brian Elliot, left, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Chicago on Sunday, April 6, 2014.
    Associated Press

 
 

Sometimes it takes a shock to the system, maybe a slap in the face, to wake a team from its slumber.

And while no one welcomed an injury to Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews, there is no disputing the Blackhawks' effort -- since Toews went out with an injury a week ago -- has increased significantly.

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After losing their two best offensive players and four out of five games, the Hawks have won three straight, including Sunday's 4-2 victory over St. Louis at the UC. It's mostly because they are playing harder and smarter, and with more consistency, than in any stretch since the Olympic break.

"The last three games, there's been an urgency there. Maybe that's what was lacking," said veteran Kris Versteeg. "Sometimes, it's a little different style of game you're gonna play when you're missing guys.

"But we still have lot of guys left to make plays. We have a lot of highly talented players. I just think they don't get a lot of credit sometimes that they deserve."

If you're searching for a bright side to the Kane and Toews injuries, it has opened the door to more ice time for players like Jeremy Morin (4 points in three games) and Ben Smith (3 goals last three games), to name just a pair of guys who have stepped up their game.

"You don't want guys injured, but when it happens it creates opportunities for guys to play and gain confidence and contribute," said Duncan Keith. "In the playoffs, you need that scoring.

"You can't rely on (Marian) Hossa, (Patrick) Sharp, Toews and Kane to score every game. You need more and this is a good chance for them to realize they can do it, too."

Consider that message sent.

The last few games have seen contributions across the board, including a physical game from several players who have opponents looking over their shoulders for a change.

The Hawks have also defeated the Blues twice in the last month, a message St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock was loathe to accept after the game.

"What's the season series?" Hitchcock repeated a few times when pressed on the topic, after admitting the offensively-challenged Blues haven't been great in losing three of their last five overall. "We look like we're a little bit tired, so the details that fit us so well and our energy to put those details in place are probably lacking a little bit right now.

"But we still have four more games to play. We have to find a way to re-energize ourselves and get back to work."

That's an NHL season in a nutshell. Fits and starts, streaks and slumps. The Hawks have had plenty of both and now it's the Blues' turn to lack a little confidence down the stretch, while the Hawks gain momentum late in the season.

"Three games in a row, I thought we played the exact same way," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said with approval. "Played the right way, worked hard, very effective. Everybody contributed and we scored some ugly goals, but played the right way to get rewarded."

The third winningest coach of all time sent a message to the entire team when he made Brandon Saad a healthy scratch Sunday, letting a key cog know that everyone is accountable.

"Playing the right way is something we reinforce," Quenneville said. "We expect him to be a big piece of this and play his game. But sometimes we make decisions that aren't popular."

Quenneville's job isn't to make friends while influencing hockey players, and his message was loud and clear Sunday as the Hawks played one of their cleanest games of the season in their own end, an item essential to winning in the postseason.

"We know what we have to do to win," said Michal Handzus. "We didn't do that for awhile, but now we're doing it."

Doing it without Kane and Toews -- something worth remembering come playoff time.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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