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updated: 4/22/2014 6:34 PM

Shot blockers put life and limb on the line

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  • Niklas Hjalmarsson, here delivering a check to the Blues' Alexander Steen during Game 1, has 14 blocked shots in the first three games of the series against St. Louis, second in the NHL.

      Niklas Hjalmarsson, here delivering a check to the Blues' Alexander Steen during Game 1, has 14 blocked shots in the first three games of the series against St. Louis, second in the NHL.
    Associated Press

 
 

Outside of the national anthem, the 2 goals scored by the Blackhawks and a handful of saves made by Corey Crawford, the biggest roars of the night during Monday's 2-0 victory over the Blues at the United Center came when Michal Handzus and Niklas Hjalmarsson sacrificed their bodies -- literally -- to block St. Louis shots while on the penalty kill.

And to a man, the Blackhawks thought that response was absolutely fitting.

"It was awesome to watch," Patrick Kane said. "The crowd noticed it, too, when they were yelling 'Zuuus' at the end of the game in the third period. It's cool.

"Those guys do it all year round, but I think there's a little bit more attention in the playoffs because they are such big games."

Blocking shots is indeed an underappreciated aspect of the game and can be beyond painful, but a well-timed block can also be a game-saver and it's something that's always, always noticed by teammates.

"They say guys fighting and everything is tough, but stepping in front of pucks takes some serious courage," said defenseman Sheldon Brookbank.

"You always love a guy that does that for a team," Marcus Kruger said. "That's as important as scoring a goal."

The Hawks blocked 24 shots in Monday's win, led by Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya with 4 apiece. Handzus had 3 and Hjalmarsson added a pair.

Hjalmarsson has been a shot-blocking machine in the first three games of the series. His 14 blocks are second most in the NHL thus far in the playoffs.

"I know it doesn't feel good, but he lays it on the line and does a good job at it," Brookbank said. "I've taken some pucks and they don't feel good if you get them on the flesh.

"It's not easy, but he battles through it and he's one of the toughest Swedes I know."

And whether Hjalmarsson's hunched over in pain or skating on one leg trying to reach the bench after taking a puck to the body, his teammates know one thing for sure: it won't be long before No. 4 is back out on the ice doing it all over again.

"We've seen him do that so many times before and he always seems to be alright," Kruger said.

"It's happened plenty of times before where it seems like he's down and out or whether he's hurt or if he just gets stung, but he always gets back up and gets out there the next shift," Kane said. "It's pretty amazing."

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