Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford shuts out Blues in Game 3

Chicago Blackhawks centre Jonathan Toews and St. Louis Blues forward Steve Ott fight for the puck...

Chicago Blackhawks centre Jonathan Toews and St. Louis Blues forward Steve Ott fight for the puck during Game 3 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series at the United Center in Chicago, APril 21, 2014. (DAVID BANKS/USA Today)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:50 AM ET

CHICAGO - The assessment was about as damning as a coach is usually willing to say about his goaltender this time of year.

“He said he needs to be better, and he needs to be better,” Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville assessed of his netminder Corey Crawford on the eve of his team’s crucial Game 3 clash with the St. Louis Blues.

Crawford was better when the defending Stanley Cup champions needed it most.

Perfect, in fact, with a 34-save shutout in Monday’s 2-0 victory in Chicago, and the Blackhawks are on the board in their opening-round playoff series.

The Blues still have a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven affair, but the Hawks have Crawford, whose only crime in the first two tilts of the best-of-seven series was surrendering late game-tying goals and then overtime winners in each of them, to thank for not letting the series turn into a do-or-die situation.

“I thought it was a great response and tremendous effort by him,” Quenneville said. “He was square, he was solid, in control. It was a real solid game for him and a tight one throughout. Three games in a row. It’s been a very intense series and extremely close.”

Game 4 will be Wednesday in the Windy City.

The chants of “Corey! Corey!” from the sellout crowd of 22,112 at the United Center came out in the third period and the applause reached a feverish pitch at the final buzzer.

They were well earned.

The Blackhawks never trailed, but don’t for a second think they were the better team from start to finish. Crawford provided saves in all manners, be them against breakaways, deflections from the doorstep or scrambles in a pressure-packed situation.

“There is no pressure. I think it’s more reality,” Crawford said. “That was a really important game for us. It’s an exciting one, too, coming back in this building.

“We were all excited and we had that calm, cool, confidence in this group. Our veterans, our leaders, led the way throughout the whole day and the last couple of days just keeping calm and collected and everyone else followed.”

It’s a good thing Crawford was on his game, because it took a flukey goal early going for the winner.

Blackhawks captain Johnathan Toews used Kevin Shattenkirk as a partial screen when he sent a wrister that squeezed through the legs of Blues goalie Ryan Miller.

“Just not a good goal. We’ll leave it at that,” Miller said.

Marcus Kruger sealed the win with an empty netter, and this time the Hawks didn’t surrender the lead in the final moments, as was the case in the first two outings.

Talk about a huge psychological boost.

“It was tough walking in here yesterday down two-zip and could have had one in there at least,” Quenneville said. “So it was two brutal losses, and today it was tight at the end as well, but I think that we can get a lot of momentum and enthusiasm off it, and certainly some confidence down the stretch as well.”

That said, the Blues still have the upper hand and aren’t feeling they’ve lost that much momentum because they played a strong game.

“I believe this team can score at any time,” said Miller, who made 23 saves. “We just got into a situation today where it just didn’t work out. You saw a few pucks were laying there for rebounds, we tipped one just wide, a couple pucks even just scooted by the net. That’s the game of hockey, a game of inches.

“We were working hard and got rewarded the first two games, and tonight we worked hard but just didn’t get that final reward, but you have to keep believing you can do it, keep moving forward. Just business as usual here.”

Likewise, the Hawks are still behind and know they’ve only taken one step.

“It feels good to win, but there is no time for relief,” centre Michal Handzus said. “We’re still down 2-1, we have to get ready for the next game. It’s not relief. It feels good when you win, but we have to start focusing on Game 4.


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