CHICAGO -- Dave Bolland headed toward St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak with basically no idea how, exactly, he was going to score his first NHL shootout goal.
"You're trying to think what to do," said Bolland, who was 0-for-7 in his career prior to getting the puck and heading up ice toward Halak. "You think it through [in] your head and you're not really sure what [to do] to put it in. Should I shoot or should I deke or should I just bury my head and put it through him ... try to run right through him?"
He opted for the deke, to his forehand, and tucked the puck into the net past the sprawling Halak and wound up giving the Chicago Blackhawks a nail-biting 4-3 victory in front of a sellout crowd at United Center on Thursday night.
Corey Crawford, who picked up the win, made saves in the shootout against David Perron, T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen and heard Patrik Berglund's wrister ring off the post following Bolland's goal to officially end the tiebreaker.
It was a huge second point for the Blackhawks (43-26-9), who inched closer to clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fourth straight season. Had the Phoenix Coyotes lost in regulation to the San Jose Sharks, Chicago would have clinched. Instead, Phoenix won and the Hawks will have to settle for being right on the precipice.
"Until you get in, don’t take anything for granted ... especially in our conference," said Hawks forward Patrick Sharp, who scored his team-high 31st goal at 8:40 of the third to give his team what appeared to be a commanding 3-1 lead. "Last year, it was taxing on a lot of players down the stretch there, trying to get in. And then when we did get in, you’ve got to ramp it back up for the playoffs. Hopefully we can get in, be one of the eight seeds and go from there."
They're much closer now, thanks to the heroics of Bolland and Crawford in the shootout. Crawford has now stopped 21-of-26 attempts this season and has an .808 save percentage that ranks third among NHL goalies who've faced at least seven shots.
He also has a .792 career save percentage in shootouts (38-of-48), the best among active goaltenders who have faced at least 15 attempts. Crawford's success in the tiebreaker gives him and his teammates a lot of confidence when games aren't decided in overtime.
"He's big, I think he’s patient, he takes up a lot of net, he anticipates but technically he’s sound and denies them maybe what their first priority or option is," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "He’s had a good stretch here for us. At the end last year, he was outstanding [and] this year we like the way he’s progressed and where he’s at right now."
The same can't be said for Bolland in shootouts, but Quenneville played a hunch in picking him as his fourth shooter -- following failed attempts by Patrick Kane, Sharp and Viktor Stalberg. Actually, the Hawks bench boss played two hunches to pick Bolland -- neither of which were his.
"I asked my coaches (assistants Mike Haviland and Mike Kitchen) and they both said '[Bolland],' so I said, ‘OK, let’s go with that,’" Quenneville said, laughing. "I got outvoted even if I didn’t want him."
The victory continued Chicago's success against the Blues in recent seasons. Almost every other team in the Western Conference and NHL has struggled to keep St. Louis from piling up points in a quest to win the Presidents' Trophy, but the Hawks seem to have their number -- at least at United Center.
The win on Thursday night was the third time Chicago has beaten St. Louis here in as many tries this season and also gave the Blackhawks a 4-2 record in the six-game season series. St. Louis is now winless at the "Madhouse on Madison" since Feb. 3, 2010, and just 1-6-3 in its last 10 visits.
The Blues also blew a chance to clinch the Central Division playing head-to-head against one of their biggest division rivals.
"We got a point but it’s disappointing," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It’s one of those games where you get a point, but you’re really disappointed in the effort. We look like a team that needs some good, hard practices right now."
St. Louis did manage to get a point by clawing its way back from a 3-1 deficit with 11:20 left in regulation. Jason Arnott stuffed his rebound of a wraparound attempt between Crawford's pads to the right post just 1:35 after Sharp had given Chicago the two-goal cushion, and then David Perron came up big with time running out.
Just as the Hawks looked ready to win it in regulation, Perron was able to provide a good screen amid a lot of traffic in the slot and got his stick on a point blast by Kris Russell to knot it 3-3 with 1:32 left in regulation.
But the Hawks kept pouring on the offense until the shootout. The Hawks outshot the Blues 40-20, including 7-2 in overtime.
Halak finished with 37 saves and had to be sharp in order to stop a number of golden scoring opportunities, including one late in overtime against Kane -- who also rang a shot hard off the left post in the second and had that shift end with Halak swallowing a one-timer from the slot to keep it tied 1-1.
That was actually the score for much of the first 40 minutes thanks to a pair of goals scored within nine seconds of each other midway through the first. Bickell's wrister from long range slipped past Halak, but Steen countered off the ensuing faceoff to tie it.
Chicago eventually took its second lead early in the third. When Andrew Brunette put home Marian Hossa's rebound from the front of the crease while Halak was screened off by Kane crashing the net.
Stalberg then found Sharp with a pass on a 2-on-0 break a little more than four minutes later and Chicago's leading goal-scorer fired a one-time rocket that beat Halak on the last of Sharp's seven
Stalberg plays opposite Sharp on the second line with rookie Marcus Kruger centering and had a great game overall. The 25-year old Swedish forward added six shots to his primary assist and caught his coach's attention.
"I thought it was a special game for [Stalberg]," Quenneville said. "I know he’s had some good games. I’d put that in the list at the top of it, as far as the impact and the influence he had shift to shift. I thought his linemates complemented him as well."