ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Blackhawks have been the best team in the NHL all season, and they reminded the St. Louis Blues of some of the reasons why on Sunday.
The Blackhawks received a great performance in goal from Corey Crawford, stopping all 30 St. Louis shots, and scored on goals by Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa to beat the Blues 2-0, moving them closer to clinching the top spot in the Western Conference.
The win moved the Blackhawks nine points ahead of the idle Anaheim Ducks for the top spot in the Western Conference and also served as a reminder of the kind of tough, physical play they can expect in the playoffs.
"There was a lot of physical play, but we didn't let it frustrate us," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "We let them play their game, but we stuck to our game plan. For the most part, we stayed away from all the stuff that happens after the whistle."
Part of the physical play included David Backes knocking Toews into the boards late in the first period, appearing to injure Toews' right knee, but he only missed one shift and was back on the ice to take the opening faceoff in the second period.
More important for the Blackhawks, he won a faceoff while the Blackhawks were short-handed in the third period and got the puck to Hossa, who fired a shot past goalie Brian Elliott to give Crawford a little breathing room. The goal came just 16 seconds after Duncan Keith had been sent off the ice for a minor tripping penalty
"I had to throw some ice on it, but it was nothing serious," Toews said of his apparent injury.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said he was not worried about Toews, but he also knows trying to keep his players healthy and ready for the playoffs is going to be a primary concern in the final two weeks of the regular season.
"If you start worrying about that kind of stuff, it can affect you," Quenneville said. "We'll be proactive, but we still want to make sure our team game is reinforced night in and night out."
It also doesn't appear Quenneville has anything to worry about with his goalies as both Crawford and Ray Emery have continued to put in solid performances night in and night out.
"He was big and tracked the puck well," Quenneville said of Crawford. "Our goalies are doing whatever they can to keep us in games and winning games."
Crawford was pleased with his performance as well.
"We want to be playing our best games going into the playoffs," he said. "I think this team is a good test for us. It was playoff-style hockey; it seems like they are all over the ice. They were trying to get us off our game, but we stuck with the way we play and waited for our chances."
Bickell's goal ended St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott's shutout streak. Elliott, working on a string of three consecutive shutouts, gave up a goal when Bickell tipped in his own rebound on a shot that hit the post. Elliott hadn't allowed a goal in 214 minutes.
"It's a different game when you're chasing that team, so it was important to get the first one," Quenneville said.
St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said the game also should serve as a reminder to the Blues of what they can expect in the playoffs. The team currently sits in sixth place in the Western Conference.
'It was a good hockey game. It was a playoff game," Hitchcock said. "They had guys that were great, we had guys that were great. Some of our guys we need more from."
The Blues can learn, and improve, from the lessons the Blackhawks administered during the game, Backes said.
"They magnify your mistakes in a heartbeat," Backes said. "Even a small mistake in the second period where it's all the way at their hash mark and whether Vladi's (Sobotka) tripped, the puck's all of the sudden on their tape, and boom, they're all the way down the ice and it's in our net. That was 150 feet away from our net. It wasn't a giveaway. He falls or whatever and it's on their tape."
NOTES: Patrick Sharp did not play for the Blackhawks. The team said his status was day to day with an upper-body injury. He had only played two games for Chicago after being out for 14 games with a shoulder injury. ... Dave Bolland was back in the lineup for the Blackhawks after missing four games with a lower-leg injury. ... Quenneville said Hobey Baker award winner Dave LeBlanc, signed Friday, could play before the end of the season ... The Blues expect 20-year-old forward Dmitrij Jaskin to make his NHL debut in Tuesday's game against Vancouver ... In a jersey swap, the Blues wore their road white jerseys for Sunday's home game and the Blackhawks wore their red jerseys ... The game started a stretch in which the Blues will play seven of their final eight games of the year at home, only having to go on the road to play at Colorado next Sunday... The Blackhawks will be back in Chicago on Monday night, playing the Dallas Stars.