CHICAGO -- After flying high as a kite in their first 25 games, the Chicago Blackhawks have lost a lot of wind in their sails of late.
The Blackhawks lost the fourth game in their last seven overall -- and the fourth in their last six home games at the United Center -- falling 4-3 in the shootout to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night at the United Center.
Kevin Shattenkirk took the Blues' sixth and final shot in the shootout and it ultimately proved to be the deciding score.
After he took his soft wrist shot, Shattenkirk paused momentarily, as if he wasn't sure the puck had gotten past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford. The goal lamp was also slow in being lit, but when it finally shined red, the Blues had emerged victorious.
St. Louis (19-14-2) improved to 3-1 in shootout play. Chicago (27-5-4) fell to 5-4 shoot outs after being outshot in the game by the Blues, 36-22.
"Last year (the Blues) were the top team in the conference for all the right reasons," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "This year, they've got everybody healthy right about now.
"They're going to be a handful for anybody down the stretch.
They're a good hockey club. They've got some skill on every line.
They've got guys with speed and they attack well. They'll be a dangerous team."
Besides Shattenkirk, other Blues that scored in the shootout were Chris Stewart, Andy McDonald and Alexander Steen. Stopped were David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko.
Scoring for Chicago in the shootout were Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. Stopped were Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad and Michal Handzus, who was acquired prior to Wednesday's trade deadline and made his debut for Chicago.
"I liked (Handzus)," Quenneville said. "I thought he was good on faceoffs. He was big, had a few scoring chances. You like his instincts."
Chicago took a 2-1 lead into the third period on a pair of second period goals by Toews (18th of the season) and Saad (8th).
But St. Louis' Adam Cracknell didn't need long to score at 3:30, tying the game at 2-2. Cracknell had the big gun for the Blues in the game, scoring his first two goals of the season, giving St. Louis a 1-0 lead late in the first period and then battling back to tie the score with his second goal.
"It was nice to contribute with a couple goals," Cracknell said.
"Our line played well tonight and we just played our game. We've all played together before so it was just easy chemistry for us."
Less than four minutes later in the third period, forward David Backes put the Blues ahead 3-2 with his fourth goal of the season.
"I had to double check with the ref and everyone else on the ice that there were no whistles blown or anyone waving it off," Backes said. "(It's) one of those things where just get to get one and especially one that really meant something to give us the lead in the third. I know the guys really poured a lot into getting two points tonight."
Chicago's Viktor Stalberg, who got into a fight near the end of the second period with St. Louis' Roman Polak, exacted some revenge by scoring the tying goal at 15:29 of the third, making it 3-3.
St. Louis played a swarming, attacking style of defense that seemed to get stronger as the third period wore on, not only confusing the Blackhawks but visibly tiring them as well.
It was that defensive style of play that kept the Blues in the game, got them through the overtime unscathed and then ended up winning in the shootout.
"It's a tough (loss)," Chicago forward Bryan Bickell said. "It's happened a lot lately (giving up third period goals). We just need to keep it simple. The bounces are not going our way right now, but those mistakes are coming in between the blue lines and we need to fix them."
With 37.1 seconds remaining in the second period, play was stopped for several minutes after a fight broke out between Polak and Stalberg. Tempers flared between both teams before the four officials conferred and meted out their judgment.
Polak was penalized two minutes for instigation, five minutes for fighting and also received a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
Stalberg, meanwhile, received a five-minute penalty for fighting.
As is typical with most Blues-Blackhawks matchups, defense was the name of the game during much of the first period. But Cracknell broke the scoreless tie at 16:03 with his first goal of the season, a shot that sailed high and over the left shoulder of Crawford.
Chicago tied the score 1-1 at 3:18 of the second period when Brent Seabrook's shot to the right of Blues goalie Brian Elliott caromed off the stick of Toews and into the net.
Less than 2 1/2 minutes later, Saad scored his eighth goal of the season on a nice feed pass from Toews, putting Chicago ahead for the first time at 2-1.
Thursday's loss was the third in the last five starts for Crawford, (15-4-4). The winning Elliott improved his record to 5-6-1.
"Everyone's frustrated with giving up another lead and then having to battle back to tie it," Crawford said. "I think in a perfect world we just want to be able to shut them down and finish that game 2-1."
During pregame introductions, Blackhawks fans loudly welcomed back Hossa, who returned to the lineup after missing the past six games with a shoulder injury.
Now all the Hawks need is for Patrick Sharp to get back on the ice, which could occur Saturday at Nashville, according to several media reports.
St. Louis came into the game having lost three of its last four games, and Chicago was riding a two-game winning streak.
Chicago still leads the overall season series with a 2-0-1 mark thus far against the Blues. Both teams meet two more times, both in St. Louis on April 14 and the regular-season finale on April 27.
NOTES: The Blackhawks came into the game having regained the NHL points lead from the Pittsburgh Penguins with 57 (Pittsburgh had 56 and Anaheim 55). ... Thursday marked the first of a streak of five of six games on the road for the Blues. However, after that, they play seven of their last eight at home before the playoffs. ... Attendance was 22,081, the Blackhawks' second-largest home crowd this season.
Even with the loss, Chicago still holds the lead in the all-time series with the Blues, 126-112-46.