CHICAGO -- It took a little while, but the Chicago Blackhawks eventually found a way to get pucks past Ryan Miller on Wednesday at United Center.
The result was an important 4-0 win for the defending Stanley Cup champions against the St. Louis Blues, who lead the Blackhawks in the Central Division by six points.
Duncan Keith, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith scored for Chicago (40-15-15), which got a strong performance from its defense and a perfect night from goalie Corey Crawford, who made 23 saves for his second shutout of the season.
"Tonight we knew it was going to be a tough matchup," Crawford said. "They're the top team in the League. It was physical. It seems like it's always physical against these guys. The first 10 minutes, everyone was just running around trying to hit somebody or trying to avoid a hit. It felt like a playoff game, a playoff-type atmosphere. Our crowd was into it and we played really solidly."
It was the 700th NHL victory for Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, and it came against the team he first coached. He is the third coach in NHL history to reach that milestone, behind Scotty Bowman (1,244 wins) and Al Arbour (782). Quenneville is 700-404-77 with the Blues, Avalanche and Blackhawks.
It was also the 1,000th regular-season game for Chicago center Michal Handzus, who was honored in a pregame ceremony.
It was the first win in four tries for the Blackhawks against the Central's top team this season and the first regulation loss for the Blues against a division opponent (20-1-2). St. Louis had won three games in a row and hadn't lost in regulation in the previous nine.
"They're the Stanley Cup champions for a reason," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They know when to turn the temperature up. It's our responsibility ... no matter what happens in the regular season, everybody in the West, if you're going to give them a go, you're going to have to dial it up. They're getting ready. And it's up to us to get ready. That's the task ... good on them."
Chicago (95 points) moved ahead of the Colorado Avalanche (94 points) for possession of second place. Colorado lost 5-4 in overtime to the Winnipeg Jets.
It wasn't all good news for Chicago. The Blackhawks' leader in points, forward Patrick Kane, was injured in the second period and is expected to be out three weeks, according to Quenneville.
"Certainly he's a special player and we'll have to work our way through it, knowing what he brings to our team," said Quenneville, who left open the possibility that Kane's regular season might be over. "It's definitely a huge loss for us, but we've been fortunate as far as not getting hit too hard [with injuries]. You're going to get tested at some point."
Miller got tested by the Blackhawks' offense.
He came into the game with stellar numbers since being traded to the Blues by the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 28. Miller was 7-0-1 with St. Louis and had stopped 180 of 193 shots, ranking first in the NHL in wins, third in goals-against average (1.61) and fourth in save percentage (.933) among goalies with at least five starts since then.
In this game, he allowed four goals on 27 shots before being replaced in the third period by backup Brian Elliott.
Led by Crawford, Chicago staved off a strong early push by St. Louis in the first five minutes and seized control of the game. The Blackhawks made a habit out of buzzing around the Blues net, and it paid off.
"That's how you beat most goalies in this League," said Smith, who capped a third-period power play by snapping a shot from close range past Miller at 7:35 to make it 4-0. "We know how good [Miller] is. He's been so hot recently and throughout his whole career he's been a phenomenal goalie, so yeah, traffic is how you beat those high-quality goalies. It worked for us the other night [Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings] and tonight, so hopefully we'll look to do that moving forward."
Shaw, in particular, made his presence felt by screening Miller on Keith's goal with 54.4 seconds left in the first period then scoring one in the second by tipping a shot from above the left circle with the shaft of his stick.
"It's a huge part of our game," Shaw said of screening goaltenders. "[Miller's] a small goalie, but he's really good. He's quick but it's tough for him to find those pucks through traffic and I think that's tough for any goalie. I think we need to get bodies to the net and just keep competing. Hopefully we can keep getting those pucks through."
Keith's goal was his second in as many games. It followed an interference minor called on Ian Cole and was scored off a shot Keith one-timed from the point; the puck sailed over Miller's blocker into the top left corner.
That goal was the tipping point in Chicago wresting control of the game from the Blues, who were strong early.
St. Louis nearly took the lead on a wraparound by T.J. Oshie at 1:28 of the first, but Crawford stopped it with a post-to-post pad save before stopping a wrist shot by Patrik Berglund off the rebound. From there the Blackhawks steadily worked their way into domination of the game, even after Kane's departure.
"I don't know if it wasn't there or we didn't put forth the necessary effort," Blues captain David Backes said. "They played hard and were in a groove from playing [Tuesday] night. We didn't respond real well. Lesson learned. We beat them three times this year. They were hungry, looking for revenge, and brought it up to a level and we needed to match it and we didn't. The result is on the scoreboard."
Chicago nearly scored on a nice effort by Marcus Kruger a little more than a minute before Keith's goal. After Brandon Bollig fired a shot from the high slot, Kruger knocked the puck off Miller's mask with a baseball swing and the puck hit the crossbar before skipping into the corner.
Cole committed his penalty during that shift, which led to Keith's goal. Shaw made it 2-0 late in the second before Kruger and Smith extended it to 4-0 in the third, the former off a rebound at even strength and the latter to cap a power play.
"We wanted to just come out and play a good, solid hockey game from start to finish and I thought we did that," Keith said. "I think it's something we can build on for sure."