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Battlin' Blackhawks winning without stars

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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks are taking a more direct approach to generating offence without injured star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

So far, it's working.

Rookie Jeremy Morin scored and set up Patrick Sharp's go-ahead goal in the second period, and injury-depleted Chicago held on to defeat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday afternoon for its third straight win.

The Blackhawks ground out the victory despite playing without Toews' powerful skating and Kane's puck-handling skills for the third game. Forward Brandon Saad was a last-minute scratch.

"We've simplified our game quite a bit," said Sharp, who scored his team-leading 33rd goal. "We're not trying to make as many plays offensively. We're battling hard.

"Usually when you battle hard individually and as a team, good things happen. We've raised our battle level lately, but we're just keeping things simple. Getting pucks in, getting pucks out."

And some younger players, such as Morin, are getting more ice time and showing just how deep defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago is.

"I'm just taking it day by day every time I'm in the lineup, trying to make the most of it," Morin said. "We're comfortable out there.

"I'm just playing the game right now and letting things come."

Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith also scored for Chicago, which closed to one point behind Colorado for second place in the Central Division and home ice in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks have three games left. The Avalanche, who hosted Pittsburgh on Sunday night, have four games left.

Toews, Chicago's captain, sat out his third game with an upper-body injury suffered last Sunday when he was drilled by Pittsburgh defenceman Brooks Orpik. Kane, who has resumed skating, missed his ninth with a lower-body injury suffered against the Blues on March 19.

Toews and Kane are expected to return for the start of the playoffs.

Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka connected for St. Louis, which lost its second straight and remained two points behind idle Boston for the NHL's overall point lead and race for the Presidents' Trophy.

Both the Blues and Bruins have four games remaining.

Chicago's Corey Crawford made 21 saves and St. Louis' Brian Elliott made 31.

"We had moments where we did everything to ourselves and gave them opportunities really out of nothing," Elliott said. "It's a wake-up call right now and we've got to figure it out."

The Blues skated without two of their top forwards, including leading goal scorer Alexander Steen who missed his third game with an upper-body injury. Vladimir Tarasenko has been sidelined since mid-March with a hand injury.

The Blues, shut out by Colorado on Saturday, have scored two goals or fewer in eight of their past 10 games.

St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said his team is looking a "little bit tired" and needs to "find a way to re-energize" and start skating, buzzing and shooting again in the offensive zone.

"Our offensive game is based on offensive energy," Hitchcock said. "When we don't have it, we don't have near enough zone time."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2014 D2

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