By Brad Gardner
The Blackhawks completed the season sweep of the Detroit Red Wings in a 3-2 shootout win at the United Center on Friday night. Jonathan Toews tied the game with around three minutes left in regulation and Brandon Saad scored the decisive goal in the shootout.
The Blackhawks clinched the Central Division title in what will be the last regular season meeting between the two teams while they are division rivals. The longest rivalry in hockey will be relegated to inter-conference play next season when the Red Wings move to the Eastern Conference.
Corey Crawford got the start for the first time in eight days, matching up against Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, fresh off signing a six-year extension with the Wings. Both goalies turned in strong performances, with Crawford making 27 saves and Howard 26. Of the ten total attempts in the shootout, the goalies allowed only three conversions.
The two squads skated to a scoreless first period but it was not without chances. The home team had five shots and plenty of offensive zone pressure on an early power play.
The Blackhawks had taken and killed off 18 penalties in the 11 games leading up to Friday’s tilt, but the team took three minors in the first twenty minutes against the Wings. Michal Handzus was whistled for two of the infractions, the first of which negated 90 seconds of the Blackahwks’ second power play.
Viktor Stalberg was the first to break through on the score sheet when his wrap around attempt beat Jimmy Howard at the 6:11 mark of the second period. Duncan Keith’s pinch kept the puck down low, and although the Hawks’ blueliner could not get the puck on net on a set up from below the goal line by Stalberg, the puck wound up with Stalberg behind the net. Howard lost the puck and made no attempt to cut off the far post, giving Stalberg an open net on his eighth of the season.
Chicago’s penalty issues subsided for the first 14 minutes of the second period, but Stalberg was whistled for a hold in the neutral zone at 14:01, putting the Wings on their fourth power play of the night. The Wings controlled the puck in the offensive zone for a better part of the advantage, eventually coming through on a deflection goal from Johan Franzen. Niklas Kronwall’s one-timer finally found it’s way through the traffic and Franzen’s deflection barely rattled through Crawford’s five hole.
The Wings held momentum and the fourth line cashed in on a defensive zone breakdown just two minutes later. Corey Emmerton came away from a corner battle with the puck, in part because Michal Rozsival had the blade of his stick held by Drew Miller. Nick Leddy slid across the ice to take away Emmerton’s first attempt, but the puck went right back to the Red Wings’ forward and he roofed a wide open look in front of the Blackhawks’ net. Joel Quenneville did not take kindly to the non-call on the held stick, but the goal stood for Detroit’s energy line.
The Blackhawks third power play opportunity came at 13:43 of the third period on a hooking penalty by Jakub Kindl. They were unable to establish much in the zone and a Patrick Sharp turnover nearly resulted in the best chance of the two minutes going to Detroit. Sharp was able to get his stick on the pass and knock it far enough ahead of the streaking Detroit player that Crawford was able to poke it out of trouble.
More momentum came from the shift after the power play. Michael Frolik had a couple looks on Howard, and after one of them was swept to the sideboards, he dropped the puck back to Jonny Oduya. The defenseman sent the puck towards the front of the net, where Toews was waiting on the doorstep. Jonathan Ericsson was one of two Detroit defensemen down trying to block the shot, but Toews was able to find the puck first, tying the game at 2-2 with 2:57 left on the clock.
Although there was some back and forth play in the overtime session, Detroit registered the lone shot on goal in the extra five minute frame. The shootout was the 10th of the season for Chicago.
Toews was unable to lift his attempt over the pad of Howard and Patrick Kane was unable to get the goalie to bite on any of his dekes. Henrik Zetterberg scored in the bottom of the second by faking a shot to get Crawford down and then elevating the puck over his right shoulder.
With the Hawks needing a goal to extend the shootout, Marian Hossa used the slap shot again to convert against Howard. Hossa double-pumped on the shot, but eventually let loose and tucked the puck just inside the post to Howard’s blocker side.
Michal Rozsival’s backhand attempt in the fourth round rang off the crossbar, bracketed by Crawford’s saves on attempts by Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist.
Brandon Saad got the call in round five, using a quick forehand-backhand deke to get Howard down and elevating the puck off his backhand. Johan Franzen had a chance to answer but missed his shot high.
– The Blackhawks penalty kill finished with 21 straight kills over the course of 11-plus games. They allowed one goal on five power play opportunities against the Wings.
– The Blackhawks held an advantage in the faceoff circle, winning over 60% of their draws. They counteracted that success by being on the wrong end of a lopsided 11-4 count in the giveaways column.
– Viktor Stalberg played a confident game, using his speed to drive up the right wing numerous times against the Wings’ young defensive unit. As time was winding down in overtime, Stalberg made a spin move in order to receive a pass that was behind him. He barely broke stride, breaking into the zone and setting up Kane for a redirect on the doorstep, which was saved by Howard.
– 3 Stars of the Game: 3. Viktor Stalberg… 2. Jimmy Howard… 1. Jonathan Toews.
– The United Center crowd was committed to clearing all of the “Detroit sucks” chants from its system.
– The Central Division champions will take the ice Sunday at 11:30am in St. Louis.