By Brad Vandenberk
The Blackhawks miracle regular season finishes this Saturday night in St Louis. But first, they have to complete their western Canadian road trip with a stop in Edmonton to face the Oilers.
Now, we all remember it was back on February 25th when the Oilers that took the Hawks to overtime and the Hawks finishing on top 3-2 with a great move by Marian Hossa. The second match against the troublesome Oilers saw the Hawks surrender 4 goals in the first period on route to a 6-5 defeat on March 10th.
Tonight’s game was the rubber match. The only thing the Oilers were playing for is pride as the Hawks can clinch the President’s trophy with 2 points. The home stretch hasn’t been kind to the Hawks who are 1-1-1 in their last 3 games. The western conference is still awaiting the 8th seed to be crowned, to see who the Hawks will play in the opening round of the playoffs.
Patrick Sharp returned to the line up after suffering an upper body injury. He will regain his spot with Patrick Kane and his new centermen, to start the game, was Drew LeBlanc. LeBlanc was a late season addition to the line up after being signed as a free agent from St Cloud University. Now the tricky part of this situation is that LeBlanc is not eligible to play in the playoffs for the Hawks, however the upper brass wants to see what he is all about. The Hobey Baker winner will see his first game sporting the Indian head wearing #14.
Ray Emery also returned from injury and got the nod from coach Q to start between the pipes. Mum is the words when it comes to who will be the starting goalie come playoff time – darn that’s a tough dilemma to have. Dave Bolland missed the game with what seems to be a groin injury; I mean lower body injury, suffered during the Canucks game on Monday night. Michal Rozsival and Michal Handzus also returned back from injury. Interesting move by Coach Q when Michael Frolik was not playing for this one watching alongside, Dan Carcillo, Sheldon Brookbank, Brandon Bollig and Carter Hutton. Devin Dubnyk started for the home team.
As we have witnessed in the past, this game got started right away. Sam Gagner pressured Emery and fired a shot on net, which heads wide. Johnny Toews tried to wrap it around at the other end. The back and forth chances continued. Toews was the first one to break the ice when Brandon Saad and the captain break in 2 on 1. Toews keeps the biscuit and rips it past Dubnyk, giving Chicago an early one goal advantage.
Less than a minute later, Nail Yakupov slaps a board deflected puck over Emery’s shoulder and the score is tied 1-1.
After the goal, Bryan Bickell comes right back all alone and couldn’t solve Dubnyk. Now it was time to play everyone’s favourite game, where’s LeBlanc. Well after going minus-1 on his second NHL shift when he got caught out of position, coach Q began moving Leblanc around. Handzus replaced LeBlanc as the second line center.
Before the period was half over, Kane is sprung for the Hawks second break away in the game. He makes no mistake and slides it through Dubnyk’s legs to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead.
Toews receives the first penalty of the game as he trips Jeff Petry on the fore check. Emery made some timely saves and the Hawks kill it off. Toews is almost sent in alone again when he jumped out of the box.
At the 6:11 mark of the period. Emery left the ice surface and headed for the dressing room. Corey Crawford came out to finish the period. Don’t worry folks, Hawks are travelling with three. Andrew Shaw again gets his face in the way of a flying puck. The Hawks continued to pressure the Oilers defense. LeBlanc now shows up centering the 3rd line. Marcus Kruger steels the puck behind the net and tried to tuck it home, but it heads wide. The Hawks end the period up 2-1 and were being outshot 11-9.
The second period began with Crawford taking the ice and the backup chair on the bench emptied. Emery would not return after a lower body injury seemed to flare up. Hawks get their first power play of the game and send out Kane, Seabrook, Shaw, Saad and Nick Leddy. They work it around and pepper a few beauties at Dubnyk. They fail to capitalize on the man advantage but they are swarming the net.
Where is LeBlanc you ask? Well he is still centering the 3rd line at this point. He feeds a great pass to a trailing Johnny Oduya who fired a shot on net. Hawks head to the power play once again when Mark Fistric elbows Shaw from behind. They begin with the same unit and the movement is crisp, but no shots on net. Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Stalberg and Duncan Keith came out and again couldn’t muster any shots on net or zone time. Cue Crawford. Jordan Eberle walked in on a 2 on 1 and keeps the puck. He tried to fire the puck high; Crawford flashes every bit of his leather keeping the Hawks up. Sharp showed up with a few beautiful chances. If he didn’t miss 19 of his last 21 games, then this one would have been over a long time ago. Stalberg heads to the box forcing the Hawks to play shorthanded once again. During the kill, Seabrook hits Handzus with a clearing attempt. The Hawks are successful and the still lead. The goal tending swarming continues as the Hawks are all over Dubnyk. The puck finds it way behind Dubnyk but after a quick review it was deemed no goal. Gagner loses the puck in his own zone and Sharp and Kane are standing alone in front. Sharp tried to slide it across to Kane, but Dubnyk read it perfectly and made the save. The period ends with the Hawks regaining the shot advantage 16-13 but the score remained 2-1.
You didn’t have to play, ‘where’s LeBlanc?’ for long. He had a few tremendous scoring opportunities to open the final frame. The Oilers add a little bit of pressure after only registering 2 shots on net during the second period. Seabrook is forced to cough it up and Crawford is called upon to make a save. After an icing call, the Hawks head down the ice instead of to the bench and it pays off. Kane gains the blue line and saucers a pass over to a trailing Oduya. He makes no mistake and found the top shelf over Dubnyk’s shoulder giving the Hawks a 2 goal cushion and the crowd began to head to the exits.
Toews has another chance to score the same way he did in the first, but sends it wide past Dubnyk. Rozsival puts his team down a man once again with a cross check in the defensive zone. At this stage the Oilers can’t even penetrate the zone let alone get a shot on net. LeBlanc was noticeable, paired back with Kane and Sharp. He has more than a few chances to get his first NHL goal on just one shift. Saad misplays a puck at his the blue line and tough guy Mike Brown has nothing but ice in front of him. Saad is forced to trip Brown and heads off giving the Oilers their 4 power play of the night. The Hawks make quick work of the Oiler attempt. Saad jumps out of the box and breaks in, you guessed it, another breakaway. Dubnyk sprawled out with a poke check and makes the save.
LeBlanc was hungry tonight with Kane finding him wide open in front of the net, but Dubnyk keeps it out. Sharp gets involved in a scary moment as he collides with an Oilers forward limping back to the bench. He wasn’t sitting long.
Right after Coach Kruger pulls his goalie, Sharp came muscling down the wing and scored in his return, on the empty net, claiming the Hawks first President’s Trophy since 90-91 with a 4-1 victory.
-Hawks outshot the Oilers 30-22 with Oilers only registering 11 shots in 2 periods.
-Hawks go 0 for 2 on the power play with the Oilers going 0 for 4.
-Duncan Keith led all Hawks once again with 23:45 TOI and his D partner Niklas Hjalmarsson with 20:48
-Handzus was 9 for 13 in the faceoff dot and the next best Hawk was Kruger winning 3 of 4. Toews only won 3 of 11.
-Drew LeBlanc’s debut: 14 Shifts, 3 Shots on goal, 3 for 8 in the faceoff dot, minus 1 and played 12:12 TOI.
-Ray Emery gets credited for the win because he left the ice when the Hawks had the lead and the Oilers didn’t score any more on Crawford. Emery gets his 17 win of the season but could have a costly injury heading into playoff time.
-Hawks fly home to play the Calgary Flames at the UC on Friday before they head to St Louis for the last tilt of the year on Saturday. Time to get the playoff beards in full effect and await the Hawks opponent that will be sorted out on Saturday night.
On Twitter: @CMM_Brad