By Brad Gardner
The Blackhawks completed the season sweep of the Calgary Flames on Friday night with a 3-1 win at the United Center. First period goals from Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews proved to be enough for the home team, which had little to play for having clinched home ice advantage throughout the playoffs with their win on Wednesday.
Corey Crawford bounced back with a win in net after going 0-1-1 in his previous two starts. Crawford played over 46 minutes in Wednesday’s game in Edmonton, stopping all 14 shots that he faced, but that decision went to the game’s starter, Ray Emery, who left in the first period with a lower-body injury.
Back at home on Friday, Chicago iced a lineup that is likely very close to the one that will be deployed when the playoffs begin next week. Dave Bolland remained out of the lineup due to a groin injury and Niklas Hjalmarsson was also scratched, but otherwise the regulars were utilized normally.
The Flames, playing in their final game of the season on Friday, went with Joey MacDonald in net, a notable lineup decision if only because franchise goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is expected to retire following the season. Kiprusoff lost his previous start on Tuesday in a 4-3 loss in Nashville.
The Blackhawks pressured MacDonald and the Flames early, striking first with a pair of goals in the opening period. Patrick Sharp, who sent an early backhand chance at an open net off the side of the net early in the period, had another golden scoring opportunity to MacDonald’s right. Flames defenseman Mark Cundari, acquired recently from the St. Louis Blues, made a great defensive play with his stick to save the goal from Sharp. The Hawks winger pursued the puck below the goal line however, and centered the puck to Kane. His one-timer beat MacDonald between his arm and his body, putting the Hawks up 1-0.
Less than four minutes later, Toews pushed the lead to two goals with a tally on a rebound in MacDonald’s crease. Toews dropped a pass to Brandon Saad as they entered the zone on a 2-on-2, and the Hawks’ winger unleashed a heavy, high shot at the Flames goal. MacDonald was out on top of his crease and got the shot with his shoulder, but the puck still wound up behind him in the crease. Toews skated through the crease and cashed in on an open net.
The second period seemed to be going in the Hawks favor as well, and near the midway point of the frame, they earned the game’s first power play opportunity. The Flames nabbed momentum however with a shorthanded goal credited to Chris Butler. Toews won a power play faceoff in his own zone, but Ben Street’s pressure on Duncan Keith eventually resulted in the defenseman throwing the puck into an open corner. Lee Stempniak was the first player to the puck and he dropped a pass back to the blue line. Butler one-timed the pass back in on Crawford just as Street passed in front of the net, helping the puck find it’s way past Crawford to draw the Flames back within one.
Calgary applied more pressure in the second half of the middle period, and after being out-shot 13-5 in the first period, managed to lead in that category 13-12 in the second period. Crawford had many of his best saves while it was a one-goal game, both in closing out the second period after the sudden shift in momentum and in standing up to a few good looks in the third.
T.J. Brodie and Stempniak were each robbed by Crawford from in-close, Brodie unable to elevate a loose puck over Crawford’s pad and then the goalie getting a piece of Stempniak’s shot with his arm as he slid to his left.
The home team was able to relax a bit with Marcus Kruger’s fourth goal of the season at the 7:06 mark of the third frame. Michael Frolik and Brandon Bollig were each in on the forecheck below the goal line, and helped lead to a loose puck finding Kruger. He took a quick wrist shot, beating MacDonald to the far side corner for a 3-1 lead. The goal was Kruger’s first in 32 games.
The Blackhawks came up empty on a third period power play and then missed a couple chances at an empty net late in the game, including a diving poke check by Mark Giordano to stop Brandon Bollig’s attempt.
– The time on ice was fairly spread out for the Blackhawks, with Nick Leddy leading the team with 22:11. Joel Quenneville rolled four lines throughout the game, even Brandon Bollig (barely) set a season-high in ice time with 12:10.
– The Blackhawks were 0-for-2 on the power play, but other than getting outworked for the shorthanded goal, that unit didn’t look all bad. They established some offensive zone time and got the cycle going, managing two shots on each of the opportunities, but came up empty.
– For the game, the Blackhawks led in shots by a count of 38-26. The Flames blocked 24 more attempts, which gives a pretty clear picture of how much the Hawks dominated the puck.
– 3 Stars of the Game: 3. Jonathan Toews… 2. Patrick Kane… 1. Corey Crawford.
– Defenseman Ryan Stanton was recalled and took part in the Blackhawks’ morning skate on Friday. He is expected to play Saturday in St. Louis.
– The Blackhawks also called up eight more ‘Black Aces’ – forwards Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, and Ben Smith… defensemen Steve Montador, Adam Clendening, and Shawn Lalonde… and goaltender Henrik Karlsson.
– Blackhawks head athletic trainer Mike Gapski‘s 25th season with the team was acknowledged early in the first period and again in the third.
– The Blackhawks will close out the 2013 season on Saturday in St. Louis, a 7pm central start time.