Rookie-laden Hawks tumble in finale; Wild up next in playoffs
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org April 27, 2013 11:12PM
Andrew Shaw, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo
Updated: May 30, 2013 2:58PM
ST. LOUIS — As the clock in St. Louis wound down and the second intermission drew to a close, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville lingered in the dressing room, watching the seconds tick away in Denver instead. The Colorado Avalanche had just pulled their goaltender in a desperate effort to even the score with the Minnesota Wild. The Hawks’ playoff fate hung in the balance.
But with about 30 seconds to go in Denver, Quenneville ran out of time and had to head to the bench to coach the third period of the Hawks game against the Blues.
It didn’t take long for him to get the word, though — the Wild held on to win and would be the eighth seed in the Western Conference and the Hawks’ first-round opponent in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That outcome was more significant than the Hawks’ 3-1 loss to the Blues — a game in which eight rookies played, and a game in which Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Viktor Stalberg, Marcus Kruger, Duncan Keith, and Niklas Hjalmarsson sat out.
“It’s a dangerous team, and we expect a real rough series,” Quenneville said. “And we can’t wait to get started.”
In a whirlwind final full day of the regular season — Ottawa plays Boston in the lone game Sunday — the Detroit Red Wings beat the Dallas Stars to clinch the seventh seed and their 22nd consecutive playoffs. The Columbus Blue Jackets then rallied to beat the Nashville Predators, but Minnesota’s win eliminated the feel-good story of the season on a tiebreaker.
So the Hawks will face the Wild, perhaps rekindling some of the magic of the old Hawks-North Stars rivalry of yesteryear. The Wild were in first place in the Northwest Division a few weeks ago but stumbled badly down the stretch. Yet while the Hawks have been playing glorified exhibitions for a while, the Wild have been fighting for their lives in recent games and already are in a playoff mind-set.
“Every team in this league is dangerous,” said Nick Leddy, a Minnesota native and former Wild prospect who attracts a throng of reporters every time the Hawks visit. “You know you’ve got to bring it every game. The past couple times we’ve played them they definitely gave us a run for our money. We’ll definitely have to come prepared.”
The Hawks are 2-0-1 against the Wild. Minnesota handed them their first loss, 3-2 in a shootout, on Jan. 30. On March 5 at the United Center, Bryan Bickell scored two of the Hawks’ four first-period goals in a 5-3 victory. And on April 9 in St. Paul, Marian Hossa had the lone goal and Ray Emery made it stand up in a 1-0 shutout.
“They’ve been struggling of late, but they’ve got a great team, a lot of skill guys,” Bickell said. “It’s the first round. Anything can happen.”
As for the season-ending loss that meant nothing to the Hawks but clinched the fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the first round for the Blues — the young guys looked aggressive and energetic on the offensive end but struggled a bit in their own zone.
The Blues got a goal from Patrik Berglund and two from Jaden Schwartz, as Carter Hutton made 25 saves in his NHL debut. In the third period, Ben Smith scored his fourth career goal to ensure that the Hawks would go the entire season without being shut out.
“It was cool, it was fun,” said Brent Seabrook, one of the few veterans who made the trip. “The guys worked hard, and it was fun before the game. The guys were all pretty excited and ramped up. It was a great time, and I thought the boys played well.”
But now, 99 days into the shortened season, playtime is over. And the fun’s just beginning.