Blackhawks win division, complete season sweep of Red Wings
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org April 12, 2013 2:14PM
Updated: April 13, 2013 12:50PM
The biggest crowd of the season roared through the loudest national anthem of the season, the anti-Detroit chants were ringing through the United Center and the Hawks pulled out a dramatic 3-2 shootout victory Friday, clinching the Central Division title and putting a little dent in the Red Wings’ precarious postseason hopes.
Bitter rivalries don’t end much sweeter than that.
It was the Hawks’ seventh consecutive victory against their hated rivals, who’ll be moving to the Eastern Conference next season, and capped their first season sweep of the Red Wings since 1976-77.
‘‘It’s been good for us against them this year,’’ said Hawks goalie Corey Crawford, who made 27 saves and came up big in the shootout.
It has been good pretty much all season for the Hawks (31-5-4), who are 6-0-1 in their last seven games and have a seven-point lead on the second-place Anaheim Ducks with a game in hand and only two weeks left in the regular season.
At this point, the Hawks pretty much could put it on cruise control and glide into the postseason as the top seed in the Western Conference. But if there has been one common theme this season, it has been a distinct lack of contentment in the dressing room. There’s always something to improve upon.
Brandon Saad wasn’t happy to be 0-for-3 in shootouts this season, so he did his homework, studied other people’s moves and waited for his next turn. He saw a miss from Jonathan Toews in the first round of the shootout and figured if he got his chance — after the first three shooters, coach Joel Quenneville was calling off names one-by-one with little warning — he knew what to do.
In the fifth round, Quenneville called on Saad, who scored the decisive goal.
‘‘I was just thinking about earlier moves, what the guys did and how to capitalize on mine,’’ he said. ‘‘I saw when [Toews] made his move, if he would have got [the puck] up, he would have had [Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard] beat. So I just tried to do the same thing to the other side. Ended up working out for me.’’
Crawford wasn’t happy about how he performed in his last shootout, giving up four goals in six rounds in a loss to the St. Louis Blues in his last start. So he broke down video all week, realized he was moving back too fast and worked on being more patient. It paid off, as Crawford denied four of the Red Wings’ five attempts.
‘‘I was moving a little too fast backward, and it was kind of getting me out of control,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘So I just slowed things down a little. I was able to move side-to-side a lot better tonight.’’
And Toews wasn’t happy with all the squandered opportunities the Hawks had, particularly early in the first period and throughout the third. A goal by Viktor Stalberg early in the second period gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead, but two goals in two minutes by the Red Wings’ Johan Franzen and Cory Emmerton — Franzen’s on the power play, ending the Hawks’ streak at 21 consecutive kills — put the Hawks down 2-1 entering the third.
Toews kept chipping away and scored on a rebound of a shot by Johnny Oduya with 2:57 left in regulation to send the game to overtime.
‘‘I had been looking for one of those all night,’’ he said. ‘‘Had some great pressure in that third period. We knew if we kept that pressure up, we could find a way to tie things up.’’
With the division title locked up, the Hawks can look ahead to the top seed, the Presidents’ Trophy, then the playoffs. But the way the Hawks see it, there’s still plenty to work on in their last eight regular-season games, including a power play that’s has one goal in its last 24 chances.
‘‘We’re going to keep going,’’ Toews said. ‘‘We got our division, we got home ice in the playoffs and we just keep building. I think this really shows that we’re hungry and we’re really motivated to improve every single night.’’