With a dramatic third period and shootout victory against the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks clinched the final Central Division championship.
Chicago had done a good job of staying out of the penalty box during a streak of strong penalty killing. But on Friday night the Hawks found themselves short-handed five times; they hadn’t been short-handed that many times in a game since Feb. 24 against Columbus.
The strong penalty killing continued, though, as the Red Wings failed to score on all five of their powerplay opportunities.
Also, third periods have been a struggle for the Hawks lately, but they fought through a sloppy beginning to the final stanza and were able to tie the game late. As he has done all season, Jonathan Toews found a way to put the puck in the net in a huge spot, getting the game tied with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.
For Toews, the goal was his 20th of the season and added just another clip to his Hart Trophy resume. He also won 12 of 19 faceoffs in the game and blocked two shots.
Corey Crawford returned to the net and had a good game. He allowed two goals against 29 shots in 65 minutes of hockey. Trailing entering the third, Crawford stopped all nine Detroit shots in the third period and overtime, and looked much better in the shootout to earn the Hawks the second point.
Viktor Stalberg scored his eighth goal of the season to open the scoring in the second period. For Stalberg it was his second goal in the last 18 games; he scored a third period, game-tying goal against St. Louis eight days ago (the only loss the Hawks have suffered in their division this year).
Chicago dominated Detroit at the dot, winning 37 of 59 faceoffs in the game. Patrick Sharp once again served as the primary center on the Hawks’ second line and won seven of eight faceoffs, while Michal Handzus won six of nine.
Brent Seabrook had three hits and a team-leading four blocked shots in the game, while Nick Leddy was credited with four hits in the game. Yes, Leddy had more hits than Seabrook…
Brandon Saad added the shootout game-winner to his Calder Trophy resume.
The Blackhawks are now 14-0-1 against the Central Division this year.
In their final season as division rivals, the Blackhawks swept the Red Wings in the regular season. But, if the season ended today, the two would be first round opponents in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Hawks now have a four point edge on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the NHL, and still have a game in-hand. They also have a seven point lead on Anaheim for the to spot in the Western Conference, and have a game in-hand with the Ducks as well.
Chicago will travel to St. Louis on Sunday.