What a game between the Blackhawks and Red Wings this afternoon in Detroit. I don’t think anyone could have scripted that outcome if they tried.
The Hawks took the lead in the first period after Stalberg scored off a big rebound let up by Jimmy Howard to make the game 1-0. Then in the second period, Andrew Shaw scored on a great one-timer from Patrick Sharp to make it 2-0, Hawks. It would remain that way heading into the third period.
Just over 8 minutes into the third, Johan Franzen scored for the Wings from a bad angle to Corey Crawford’s left, making it 2-1. With just 47 seconds remaining in regulation, Pavel Datsyuk tied the game after a great pass from Holmstrom through the middle of the crease found Datsyuk with a wide open net.
Neither team scored in overtime, and the Hawks went on to win in the shootout thanks to Patrick Kane’s nifty goal through the legs of Jimmy Howard.
So, what does this mean for the Hawks and Red Wings?
The Red Wings will head into the playoffs as the number 5 seed in the West, and they will play Nashville in the first round, with the Predators owning home-ice advantage in that series.
As for the Hawks, they have clinched the number 6 seed in the Western Conference and will have to wait and see how today’s later games play out before they know just exactly who they will meet in the first round. It will be either Phoenix, Los Angeles, or San Jose. If Phoenix wins their game, they clinch the Pacific Division and will play the Hawks. If they lose, the Blackhawks will get the winner of the Sharks/Kings game (that’s going to be a fun one to watch). No matter who the Hawks end up playing, they will not have home-ice advantage.
The common belief among Blackhawks fans heading into today’s game against Detroit was that we would rather have the Hawks not beat the Wings in regulation to ensure that we would get the 6th seed in the West. Our reasoning? The Blackhawks match-up much better against any of those 3 Pacific teams than they do against Nashville. Had the Hawks won today’s game in regulation, they would have clinched the 5 seed and a first round matchup with the Predators. It would seem that the Blackhawks themselves may have had a different mindset than us fans.
After Detroit tied the game with less than a minute left to play, Joel Quenneville pulled Corey Crawford for the extra attacker, thus making it obvious that the Hawks really did want to win the game in regulation and secure the 5 seed. However, that obviously didn’t happen.
So, looking forward for the Hawks, I think their best matchup would be against Phoenix. The Coyotes don’t have the offensive fire-power that both San Jose and L.A. have, and I just think the Hawks are flat-out the better team and should win that series. One thing about Phoenix that scares me is the recent play of their goalie, Mike Smith. He has been lights-out for the past month or so, and the Coyotes are ranked 5th in the NHL in goal-against-average.
Worst case scenario, the Kings win that division and face the Hawks in the first round. Jonathan Quick is most likely going to be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy this season for the league’s best goaltender, and he has been incredibly good against the Hawks this season. As a result of Quick’s play, and the team defense of L.A., the Kings are second in the league in lowest goals-against average. Plus, and like I mentioned a bit earlier, the Kings have some very, very skilled forwards who can put the puck in the back of the net at will. For whatever reason, they just haven’t been able to do it the rate that they would have liked for most of this season, but that could all change come playoff time.
As for a possible Hawks series with San Jose, it could be worse, but it could be better. San Jose is a very physical team, and the Hawks are not. That won’t bode well for Chicago. Of the three teams that the Hawks could play in the first round, they had the best regular season record against the Sharks, going 2-2.
Regardless of which team the Hawks end up playing, I think they have a legitimate shot at advancing into the second round. Whether or not they get Jonathan Toews back, however, could lead to a different outcome in the series. With Toews, I’d say that the Hawks should have a good chance of advancing. Without him, a series against either San Jose or L.A. could get ugly for them. I’m not saying that Phoenix would be any “easier,” but I think the Hawks could still beat them without Toews.
Check back sometime within the next day or so for my predictions on how the first round will play out for each conference. Obviously, not all the match-ups are set yet.
This is going to be an interesting evening of hockey. I can’t wait!