Well, this one couldn’t have been more boring if Cammi Granato was involved.
Otherwise, there was good news and bad news from Friday evening’s game against the Nashville Predators from the United Center.
Early in the first period, Patrick Sharp went careening into Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne after he dove to one-time a shot towards the netminder on a two-on-two with Kris Versteeg. Sharp slid head-first into the goalie, and his left leg appeared to jam into the goalpost, which came off its moorings. Sharp didn’t appear to be injured initially, but he wouldn’t return.
Tim Sassone of the Daily Herald reports this morning that Sharp’s injury may be to his knee and may be more severe than the one that kept him out for over a month earlier this season. Here’s hoping those whispers are wrong. Joel Quenneville says the injury is of the “upper body” variety and that the ‘Hawks will know more today. Don’t hold your breath.
And, a special thanks to the omnicient Pat Foley and Eddie Olczyk, who realized only after the period that Ben Eager had played nearly the entire period on the Versteeg-Bolland line in Sharp’s place. Another big thumbs up to the pair for repeatedly speaking about how the ‘Hawks were 4-2-2 in their last eight, lamenting how they’ve managed to fall in the standings in spite of solid play and a strong recent record. What Foley conveniently ignored was the ‘Hawks’ 4-5-2 record in their previous 11. It’s that record that’s hurt the ‘Hawks’ position in the conference.
With the victory, the ‘Hawks clinched their first playoff berth since 2002 and once again jumped back into fourth place in the Western Conference. The ‘Hawk victory came with good news from up north, where the Minnesota Wild downed the struggling Calgary Flames 4-1.
(2002 … Oh, the memories. Sort of makes you want to start a bar fight, doesn’t it? It also reminds me of attending a playoff game with about 14,000 other people.)
In Chicago, the ‘Hawks started early, scoring just over five minutes into the game when the antichrist himself, Sammy Pahlsson, lifted a strong and quick backhand past Rinne for his second as a ‘Hawk (in only nine games) and his second in his last two games. (Wisniewski would’ve scored and broken Rinne’s sternum with the sheer force of his backhand. Then, he would’ve demolished Jordan Tootoo and Scott Nichol in a bona fide, bloody three-person brawl. Pahlsson didn’t do any of that…) However, just five minutes later, the Preds tied it on a Cal O’Reilly goal.
Then, mid-way through the second period, Patrick Kane, Martin Havlat and Jonathan Toews hooked up on a tic-tac-toe goal to take the lead. Havlat found Toews from the goal line on Rinne’s blocker side and Toews one-timed it home. It was his 32nd.
From there, the ‘Hawks looked to shut down the Predators, led by the formidable top line of Joel Ward, Radek Bonk and Steve Sullivan, as Jason Arnott, Martin Erat and David Legwand, among others, missed the game with injuries. The ‘Hawks were successful, allowing Martin Havlat to add an empty netter with just over a minute left.
Quenneville again played Toews with Kane and Havlat, began the game with Bolland between Sharp and Versteeg. Following Sharp’s early injury, Eager took most of Sharp’s shifts. That left Pahlsson between Byfuglien and Ladd, as well as Burish and Fraser as 2/3 of the fourth line.
Elsewhere, look for Troy Brouwer to miss more games, and prepare to be without Patrick Sharp for a significant amount of time. That should clear the way for a couple Rockford forwards, likely including Jack Skille, especially when the salary cap ceases to matter come playoff time. Or, if recent history is any indicator, perhaps Aaron Johnson will take Sharp’s spot on the second line. We should know today who the ‘Hawks have chosen.
Finally, the ‘Hawks are in Columbus late tomorrow afternoon. Columbus is 6-2-2 in their last ten, while the ‘Hawks are 5-3-2. Columbus is currently in sixth place in the conference and seven points behind the ‘Hawks with five to play.