It took five meetings between the two teams – and 80 overall games – but the ‘Hawks finally captured two points against the hated Detroit Red Wings.
With both teams having already clinched their respective playoff spots, though, it didn’t have the typical ‘Hawks/Wings feel. Detroit sat Marion Hossa and Kris Draper and asked defensemen Chris Chelios and Derek Meech to play forward, while the ‘Hawks were missing Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg and Sammy Pahlsson. The ‘Hawks again requested Aaron Johnson play forward and called up Jake Dowell to center Pahlsson’s line between Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien. (Don’t worry: Pahlsson was with his wife, who is expecting a child. Sharp and Versteeg are hurt, though, and as is typical, there’s absolutely no way to know when either will be available to see game action.)
With small handfuls of players missing for each side, the game featured less than 50 overall shots and nearly put me to sleep 14 times. (Thankfully, I had to do taxes for family members.) The game’s highlight came with less than 30 seconds left to play. At that time, the game was 2-2, with the ‘Hawks getting tallies from Ham Sandwich and Ben Eager. Hjalmarsson’s came on the game’s first shift off a beautiful spot pass from Martin Havlat on a break up ice. The shot may have been deflected, but it banged off the cross bar behind Wings goalie, Ty Conklin, and into the net. Eager’s goal tied the game at two nearly midway through the third; it was his 11th. Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg scored for the Wings, who held a 2-1 lead for about 10 minutes.
It was Dustin Byfuglien’s afternoon, though. Late in the third, Byfuglien found himself in alone on Conklin, the man who, prior to Saturday, couldn’t be beat. Niklas Kronwall hooked Byfuglien from behind, taking Big Buff’s scoring chance away. (Obviously, Kronwall doesn’t watch too much Blackhawk hockey. Though I’ve defended Buff much of the season, Kronwall has to back off and allow Byfuglien to crash and burn on his own.)
Byfuglien was awarded the penalty shot, and he didn’t miss. In what looked like a scouting report shot, Buff came down the ice on Conklin’s stick side, cut to the middle, and roofed a shot over Conklin’s right shoulder, just as he dropped the paddle of his stick to the ice. It gave the ‘Hawks their first penalty shot goal since 2002, when Alexei Zhamnov was still sober, and their first victory against Detroit since they stopped dominating the Wings late last season.
Andrew Ladd added an empty netter 17 seconds later to seal the proverbial deal. It was Byfuglien’s 15th and Ladd’s 14th.
The Wings announced before the game that they signed winger Johan Franzen to an 11-year, $43.5 million deal. I was sure no one would ever hear “Johan Franzen” and “11-year deal” in the same sentence, unless we were talking about jail time. Franzen is 28-years old, and has 27 goals and 11 assists this season in 72 games. I’ll stop well short of criticizing Ken Holland, but how do you envision Franzen looking in 2020? How do you say, “Not good,” in Swedish?
Elsewhere, with Vancouver’s victory in Colorado yesterday afternoon – actually, it was their point heading into overtime – the Canucks clinched the Western Conference’s Northwest Division, leaving the Calgary Flames with fifth place in the conference. Unless you dwell under a large rock, you know by know that leaves the ‘Hawks to play the Flames in the first round.
Tim Sassone of the Daily Herald believes the ‘Hawks match up well with the Flames, while others think differently. (More on that later this week.) My take: I won’t shed a tear knowing the ‘Hawks avoid Roberto Luongo right off the bat, but the Flames are no pushovers. The ‘Hawks outscored the Jokinen- and Leopold-less Flames 19-7 in four meetings this season.
Finally, Boston University took the National Championship for Men’s College Hockey yesterday evening. Two things were noteworthy. First, keeping with my “Oh my God, the Central Division will drive me to alcoholism next season” theme, BU’s Colin Wilson – he of the 55 points in 43 games this season – is big and property of the Nashville Predators. He was the 7th overall pick in the most recent draft. Also, BU’s jerseys are gorgeous.
Of course, the ‘Hawks are at home against the Wings today at 1:00 pm. We’ll talk at you about that one later.
Happy Easter. And, don’t forget to thank a soldier.