With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Blackhawks have clinched the Central Division crown with a 3-2 shootout victory over Detroit.
Friday's game was unusual for the Hawks as they played like a team that didn't care enough about winning over the opening 40 minutes of play. Fortunately for the Blackhawks, Corey Crawford returned to action from a three game hiatus and looked sharp. He was able to keep the game close until his teammates got determined.
On a night when Red Wing goalie Jimmy Howard was good but also lucky, it looked like the Hawks were going to fall short. Whether it was a combination of a lack of focus, poor officiating or bad United Center ice, the Hawks looked sloppy. In the NHL a poor job from the men in stripes is almost as constant as death and taxes, but the better teams find a way to survive. The UC ice is another factor, but that can't be used as a reason to lose.
It isn't easy to defeat an opponent in four consecutive games, and similar can be said for a goal tender to do same. This year is different for the Blackhawks as they swept the four game season series from Detroit, and Crawford has played in each victory.
Trailing 2-1 going into the third period the Hawks found their groove. Possibly the Wings playing on Thursday night may have helped the Chicago cause.
The Hawks team defense was good for the most part, and there were some fine contributions from Viktor Stalberg and Michael Frolik. Rookie Brandon Saad capped the night off by scoring the final shootout goal as the Hawks captured their 31st win of the campaign.
Crawford had a fine outing and played really well in the shootout. Those hoping for a goalie controversy will have to wait.
Joel Quenneville can start Crawford in St. Louis on Sunday in a matinee contest and again Monday night at the UC if he chooses. Possibly, Quenneville could split the games and give Ray Emery the start at home, but if Crawford keeps rolling he could keep the net. After returning home to face Dallas the Hawks will have a break until meeting the Predators on Friday night in Chicago. So if Quenneville wanted he could ride Crawford for awhile.
A point of concern is the power play.
The Blackhawks have not scored a power play goal on home ice in April but they tried a few new wrinkles versus the Wings and did have some chances. We will have time over the next few games to discuss power play issues. If somehow the Hawks can click with the man advantage fans would have a better feeling about the upcoming playoffs.
As it is, if the Blackhawks play with intensity for an entire contest they will be a tough out in the playoffs. For now there is the power play to work on as well as finding a way to stay focused that will be foremost on the minds of Quenneville and his staff.
Of the eight remaining games the Hawks will face the Blues on the road twice, which will be a stiff test. Currently St. Louis sits in sixth place in the Western Conference and every point for them is of the utmost importance. The Blues are only two points out of fourth but just three points ahead of eight place Detroit.
Shortly after winning the Hobey Baker award as the top collegiate hockey player, forward Drew LeBlanc signed a one year contract with the Blackhawks on Friday.
The St. Cloud State center played as a fifth year senior after suffering a compound fracture to his left leg last year. He went undrafted and chose to sign with Chicago. LeBlanc's fracture could be compared to the one suffered by Louisville basketball star Kevin Ware in this year's NCAA tournament.
LeBlanc registered only 13 goals for the year but chalked up 37 assists over 42 games. He will soon practice with the Blackhawks and wear number 14. It won't be very likely LeBlanc will see action this season but considering the Hawks situation he might.
Winning the Hobey doesn't necessarily lead to NHL stardom.
I believe the last Blackhawk to win the award was Bill Watson in 1985, who they had previously drafted. Watson was a bust in the NHL and had a short career. On the other side of the ledger is Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller who won the Hobey in 2001 after a fine career at Michigan State.
I will be back on Monday morning and you can follow me on twitter @AlCimaglia.