CHICAGO – A point away from finishing first in the Western Conference, the Chicago Blackhawks were turned away by their biggest rival.
Brad Stuart scored at 3:11 of overtime Sunday and the surging Detroit Red Wings won 3-2 to deny Chicago the conference title that went instead to San Jose. The Blackhawks finished second and will meet Nashville in the first round of the playoffs.
The Red Wings locked up the No. 5 seed and will play Phoenix in the opening round. Detroit is 16-3-2 since the Olympic break and finished 13-1-2 over the final 16 games.
Once the Red Wings got healthy, they started playing like the force they have been for so many years.
“We’ve had a great run, but in saying that though, the most remarkable stretch for me was when we had no players, when we had eight guys missing and the guys hung in there and they battled and they chipped away and found ways to win games,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
“To me that’s more remarkable than what we’ve done since the Olympic break. Since the Olympic break it’s been great, but we had skill to do it with. When we were doing it when we had no skill – or not near as much I thought that was impressive.”
Stuart took a nice pass from Dan Cleary to beat Antti Niemi and stun the largest crowd of the season at the United Center. It was the defenceman’s fourth goal of the season.
“I’ll take them when I can get them. It’s nice to score in the last game in here, I guess,” Stuart said.
“He (Cleary) held on to the puck and three guys basically kind of migrated toward him. He made a great play.”
A victory would have allowed the Blackhawks to tie San Jose (113) for most points in the West, and Chicago would have won a tiebreaker because it had more victories.
Instead the Blackhawks had their six-game winning streak ended, finished with 112 points and now have the No. 2 seed. They still set franchise records for most points and victories, while winning the Central Division.
“It would have been nice to get that extra point and finish off the job and cap off a great season. But we know as disappointing as it is not to get first place in the conference, we still got a lot of work to do and a lot to look forward to,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said.
Teammate Patrick Kane was also upbeat, despite the loss.
“It’s tough when you realize you could have had first place, but at the same time, I think everyone is excited to get to the playoffs,” Kane said.
“It’s been a long season – a lot of games for a lot of players in here. I think for most of us, we’re just excited to get to the playoffs and get things going.”
Tomas Holmstrom deflected in Brian Rafalski’s long wrist shot from just in front of the blue-line at 7:10 of the final period, giving the Red Wings a 2-1 lead.
But about 3½ minutes later, Chicago’s Marian Hossa skated down the side and made a nice crossing pass to Colin Fraser for the tying score when the puck apparently hit Fraser’s skate. Officials upheld the score after a review.
Dave Bolland’s power-play goal gave Chicago a 1-0 lead after one. Patrick Eaves scored for Detroit to tie it in the second.
Jimmy Howard made 27 saves for the Red Wings and Niemi had 18 for Chicago.
“We knew coming in here they’re a real good team and we’re a good team. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get to play again,” Babcock said.
Detroit’s Johan Franzen was called for a tripping penalty with only 2:32 left in regulation. And after a Chicago timeout, Howard twice made nice stops on the power play against Toews to keep the game tied.
In the opening period, Toews took the puck to the net from the left side and then Bolland jammed it in 11 seconds into the power play.
The Red Wings tied it about five minutes into the second when Cleary shot from the left circle and after the Blackhawks couldn’t clear the puck, Eaves punched it past Niemi.
Chicago’s Patrick Sharp had three strong scoring chances in the period but Howard made good stops each time and turned away 16 shots in the second.
“The game had a playoff atmosphere, and it took a special effort to pull it out,” Howard said.
Notes: The crowd was 22,428. … The Blackhawks had 29 victories at the United Center, one win shy of the franchise-record 30 wins set in 1970-71.