DETROIT – It doesn’t seem to matter who plays goal for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Antti Niemi made 33 saves for his fourth shutout of the season and his career, and Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist in the Blackhawks’ 3-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night.
Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews also scored for Chicago, which also shut out Detroit 3-0 on Sunday night in Chicago with Cristobal Huet in goal.
“We know whether it’s Antti or Huey, we’re going to get great goaltending,” Sharp said. “We tip our hats to our team defensive game.”
Jimmy Howard stopped 28 shots for Detroit, which has gone two hours 21 minutes without a goal.
“We got to find ways to score goals. We got a lot of pucks to the net, there was a lot of rebounds lying around we just couldn’t get to,” Detroit’s Kris Draper said. “We had a good start but weren’t able to get that all-important first goal, when you’re struggling to score, when you have some of your big players out, you got to find a way to score early.”
Detroit was without eight regulars because of injury or illness.
“I think at this time right now their roster is better than ours. It was evident as the game went on and we didn’t score,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
“They’re a good team. When they play hard and we play hard, they’re better. They were better two nights in a row, it’s that simple.”
Detroit has long dominated the Central Division. It appears the Blackhawks have turned the tide. They are first in the Central and tied with the San Jose Sharks for the top point total in the Western Conference, while Detroit is ninth in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs. But Sharp says not yet.
“Until we beat them in a playoff series, they’ll remain on top,” he said.
It was also Marian Hossa’s first game in Detroit after leaving the Red Wings last summer to sign a US$62-million, 12-year free agent contract with the Blackhawks. He received a loud chorus of boos when his name was announced as part of the starting lineup and also was booed each time he touched the puck. Hossa hit the crossbar on a breakaway with a little more than 3½ minutes left in the first period and assisted on Sharp’s goal.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Hossa said. “I was only here a short period of time but I have some great memories. We came up one game short and I have some great friends here.”
Hossa left Pittsburgh to sign a one-year free agent deal with Detroit in the summer of 2008 – after the Red Wings beat the Penguins in the Stanley Cup finals – spurning several long-term, lucrative offers, including one from Pittsburgh. But the Penguins beat Hossa in the Red Wings in seven games in last spring’s Cup finals.
Kane opened the scoring 30 seconds into the second period with a power-play goal. He beat Howard with a slapshot from the top of the left circle with Troy Brouwer screening the Detroit goalie for Kane’s 12th goal.
Sharp scored 3:47 into the third period when he jammed one in off a goalmouth scramble with the teams playing 4-on-4. It was Sharp’s 11th goal.
Toews scored with 1:18 left.
NOTES: Detroit D Brian Rafalski didn’t play because of the flu. Defenceman Jakub Kindl was recalled from Detroit’s AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids for his second stint in Detroit this season to replace Rafalski. … Detroit RW Mattias Ritola made his NHL debut. … Chicago LW Ben Eager missed his fourth game because of an upper-body injury and Blackhawks’ D Cam Barker missed his third game with a lower-body injury. … The Red Wings celebrated the 30th anniversary of Joe Louis Arena. … Hockey Hall of Famer Gordie Howe carried the Winter Olympics torch for a short stint as it came through southern Ontario on Wednesday. Howe also was in attendance at the game.