You know how the rest of it goes. The Hawks won their fourth in a r dustin byfuglien, pekka rinne,ow tonight against Nashville to bring the season total to 99 points after 79 games with another solid effort...for the most part.
Everyone knew coming into tonight's tilt that the Hawks would be facing Nashville's absolute best effort, with this being their home finale, and needing absolutely every point possible in the waning games of the season to sneak into the playoffs after being left for dead by injuries earlier in the season. Coach Q and the boys weathered the initial storm from the Predators, with Khabibulin making a few key saves (one of which he never saw), and the Hawks losing seemingly every draw in the first half of the period. However, at the other end of the ice, the top line of Kane, Havlat, and Toews were making space for themselves, and seemingly had the Nashville defense on their heels every shift they were on the ice. Vernon Fiddler drew first blood on the power play for the Preds, off of a blown coverage by Niklas Hjalmarsson and walking the goal line to bank the puck in the net off of resident parking cone Matt Walker. More on him in a bit.
In contrast to the first, the second period could not have started any better for the Hawks. Twelve seconds in, Marty "What Else Do I Have To Do To Get An Extension" Havlat pounced on a neutral ice turnover by the Predators and fed it to Jonathan Toews, who blew a wrister by Calder candidate Pekka Rinne from the top of the right circle. About half a minute later, Andrew Ladd intercepted an attempted breakout pass from Rinne and fired it on net from the left board, leaving a rebound for the recently interested Dustin Byfuglien to bang home. And just like that, the Hawks had a lead which they would not relinquish. Patrick Kane got on the score sheet as well after (stop me if this sounds familiar) snagging a Nashville giveaway in their zone and roofed a backhander over Rinne, sending the Hawks into the dressing room with a two goal lead - say it with me now - the most dangerous lead in all of hockey.
Similar to the first, it was to be expected that a desperate Predators team would hit the ice in the third. The Hawks limited the Preds to 8 shots in the frame, but that doesn't include a Jarrod Smithson shot that beat Khabibulin only to draw iron off the outside of the right post as a result of who else, Matt Walker stepping up at his own blueline attepting to pick off a pass, only to allow Smithson in behind him. Long time Hawks-killer Jason Arnott cut the lead in half finishing a beautiful saucer pass from Steve Sullivan. Khabibulin had no chance on the play, and Duncan Keith, while in position, would have been better served to get his body in the way of the pass rather than try to bat it out of mid air with the shaft of his stick. Prior to that play, the Predators were the beneficiary of a quick whistle at the other end when Rinne lost the puck attempting to freeze it in a scramble generated by the fourth line. It should also be noted that that goal was scored on one of the few shifts that Quenneville was not able to get the Pahlsson line matched up against Arnott.
With Rinne pulled, Havlat put the game out of reach with an empty netter for his second point of the evening. He was able to be sprung loose due to a pass from behind the net to a very lonely Cal O'Reilly parked in front of the net skipping over his stick and allowed the Hawks to clear the zone. The defenseman who left his spot in front of the net to leave O'Reilly alone? Matt Walker.
Not to pile on, but really, how much longer can this go on? He has exhibited time and again recently why he's been a career #7 defenseman. Fortunately, it did not bite the Hawks too hard in the ass tonight, but against stiffer competition in a seven game series, it will. No one is exactly sure what Aaron Johnson has done wrong when playing in the third pair, and he brings the physicality that Quenneville seemingly wants from Walker. Additionally, when Walker is out of the lineup, Brent Seabrook and Cam Barker seem to bring some extra sandpaper to the rink as well.
Now, for some good news. First, Toews, Kane, and Havlat finally seem to be finding some real chemistry together, as they were all over the Predators tonight, though the CORSI doesn't reflect that. They pass the eye-test from this observer. Next, Khabibulin is once again making key saves. Third, the Hawks only took two minor penalties, however one ended up in the net, and they only got one power play themselves, bringing that drought to 23 tries and counting. And lastly, when they were on the ice at the same time (shift charts), Phalsson, Ladd, and Buff kept Arnott and friends at bay, as all three finished with a +1.
As of the time of this writing, the Canucks are holding a 2-1 lead over the Flames, with about 9 minutes left in regulation, so while the Hawks are still in very solid position for the #4 seed, things will still likely be up in the air after tonight's action. It will likely be Huet in net tomorrow night against the Blue Jackets, and two points then will shore up that spot. Let's hope Cris is up for the challenge.
UPDATE: The Canucks have defeated the Flames 4-1 to draw even at 96 points with 80 games played, however the Flames still hold the wins tiebreaker for the division lead.
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