Is everyone starting to ease themselves back from the ledge and/or putting away the gas can and matches? Granted, nothing seems to cure what ails the Hawks like a visit from the Calgary Flames, who have now been swept two straight regular seasons by the Men of Four Feathers. Additionally, prior to the game, Scum's loss to Philly officially ended their Reign of Terror over the Central Division, making the Chicago Blackhawks your 2010 Division Champions, even though the hats told us so earlier in the week.
While I listened to the vast majority of the first period on the radio driving out to my parents' house, the play seemed to be fairly even between the Hawks and Flames, who need absolutely every single point they can get in order to sneak into the playoffs. But once again, Calgary's early energy was quickly diffused by a suddenly hot Tomas Kopecky, who back handed a rebound of a Niklas Hjalmarsson shot that caromed off of the end boards. Calgary seemed to wilt after going down, and the Hawks never looked back. While the shot count was relatively close at 12-10 in favor of the Hawks after 20 minutes, after the TomoKop goal, they didn't seem to really generate more than one-and-done chances, which is a credit to the Hawks defensemen. Troy Brouwer put a rebound off of a Brent Seabrook shot with less than a minute to go in the period, giving #22 his 22nd of the year, and the Hawks a two-goal lead after the first period.
The second period saw continued territorial dominance by the Hawks, with several prolonged possessions in Calgary's end, particularly from the top line of Toews, Sharp, and Hossa. It was the second line, though, who provided the lone goal of the middle frame, when Patrick Kane ripped a wrist shot over Miikka Kiprusoff's blocker just inside the blue line facing two Calgary defenders. Calgary mustered a paltry five shots during minutes 21-40, but two of them were of a quality variety. Niklas Hagman was snuffed out on a partial breakaway by Niemi, smothering a weak shot that Hagman couldn't get to settle down, and Ian White ripped a perfect shot to the wide side past Niemi after he inside-outed Jordan Hendry at the Hawk line. The period would end at that score, the Hawks leading 3-1.
Once it finally occurred to them that their playoff hopes, as well as as many of their jobs were on the line between periods two and three, the Flames finally came out with something resembling the urgency they had to start the game. But, as is their lot, the Hawks had every answer, particularly Niemi in net, who made a couple of key saves, including a clutch shoulder save on a redirection from in the slot. Again, credit must be given to the defensemen, who are starting to round back into their form earlier in the year of limiting chances, and clearing rebounds from within the slot. Some neutral ice board work by Jonathan Toews led to a rush led by Marian Hossa, who found a trailing Dustin Byfuglien wide open to blaze another one past Kiprusoff to give you your final score - Flames 1, Central Division Champions 4.
- As we've been stating repeatedly, the top line is developing into one hellacious beast. Toews, Sharp, and Hossa had numerous stretches of prolonged pressure, and they once again sprung a line member for a breakaway (Sharp), which is getting to be a nightly occurance. What it lacks in brute physicality, it makes up for in hockey IQ and strength on the puck.
- Glad to see Kaner get off the schinde with 1 and 1 tonight, coming off a brief scoring slump since he was moved from Toews' line. He's become increasingly more noticeable in every game since being put with Bolland and Brouwer, which seems indicative of the line being more comfortable with one another.
- While Biscuit and Hammer keep improving as a pair as each game passes, I'm still puzzled as to why Buff is paried with Duncan Keith if he's going to go do his Mike Green-with-a-pituitary-issue impersonation out there, as making Dunc stay at home to cover for Buff's mistakes negates a lot of the positives he brings to the offensive zone. But with the defense being how it is these days, it will likely take a major league fisting at the hands of an opposition's top line before it's broken up.
- It wasn't the suffocating defense we saw in the first half of the year, but it was good enough tonight. There were a few too many shots to get through for my tastes, but the defensemen did an excellent job of clearing rebounds and springing forwards in transition.
- Finally, Antti Niemi continues to stake his claim on the #1/playoff goalie position, now only allowing 2 goals in his last 185 minutes of ice time. His confidence is growing, and more importantly, it seems that his teammates confindence IN him is growing as well.
- As was mentioned earlier, even prior to the win, the Hawks are the 2010 Central Division champs for the first time in 17 years as a result of the Detroit loss. Congrats to the Hawks, but there is still much, much more to accomplish before this season is over.