The ultimate goal for the Chicago Blackhawks this regular season is gaining home-ice advantage through the postseason. They at least secured that postseason spot on Sunday.
Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews scored within 55 seconds of each other, as the Blackhawks beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 at the United Center. The Blackhawks, who now have 62 points atop the Western Conference, clinched a fifth-consecutive postseason berth with the victory.
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“Obviously, at the start of the year the goal is to make the playoffs, and then we know anything can happen,” said Duncan Keith, who finished plus-3 tonight. “We’ve given ourselves a chance now.”
Patrick Kane scored an empty-netter to seal the game. Bryan Bickell scored his second goal in as many games and Andrew Shaw scored his eighth of the season. Ray Emery stopped 19-of-22 his second victory in as many games. Pekka Rinne was once again busy in the loss, stopping 35-of-39.
But the Blackhawks weren’t busting out the champagne for just making the playoffs. It’s a start, it’s a spot, but right now, that’s it.
“It’s a good feeling, being the first team (this season) to clinch a playoff spot. But we’ve done a good job of never thinking too far ahead this year and taking it one game at a time,” said Toews, whose 19th goal of the season proved to be the game-winner. “We’ll keep going forward with that mindset that we’re not going to focus on something that doesn’t really matter right now.”
What matters, ultimately, is the Blackhawks continuing to play the way they have to get to this point. After a few so-so third periods, the Blackhawks returned to four lines rolling/playing-to-the-end in their weekend games vs. Nashville. The Predators’ style, and their stellar goaltender Rinne, force teams to be patient. In both games, the Blackhawks were. All four lines had their moments tonight, from the fourth line opening the scoring to the top line finishing.
“We create energy that way,” Shaw said of the four lines going tonight. “Every line’s rested by the time they’re up again. If we keep doing that, we’ll be fine.”
David Legwand put the Predators up 3-2 about seven minutes into the third period. But the Blackhawks’ top line had the final say. Saad tied it on his second-chance shot near the midway point of the third, and Toews had a perfectly placed shot, just under the crossbar, less than a minute later for a 4-3 lead.
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“We’ve had a good year to date and we’re happy with what we’ve accomplished,” coach Joel Queneville said. “But we still want to get better in games, and that’s the important thing. Finishing as high as we can is a priority as well. That’s where the motivation is.”
The Blackhawks have unfinished business in the playoffs, which has ended very quickly these past two seasons. They secured their spot in them tonight. But improving, honing and perfecting are on the docket now. They want to go into the postseason strong – and make a strong showing once they get there.
“I think the motivation stays the same as it has been the last little while: We want to keep building as a team, improving on something every single game,” Toews said. “It’s a little ways to go before playoff time and if we keep working on our game the way we have, I think we’re going to be a confident team going into the playoffs regardless of who we get in the first round.”