After a few weeks of hinting at and alluding to the Blackhawks’ presumed first-round series against the Colorado Avalanche, Joel Quenneville finally admitted earlier this week that it was pretty much inevitable.
“I might have used that word prematurely,” Quenneville said Wednesday morning. “I waited a long time to use it, as well.”
Indeed, Colorado’s race with the Hawks for the second seed has suddenly taken a back seat to its race with the St. Louis Blues for first place. The red-hot Avalanche have moved within two points of the ice-cold Blues, each with three games left. That means the Hawks might wind up facing the Blues — the team that had been the league’s best nearly all season long until their recent free fall — in the first round.
The Hawks at least kept alive their slim hopes for home-ice advantage in the first round Wednesday night with a dramatic 3-2 overtime victory — their first overtime victory of the season. Patrick Sharp set up Marian Hossa’s game-tying goal with 47.7 seconds left in regulation, then scored the game-winner 43 seconds into overtime (as Montreal goalie Peter Budaj helped put the puck in his own net) to give the Hawks the win.
Colorado still needs a combination of two points of their own or two lost points by the Hawks to guarantee the Hawks third place in the Central Division.
Dale Weise — a late addition to the lineup after Lars Eller was scratched with an illness — scored at 7:31 of the third period for the only goal of the game. Jeremy Morin scored his third goal in the last four games at 10:34 to tie it, but Francis Bouillon scored 22 seconds later to give the Canadiens the lead right back. And just when it appeared that the Hawks were going to guarantee themselves third place with a regulation loss, Hossa knocked in Sharp’s feed to send the game to overtime and keep the Hawks’ home-ice hopes alive.
As for who the Hawks will face, that remains to be seen. The Avs are 7-0-1 in their last eight games, while the Blues have lost three straight and have scored just five goals in their last five games. Colorado closes at Vancouver, at San Jose and at Dallas, while St. Louis finishes up at Minnesota, at Dallas and home against Detroit.
“You look at the standings, the Avs can catch St. Louis, we can catch Colorado — it’s going to play right down to the end of the season,” Patrick Sharp said. “I feel like w’ere ready for all different scenarios, whoever we play, wherever we start.”
Added Andrew Shaw: “Whoever we play, we know what we need to do,” Andrew Shaw said. “We’re a playoff team. Guys are going to step up and do their best. The Western Conference is full of great teams and anyone could grab that top spot.”