Blackhawks 5, Avalanche 2
The Chicago Blackhawks were stumbling two weeks ago. Six straight wins later they're confident and on the verge of having home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
Colin Fraser scored twice, Jonathan Toews had a goal and an assist and Chicago moved closer to clinching first place in the Western Conference with a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night.
Antti Niemi had 30 saves, Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg also scored and Tomas Kopecky had two assists for Chicago. The Blackhawks moved into a tie with San Jose for first in the Western Conference with 111 points and both teams have one game remaining.
``One more to go,'' Fraser said.
Chicago can clinch the No. 1 seed with a win Sunday against Detroit or by tying the Sharks in points. Chicago holds the tiebreaker by having more wins than San Jose. The Sharks host Phoenix on Saturday.
A win by the Coyotes in regulation would make Sunday's game meaningless for the Blackhawks, but they're not worried about the Sharks' outcome because they control their fate.
``We had to take care of what we had to do,'' Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. ``We'll see how it all sorts out.''
The Blackhawks are peaking after dropping three straight at the end of March. Since then they've won six in a row, four of them coming on the road.
``We worked really hard to get out of that hole and we were struggling a little bit,'' Toews said. ``We knew it was still a reality to finish first in the conference, now we've got one game left to accomplish that.''
If the Blackhawks hold on to the top seed, Friday's game was a preview of their first-round opponent. The Avalanche are locked into the eighth and final playoff spot, a big improvement from last year when they finished in the conference cellar.
``More than anything, I'm excited to be playing in the playoffs again,'' Avalanche forward Darcy Tucker said. ``Our goal all year long as a team was to get into the playoffs and make sure we're playing well going into the playoffs.''
Although Chicago won the season series 3-1, the four games between the teams have been close. The first three games went to a shootout, with Colorado winning one at home and the Blackhawks both games at the United Center.
Chicago made sure the final game between the clubs didn't reach a shootout with an early flurry of goals. Fraser scored 6:20 into the game when he took a rebound off the back boards and beat Peter Budaj to make it 1-0.
Toews made it 2-0 4:35 later when he scored on the power play, his 25th goal of the season. It was Chicago's first power-play goal since March 25, a span of seven games.
``It's nice to see one go in. We can use that confidence to keep getting better on the power play,'' Toews said. ``It's going to be a big part of our game going into the playoffs.''
Sharp made it 3-0 with his 25th goal 7:21 into the second period before the Avalanche struck. Ryan O'Reilly was stopped on a point-blank shot on the power play before Ryan Stoa got Colorado on the scoreboard with his first NHL goal with 2:24 left in the second and the teams skating 4-on-4.
Tucker made it 3-2 with 7:11 left, but Fraser scored his sixth goal of the season and second of the game 38 seconds later to make it a two-goal game. Versteeg scored an empty-net goal with 1:21 left to seal the win.
``Against a team like that you have to be ready to match their intensity,'' Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. ``We knew before the game they were playing for first place in the conference and so there's no question that we have to elevate our game and play better.''
The Avalanche could be limping into the playoffs after losing rookie Matt Duchene to a torso injury in the first period and he didn't return.
``We wanted to hold him out for the rest of the game as a precautionary measure,'' Sacco said. ``We'll know more in the morning. I don't want to speculate.''
NOTES: Budaj had 32 saves for Colorado. ... Avalanche C Peter Mueller is out indefinitely with a concussion suffered Sunday against San Jose. ... Chicago's 111 points are the most in franchise history.