Even with the Presidents’ Trophy already in their possession, the Chicago Blackhawks are surging into the Western Conference playoffs.
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews scored 3:28 apart in the first period, and NHL-leading Chicago beat the Calgary Flames 3-1 on Friday night.
Marcus Kruger added a goal in the third period for the Blackhawks, who are 11-1-2 in their past 14 games. Chicago (36-6-5) will wrap up the regular season on Saturday at St. Louis and carry the NHL’s best record into the postseason.
Although the Blackhawks dominated at times, they needed splashes of outstanding goaltending against Calgary to maintain their lead and momentum.
Corey Crawford was sharp in making 25 saves and keeping the Blackhawks ahead throughout. The only goal he allowed was Chris Butler’s short-handed tally – Butler’s first goal in 65 games.
”(Crawford) made some big saves,” Kane said ”I thought we played good, but we gave up some grade-A chances, and he did a great job of stopping them.”
The Blackhawks clinched the Presidents’ Trophy, given to the NHL team with the best regular-season record, on Wednesday.
Joey MacDonald stopped 35 shots in the final game of the season for the Flames (19-25-4), who failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
Although the game had no postseason implications, both teams said was hardly unimportant.
”The game still meant a lot,” Crawford said ”We want to be playing our best hockey going into the playoffs.
”We don’t want to take anything too lightly. It’s hard when you get away from your game to get it going when the playoffs come. The speed steps up.”
Kane, tied with Toews with a team-leading 23 goals, echoed the sentiment.
”In Edmonton we played good, and tonight, we dominated, so you’ve got to be happy with the way we’re playing going into the playoffs,” Kane said. ”A few days of practice, everybody will get prepared and rested up. We should be ready to go for the playoffs. No excuse not to.”
Kruger scored his first goal in 32 games.
The Flames skated without several injured regulars, including Alex Tanguay, Jiri Hudler, Curtis Glencross, Tim Jackman, and rookie Sven Baertschi. Calgary coach Bob Hartley was forced to use a lineup loaded with young players.
Although Chicago controlled the game early and jumped to a 2-0 lead, the Flames got back into it. After Butler’s goal midway through the second cut the deficit in half, Calgary came within inches of tying it on several occasions.
”A loss is a loss, but we certainly didn’t embarrass ourselves, and I think we can walk out of the rink with pride,” Calgary’s Lee Stempniak said. ”We had the chances and didn’t capitalize.”
Hartley didn’t fault the effort he got from his young, patched-together lineup.
”Toews and Kane and company, they really showed us what they were capable of in the first period,” he said. ”Suddenly we scored that short-handed goal and it gave us life.
”Crawford came in with a couple of big saves, and I felt we made it a game.”
Chicago goalie Ray Emery, who is 17-1, sat out because of a lower body injury, so Carter Hutton backed up Crawford.
Entering the game, Crawford and Emery had combined to give the Blackhawks the NHL’s lowest team goal-against average at 1.97. The last time the Blackhawks led the NHL defensively was in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season when Hall-of-Famer Ed Belfour played 42 games as their No. 1 goalie.
Kane gave Chicago a 1-0 lead 9:34 into Friday’s game.
After Patrick Sharp’s shot toward an empty net deflected off the shaft of Calgary defenseman Mark Cundari’s stick, Sharp jumped on the loose puck behind the net. He fed Kane, who beat MacDonald on the short side from close range.
Toews made it 2-0 moments later when he swept into the crease and popped in a rebound of Brandon Saad’s shot from the slot.
The Blackhawks had several prime chances early in the second, but MacDonald turned them aside.
Butler cut it to 2-1 at 10:43 of the period with a screened high shot from 50 feet. The drive breezed past Calgary’s Ben Street and got past Crawford for his first goal in more than a year.
Crawford made a point-blank pad save on T.J. Brodie in the opening minute of the third, and another close-in stop on Matt Stajan’s tip-in attempt to keep the Blackhawks ahead.
Kruger extended Chicago’s lead to 3-1 at 7:06 with a shot from the right circle that beat MacDonald high on the stick side. It was his first goal since Feb. 15.
NOTES: Emery has been bothered by a lower body injury the past two weeks and hasn’t played a complete game since April 15. He started at Edmonton on Wednesday, but left the game with 6:11 left in the first period. … Chicago C Dave Bolland missed his second game with a groin injury. … The Blackhawks recalled nine players from Rockford of the AHL on Friday, but none played against the Flames. … Baertschi sat out because of a groin injury. He had a seven-game point streak, with three goals and seven assists.