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
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
“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
The Avalanche could be limping into the playoffs after losing
rookie Matt Duchene to a torso injury in the first period and he
“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