Hawks best Wings in playoff atmosphere

CHICAGO -- Playoff hockey in late December doesn’t happen often, but when it’s the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings each clash has a playoff feel.

The team’s put on a competitive show for an electric crowd with the Hawks gutting out a 3-2 victory thanks to a masterful defensive performance by the home team. It started with limiting Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to one combined shot on the night and zero points.

“As long as you keep those two guys off the scoreboard you know you’re going to at least have a close game against these guys,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said afterwards. “We played good team defense. This was one of our better games this season when we needed it the most.”

Neither team dominated for any long stretches. It was back and forth with the Hawks taking their first and only lead on Brent Seabrook’s game winning goal early in the third period.

“We have to be prepared for the defensive part of the game,” he said. “It’s nice if we can contribute at the other end of the ice and get a big win.”

A big win it was, and make no mistake, the key was keeping the Red Wings in their sights as the home team fell behind 1-0 and 2-1.

“They had the lead on us both times there early, and getting it back was important,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “When they get up by two, they’re as good as anybody with the lead. I thought that even when we were down, in those instances, I still liked the way we were playing at those points.”

Before the game Quenneville spoke of shifts right after Wings’ goals. Detroit has a knack of taking control after it scores then adding on. But not on Friday. Momentum stayed even long enough for the Hawks to respond.

“We were going to stay patient,” Jonathan Toews said. “We knew they weren’t going to get far. We stuck with it going into the third period. We were confident all night we were going to use that crowd and energy in here and find a way to win. And we did that.”

Toews helped the cause with a penalty shot goal in the first period after Niklas Lidstrom hooked him on his way in. Lidstrom was called for a second hooking call on Toews in the opening period and could have been called for a third on Marian Hossa.

When Detroit’s three stars struggled the Hawks took advantage.

“The last regular-season game we played against them [last season] was at home here and they beat us and almost took us out of the playoffs at the last second,” Toews recalled. “I’d say the energy in this game was right up there with that one.”

He’s not wrong. It was a playoff atmosphere in the final game of 2011, and maybe a preview a fantastic season series between the clubs. And maybe even a series after that.