Hawks, Wings deliver playoff feel

Those waiting for a playoff environment got what they were looking for in the Chicago Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime thriller in Detroit on Monday. It was a thoroughly entertaining game from start to finish with momentum swings seemingly from shift to shift.

Consider there was a penalty-marred first period which included a controversial head shot on Ryan Johnson by the controversial Todd Bertuzzi. Fortunately, Johnson was OK, but Bertuzzi was kicked out. He will receive no further punishment though a one-game suspension could have been in order. The Hawks took two penalties during the ensuing five-minute major infraction and gave up a goal while getting nothing on their end for Bertuzzi’s abuse. It led Joel Quenneville to declare “those things happen” in regards to getting scored upon instead of doing the scoring.

The penalties allowed both teams to showcase their dynamic power plays. The Hawks scored on one later in the period after failing to on the Bertuzzi call, but it was back-to-back penalty kills by the visitors that helped them to the victory. Corey Crawford was fantastic and the Hawks held serve after the first period, leading 2-1.

But that was just the beginning of the fun. Later, Niklas Hjalmarsson clearly tripped Tomas Holmstrom on a breakaway but no whistle was blown. Hjalmarsson said he was “waiting for the penalty shot,” which never came. Moments before, Duncan Keith played a 3-on-1 break about as perfect as it can be played, to thwart another Detroit chance. Then there was the disallowed goal by Tomas Kopecky after he clearly kicked the puck in with his right skate. A video review upheld the original call.

On and on the exciting play continued. Chris Campoli even played goalie while Crawford recovered from a give-away behind his own net. Then a hard-working final shift brought on the power play which led to the overtime winner by Marian Hossa. Patrick Kane played until the buzzer and it helped win the game.

To his credit, Henrik Zetterbeg didn’t demand a “no whistle” considering there were only four seconds left when he was called for hooking. He said it was a penalty, and it was. In fact, Kane thought he was hooked moments earlier.

Hossa capped off a busy night by slamming home the winner from the point, not a place he usually has found during power play time but Quenneville may have sensed the moment and wanted to make sure his star touched the puck.

So why was Monday’s one-goal affair any more intense or entertaining than Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Anaheim? The game against the Ducks should have brought out the intensity considering both teams are neck and neck in the standings. It didn’t have that playoff feel, but Monday sure did. So was it the rivalry or the fact the game was on national television?

Neither. It was the style of play.

And that, more than any other reason, bodes well for a Hawks potential upset of Detroit or Vancouver if they face either of those teams in the first round, assuming they get into the playoffs.

The Wings and Canucks allow the Hawks to skate, and that’s their strength. Chicago and Detroit have been mirror images of each other for the last couple of years. Both teams like to have the puck and both teams struggle to get it back when the other team possesses it.

It’s one reason Monday’s game had a back and forth feel to it from shift to shift. When the Hawks had possession in the offensive zone they looked like world beaters but the same can be said of the Wings when they grabbed the puck. Based on the season series to this point, regardless of injuries, a postseason best-of-seven would be up for grabs between these teams. Remember, though they are separated by seven points after Monday’s game, it’s still just a few more wins for the Wings. Does that really matter come spring?

It’s ironic the Hawks match up better against the best teams in the West, but if Phoenix or Nashville come calling, then it becomes a nail- biting grind. Either way, the fun is just beginning. Monday night kicked off the final two weeks of the season in fine fashion. What will Tuesday in Boston bring?

“More of the same, I’m sure,” Kane said after the win.