COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the words "playoff-bound" now in front of their name, the Blackhawks have one task remaining in the final week of the regular season.
The Hawks are striving to finish fourth in the Western Conference and earn home-ice advantage in the first round, and they took a big step toward that goal with a 1-0 overtime victory Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Kris Versteeg scored 3 minutes 10 seconds into overtime to end a brilliant goaltending duel between Hawks veteran Nikolai Khabibulin and Columbus rookie Steve Mason in front of a crowd of 15,957 at Nationwide Arena.
Khabibulin made 20 saves for his second shutout of the season and 40th of his career to help the Hawks win their third consecutive game and snap a five-game road losing skid.
The victory also gave the Hawks two much-needed points in their battle with Vancouver and Calgary for the fourth spot in the conference. They now have 97 points with four games left. The Canucks and Flames entered Sunday with 94 each. Vancouver played host to the Colorado Avalanche late Sunday.
"Both teams tried to play tight defensively," Khabibulin said. "We had some chances, but [Mason] made some good saves. We came here and played a good road game. Goals are going to be hard to score in the playoffs, and you have to make sure you don't give up too many."
Khabibulin's biggest save came on a breakaway by the Blue Jackets' Kris Russell early in overtime when he flashed his right pad to get a toe on the puck. Moments later Versteeg had a breakaway of his own after a pass from Andrew Ladd, and the rookie winger beat Mason with a forehand shot.
The game featured end-to-end play with few whistles. Each team had only three minor penalties.
"That's a playoff-type game," Versteeg said. "I'm not too experienced in that, but you see how the game is played. It's very simple. Both teams really came out there [in overtime] and wanted that point.
"You can't really see much on that goalie. I was going 5-hole, and I kind of got lucky and it bounced in."
Khabibulin won his third game in a row and sixth in his last seven starts to improve to 23-8-6 on the season. As good as Khabibulin was, Mason matched him big save for big save and finished with 24 as the Blue Jackets picked up a point and inched closer to their first postseason appearance.
"They want to create some gap between us and secure home-ice advantage for the playoffs and we're trying to secure a playoff spot, so both teams had a lot at stake," Mason said. "They came out with the two points."
The 0-0 tie after regulation was the Hawks' first since 2003.
"That was a great game for us—a tight one-goal game," Hawks defenseman Matt Walker said. "It's a good learning experience. It's a character-builder for us to stick with it. For guys to dig in and get the extra point is huge for this time of year."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun