On paper, the Blackhawks' victory Saturday over the Detroit Red Wings had very little meaning. The game had no ramifications on the Western Conference playoff race as the Hawks already had wrapped up the fourth spot and home-ice advantage in the first round while the Wings long ago had sealed second in the conference.
Confidence-wise, the game meant quite a bit more to the young Hawks. Their 4-2 victory over their Central Division rivals at Joe Louis Arena was the first in five attempts against Detroit this season and gave a Hawks team already brimming with confidence even more as they prepare for their first postseason appearance since 2002.
"They're the defending Stanley Cup champions for a reason," said Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith, who played a game-high 26 minutes 25 seconds Saturday. "Every night they're hard to play against so it only gives us more confidence. That's what we want. We want to go into the playoffs on a high note and feeling like we're playing our best."
The Hawks already had defeated every other Western Conference team this season, including two victories over the San Jose Sharks, who will get the Presidents' Trophy for having the most points in the NHL.
No one will argue that Saturday's game had the intensity of a playoff game. There were a few hard checks but virtually none of the pushing and shoving after whistles that is commonplace when these teams meet. The Hawks had only two minor penalties called against them while Detroit had four.
The objective on both sides was to come out of the contest healthy and build momentum heading into the playoffs.
The Hawks, who will play the Calgary Flames in the first round, earned the two points when winger Dustin Byfuglien converted a penalty shot with 28 seconds remaining after Niklas Kronwall hooked him on a breakaway. Byfuglien beat Red Wings goaltender Ty Conklin with a shot to the stick side to cap a rally after the Hawks trailed 2-1 at the end of two periods.
"It gives ourselves confidence knowing we can play along with the best of them," Byfuglien said. "If we play a tight game and play our systems and do everything the right way, [we can win]."
It didn't take long for the Hawks to show the Wings they were in for a battle. Rookie defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson scored his first NHL goal when he rifled a slap shot from just inside the blue line over Conklin's glove 16 seconds into the game.
After Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg scored to give the Wings the lead, Ben Eager tied it midway through the third with a wrist shot from the left circle before Byfuglien scored the game-winner on the Hawks' first penalty-shot goal since Alex Zhamnov scored against the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 13, 2002.
Andrew Ladd closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal. Brian Campbell and Martin Havlat each had two assists and Cristobal Huet earned the victory in goal with 21 saves.
"They're maybe the best team in the league and we know we can beat them," winger Patrick Kane said. "It definitely gives us confidence going into the playoffs."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun