He wanted it to be an important goal and they don't come much bigger than a game-winner.
Peter Bondra became the 37th player in NHL history Friday night to score 500 goals when he jumped on a rebound of a Jassen Cullimore shot 5 minutes 37 seconds into the third period. The goal, his second of the season, gave the Hawks the lead in an eventual 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"It was an important goal and I don't want to take anything away from what we accomplished tonight," Bondra said. "I'm really happy it was a big goal to win a game more than anything else."
After scoring in his Hawks debut Dec. 12 in St. Louis, it took Bondra five more games to reach the milestone. He had said all along that the mark wasn't important and that he didn't want his new teammates or himself to focus on it to the point it became a distraction.
But he admitted the last couple of games it weighed on him.
"It got into my head a little, to be honest," Bondra said. "The first couple of games I was so excited to be back and playing and I wasn't thinking about it."
After missing training camp and the first two months of the season, Bondra played those first two games on little more than adrenaline. After going the last two games without a shot on goal, Hawks coach Denis Savard said Bondra had "hit the wall" and that it would take a couple of weeks to get himself into the same midseason form the rest of the league is in.
"Today I had a little more jump and I was feeling better," Bondra said.
The combination of the Friday before Christmas and an opponent that Chicago hockey fans actually know was enough to give the Hawks their largest crowd of the season. It was announced at 17,950 and fans chanted Bondra's name as "500" flashed on the giant United Center scoreboard.
"It was great from the fans," Bondra said. "I didn't expect that from them. Hopefully, I'll score more big goals for them."
The play came seconds after yet another brutal Hawks power play, in which they failed to get a shot on goal.
Michael Holmqvist got the puck Cullimore at the point. Then Toronto goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin couldn't control the rebound on Cullimore's shot.
"Somehow the puck got on my stick," Bondra said. "Sometimes, as a goal scorer, you have to be in the right spot."
The milestone was the first for the Hawks since Michel Goulet scored his 500th at old Chicago Stadium on Feb. 16, 1992.
Toronto jumped ahead late in the first period on John Pohl's power-play goal. The Hawks were killing off a five-minute major penalty to Jim Vandermeer, who also was given a game misconduct for kneeing Michael Peca.
Vandermeer didn't appear to stick his leg out on the play, which may have been more bad luck than evil intent. Peca had to be helped off the ice and didn't play the final five minutes of the first period and had just one shift the rest of the game.
After losing Vandermeer for the rest of the night, the Hawks also lost winger Karl Stewart to a leg injury after the first period, putting heavy minutes on a team that will play at altitude Saturday night in Denver.
The Hawks plan to recall Troy Brouwer from Norfolk for Saturday's game.
The Hawks managed to survive the rest of Vandermeer's major with just the one goal allowed but were under constant pressure killing penalties. They ended the night killing seven of eight Toronto power plays.
The Hawks actually tied the game while short-handed. Bryan Smolinski beat Aubin to the far side 11:03 into the second period for his eighth goal of the season and third short-handed. The Hawks have four short-handed goals this season, 10th best in the league.
Brent Seabrook added an insurance goal for the Hawks with a bit less than three minutes left.
The Hawks pulled within one point of idle Colorado and Minnesota-which lost to Detroit on Friday-for the final playoff spot in the West, a spot they can claim Saturday in Denver.