By Chris Kuc
April 4, 2009
Friday night the 21,628 boisterous faithful on hand showered the Blackhawks with affection after the team earned its first playoff berth since 2002.
The Hawks clinched at least the sixth spot in the Western Conference with a 3-1 victory over the Nashville Predators.
Sammy Pahlsson, Jonathan Toews and Martin Havlat provided the offense and Nikolai Khabibulin was stingy in goal as the Hawks won their second straight game to earn a chance to play for the Stanley Cup for the second time in 11 years. The victory also moved the Hawks, who have five regular-season games left, into fourth place in the conference in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round.
"It was exciting at the end there," Toews said. "The crowd got going. It means a lot to them but even more for us to be a part of that team. There was talk coming into the game that we could do it so we didn't want to wait.
"It's always exciting to go out at center ice and salute the crowd after a win but this one was special. Everyone in the building knew what this game meant. We got that playoff spot but now our next goal is obviously to stay in fourth place."
Pahlsson's goal early in the first period gave the Hawks the lead and was the center's second score in as many games. Andrew Ladd fed Pahlsson with a pass and the veteran shoveled a back-hander from the right circle over the left shoulder of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.
After Nashville's Cal O'Reilly tied it 1-1 in the opening period, Toews celebrated the handing out of 10,000 bobbleheads bearing his likeness with his team-leading 32nd goal midway through the second. The Hawks captain converted from in close after a pass from behind the Predators net from Havlat.
Havlat closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal with 1:13 to play.
"To finally clinch it feels pretty good, especially in front of the home crowd," winger Patrick Kane said. "The last 30 seconds and after the game, chills were going up the spine. It's a pretty cool feeling."
The Hawks suffered a blow when forward Patrick Sharp left the game with an undisclosed injury after a first-period collision with Rinne. Sharp, who was playing in his seventh game since returning after missing 16 consecutive with a right knee injury, did not return. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said he's day-to-day.
"It's a great achievement," Quenneville said. "That was our motivation at the start of the year. That was our No. 1 priority and objective. We had a couple of real good stretches. We were a little slow coming to this point at the end. But it's something to be excited about and the fact we got fourth with the win is something to shoot for. We're not satisfied with just making the playoffs."
Khabibulin made 25 saves to improve to 22-8-6 on the season.
"We weren't good enough [Friday night]," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Chicago had us on our heels most of the game. They kept us on the outside and we couldn't get opportunities for rebounds. Chicago has a lot of speed and talent."
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