The Blackhawks exited the ice and left their fans standing and roaring Sunday night, but not before giving the largest crowd of the season a team-wide curtain call.
The Hawks' 3-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers before 20,171 at the United Center was their third straight and capped a memorable weekend as they defeated the Ottawa Senators and Oilers on back-to-back nights. After the game the Hawks hit the ice en masse, waving to the fans and throwing their sticks into the crowd as souvenirs.
Patrick Sharp said of the holiday crowd, which was just short of a sellout. "[Nikolai] Khabibulin made some great saves and the crowd was really behind him. We're going to do our best to keep playing exciting hockey and keep winning games for our fans. They were our seventh man on the ice."
Goals by Tom Gilbert and Dustin Penner gave Edmonton a 2-1 lead to close out the first period. The Hawks tied it 2-2 at the 17-minute 44-second mark of the second as Patrick Kane skated around defenseman Joni Pitkanen and sent a backhand pass from behind the net to Sharp, who flipped it past Oilers goaltender Mathieu Garon for his 18th goal of the season.
Brent Seabrook got the game-winner 1:20 into the third period. The defenseman scored his second goal of the night when he fired in a shot from the right circle for his fifth goal of the season. Seabrook scored in the first period when his shot from the point was deflected and got past Garon
"It was a great weekend," Seabrook said. "We had a great effort in Ottawa [on Saturday night] and a big win. We had a great team effort [Sunday]. We all came out and played hard for 60 [minutes] and did the little things to win."
The Hawks peppered Garon with 34 shots while at the other end Khabibulin was strong for the second straight night. The Hawks improved to 18-15-2 and won for the fourth time in 10 December games after starting the month with four straight losses.
"We just realized we could be better," Sharp said of the recent surge. "Hawks teams in the past might have had some opportunities to go the other way and continue to lose games, but we're confident with the team we have here."
Coach Denis Savard said afterward he believes his team has found its identity.
"It doesn't matter who scores," Savard said. "It doesn't matter who gets the assists. This group here wants to win. What you see here is special. You got a bunch of guys that like each other. The chemistry is awesome."
After the game the Hawks shared some of that chemistry with their fans.
"There were a lot of people and guys really appreciate that," said veteran Martin Lapointe, who along with Adam Burish and Sharp were the masterminds behind the on-ice salute. "It's a lot more fun playing in front of 18, 19, 20 thousand people than in front of 10,000. It's been a long 10 years and to see those fans come back like that, to be behind us, guys just wanted to show some respect and appreciation."
BLACKHAWKS 3, OILERS 2