After blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 3, it was Patrick Sharp and Cristobal Huet who ended up saving the day for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Sharp scored at 1:52 of overtime Friday night, giving Chicago to a 4-3 victory over Detroit and cutting the Red Wings’ lead in the Western Conference finals to 2-1.
After Matt Walker’s shot from the point in overtime, Dustin Byfuglien tried to control it in front. With Nicklas Lidstrom’s broken stick, it was Sammy Pahlsson who reached in and pushed it over to Sharp, who got it past Chris Osgood for the winner and his second goal of the game.
With the game tied at 3 at two periods, Huet came in to replace starting goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who had a lower-body injury. Huet, in his first action of the postseason, stopped six shots in the third. His play helped slow the Red Wings’ momentum after they scored three goals in the second.
The Red Wings, playing without arguably their best player in Pavel Datsyuk, scored three goals in a 4:23 span late in the second period. Detroit’s outburst quickly quieted a raucous crowd at the United Center after it looked as if Chicago was in control.
Lidstrom also tallied a powerplay marker, putting Detroit on the board. Goals later followed by Brian Rafalski and Jonathan Ericsson.
Sharp scored on the power play in the opening period and, just over a minute later, Andrew Ladd beat Osgood to give the Blackhawks a quick 2-0 lead. Pahlsson’s goal less than a minute into the second period made it 3-0.
There was some controversy at 13:08 of the first frame, however. ‘Hawks’ Martin Havlat was absolutely railroaded by Niklas Kronwall. Havlat had turned around the boards, and had the puck between his feet when Kronwall nailed him. The ensuing blow caused Havlat to lose consciousness, to which he was later helped off the ice and did not return.
After the hit, no referee, nor any of the linesman, had raised their arms to indicate a penalty. Why? Because it was a clean play. Havlat had the puck, had his head down, and paid the price. Looking back to Game 1, Jiri Hudler’s hit could be categorized as a second too late.
Kronwall received a 5-minute major, as well as a game misconduct for his NHL rule-abiding check. Things like these, however, have become commonplace in the NHL. A player goes down, is hurt on a clean play, and the opposition is penalized for it. Although it remains uncertain whether or not Kronwall had gone head-hunting, the bottom line remains that he got all shoulder into the hit. I remember back in the day when hits like these were praised and touted around the league. Players like Scott Stevens made careers out of hits like these, but this new NHL has gone and removed this element of the game.
While Detroit successfully killed off the major, they were forced to play two-and-a-half periods without one of their top defencemen. Yes, Detroit eventually did tie the game at 3, but would they have won had they still had Kronwall patrolling the blueline?
As for Havlat, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Havlat’s condition had improved after the game and he would be re-evaluated Saturday.
Game 4 is Sunday at the United Center.