CHICAGO - After a disappointing and erratic regular season, the Chicago Blackhawks had a final chance to make their own way into the playoffs. Instead, they needed some help to get back to the postseason for a third straight year.
On their home ice, the defending Stanley Cup champs needed one point Sunday against their most fierce rival, the Detroit Red Wings, and they were in. Didn't get it.
The Red Wings carved out a 4-3 victory and put Chicago into a wait-and-watch mode with its collective fingers crossed. And the Blackhawks got the assistance they had to have Sunday night when the Minnesota Wild beat Dallas 5-3, giving Chicago the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"I've never been more excited after a hockey game in my life that I didn't participate in," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday night after watching the Wild pull out the victory
"I was acting like a 2-year-old. ... It was unbelievable. I was shocked, surprised the way the whole game unfolded. I can't express my jubilation, enthusiasm and excitement."
"We know playing against Vancouver we got be special and got to be great," Quenneville said. "Anything can happen this year. Everybody is close, all the teams are basically comparable."
Quenneville said the Blackhawks are fortunate they were able to get in after losing earlier in the day. And now they have to take advantage of that.
"Certainly we got lucky," he said. "We got a break, a huge break at the end."
Jimmy Howard made 33 saves, the Red Wings killed a late power play and finally solved rookie goalie Corey Crawford, who was 4-0 against the Red Wings.
"It's so frustrating it has come down to this. I'm pretty much speechless," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said after the loss.
Drew Miller, Danny Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom and Pavel Datsyuk scored for the Red Wings, who had already locked down the No. 3 playoff seed in the West and were trying to build momentum for the playoffs where they will open against the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Blackhawks had beaten the Red Wings 4-2 Friday night in Detroit.
Chicago went on a power play with 2:58 left when Jonathan Ericsson was called for holding with Detroit nursing its one-goal lead, but the Red Wings and Howard killed it. Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith couldn't get off a shot from in front of the goal as the final seconds clicked off.
"It was a lot of fun out there, they threw everything at us there in the third period and we withstood it," Howard said. "That's a great sign for us heading into the playoffs."
Michael Frolik, Brent Seabrook and Keith had goals for Chicago.
The Red Wings took the lead with a pair of goals 62 seconds apart in the second.
"We haven't been very good for a while, and yet we think we have a good team and we think we know how to play, and so it was good to see us play here," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
"It was another game when they're in playoff mode and we're not, we're stuck in a spot, but I thought guys showed good pride and good urgency and played the game the right way."
Miller's tip-in less than two minutes into the third period put the Red Wings up 3-1 and momentarily stunned the crowd at the United Center. But Chicago answered minutes later when Seabrook's slap shot from above the right circle found its way past a screened Howard, cutting the lead to one.
But about four minutes later, Cleary took a nifty pass from Todd Bertuzzi and flipped it past Corey Crawford to give the Red Wings a 4-2 lead. Keith's goal, when he reached in for a loose puck and shoved it past Howard, cut it to a one-goal deficit with just more than eight minutes remaining.
PHT: The Bruins got goals from Daniel Paille and Patrice Bergeron, and their smothering defense helped Tuukka Rask pitch a shutout, as Boston took a 2-1 series lead.
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