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Despite loss, Hawks snag final playoff spot

by Dan Rosen
CHICAGO -- At first it looked like 82 wouldn't be enough, but Chicago got some help.

The 2010 Stanley Cup champions lost control of their own playoff fate Sunday afternoon as the Detroit Red Wings edged them, 4-3, in regulation in front of 22,046 at United Center, but the Blackhawks will get the chance to defend their Cup anyway after their neighbors to the northwest in Minnesota downed the Stars 5-3 later Sunday evening.

Had the Blackhawks picked up even one point on their own they would have clinched the seventh seed in the playoffs, and a win would have lifted them as high as fifth. Thanks to the Wild, Chicago will now be in as the eighth seed, setting up a first-round matchup with the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks.

"I can't even believe we're here right now," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said afterward the loss, reflecting a general state of shock in the locker room. "It's so frustrating that it has to come down to this. I'm pretty much speechless."

If the Stars had beaten the Wild in regulation or overtime, the Blackhawks would have become the fifth team in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup one year and fail to make the playoffs the following season.

The 1967-68 Maple Leafs, 1969-70 Canadiens, 1995-96 Devils and 2006-07 Hurricanes are the only teams to fail to make the playoffs the season after winning the Cup.

The Red Wings had no such worries. They will start their playoff journey either Wednesday or Thursday at home against the Phoenix Coyotes. Detroit was 2-1-1 against the Coyotes this season.

"They're a good team and Tipper (Dave Tippett) is a good coach," Wings coach Mike Babcock said of the Coyotes. "They'll be organized. They've got good depth, they've got a good back end and they've got unbelievable goaltending. So, let's get ready and we'll get at her."

Danny Cleary's 26th goal of the season 8:11 into the third period was the difference Sunday, but the Blackhawks were blaming themselves for missed opportunities.

They had just two shots on goal over three failed power plays. They caught a break with 2:58 left in the game when Jonathan Ericsson was called for holding Toews, but the Blackhawks got just one shot on goal despite making it a two-man advantage by pulling goalie Corey Crawford with 17 seconds left in Ericsson's penalty.

"We didn't do our job, that's what it came down to," Patrick Kane said.

Kane said the Hawks felt good going into the third period down 2-1 knowing just one goal would be enough to get the game to overtime and them into the playoffs.

However, Drew Miller scored 1:56 into the period to make it 3-1 Red Wings. Brent Seabrook got it back less than three minutes later with a slap shot from the right circle, but Chicago never could find a way to break even in the final 20 minutes.

Cleary gave the Wings their second two-goal lead of the third with 11:49 to play when his one-timer from the slot beat Crawford. Duncan Keith scored his seventh goal of the season just 3 minutes and 11 seconds later to breathe new life into United Center and cut the deficit to 4-3 with 8:38 to play.

Keith swooped into the slot and used his backhand to roof the loose puck over Jimmy Howard's left shoulder. Patrick Sharp got a piece of the puck in front after Marian Hossa sent it to the slot from the point.

But, the Blackhawks couldn't get another one, and they nearly didn't have another chance until next fall.

"It's a rotten spot (to be in) with your fingers crossed, rooting for your season," Quenneville said.

If the Blackhawks did't make it they would have to looked back at 14 specific games this season when they had a lead or were at least tied going into the third period and yet failed to pick up even a point. It happened 11 times before the All-Star break and seven of those games were at home.

The Blackhawks earned just 48 points on home ice with a 24-17 record. They finished last season with 62 home-ice points.

"We had too many games that we let slip away and we've got to find a way to get those games into overtime, especially at home," Quenneville said. "There were too many games that looked like we should get something and we got nothing."

The Hawks felt that way about Sunday's game.

They were happy with how they played in the first period and were thrilled when Michael Frolik scored 5:18 into the second to give them a 1-0 lead. Patrick Kane made a tremendous defensive play to strip Brad Stuart of the puck in the corner and find Frolik in the slot for a shot that beat Jimmy Howard over his left shoulder.

However, Detroit struck back with two goals over 62 seconds to take a 2-1 lead less than three minutes after Frolik scored.

Tomas Holmstrom scored on a slapper from the left circle and Pavel Datsyuk cashed in from the right side despite wearing only one glove. He had his glove knocked off by Bryan Bickell, but Cleary was able to find Datsyuk from the slot and he quickly fired a shot past Crawford with 12:02 left in the second period.

"We had control of the game at 1-0 and we made a couple of mistakes and then next thing you know they're winning 2-1," Keith said. "They played well, give them credit, but I just thought we made too many mistakes. It was just a fine line."

It was all season, except this time the Hawks were left with no control over their fate before Minnesota came to their rescue.

"A lot of times I sit here and answer your questions after losses and it's easy to describe what may have went wrong, but when it's the culmination of an 82 game season and you're sitting here in this situation after working so hard for such a long season with the group we have, it's unreal to be here," Toews said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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