-- Marian Hossa
had no idea how long it had been since the Chicago Blackhawks
' last division title and teammate Patrick Kane
just learned on Sunday that he was only four the last time it happened.
The drought officially ended before the Hawks had even taken the ice Sunday against the Calgary Flames
at the United Center.
Detroit's loss at Philadelphia prior to Chicago's impressive 4-1 win against the Flames gave the Central Division title to the Hawks (49-22-7) -- their first division crown since winning the Norris in 1992-93. They also ended the Red Wings' streak of eight straight division titles.
The combination of that feat plus the win prompted the 21,537 on hand to erupt in a loud ovation following the game.
That didn't go unnoticed by Kane or his teammates.
"It's fun to be part of history, it really is," said Kane, who broke out of a personal four-game scoring slump with his 29th goal and an assist. "This team has turned around ever since my first year. It's been a long time coming. It's fun to do that and beat out a team like the Red Wings, a big rival. It's pretty fun times right now to be a Blackhawk."
The Hawks are riding a three-game winning streak after stumbling for two weeks following the Olympic break. Still short a couple of defensemen, the back end is shoring up thanks to some stout play and a hot goaltender in Antti Niemi -- who was great once again Sunday.
Niemi allowed just Ian White's goal late in the second period to make it 3-1, and otherwise made life miserable for the Flames (40-30-9). He stopped 25 of 26 shots and has stopped 78 of the last 80 that he's faced in the past three games -- all wins. Niemi's goals-against average is now 2.16, which is the second best in the NHL, and he has a .929 save percentage over his last 10 games played.
"I'm getting closer to there," he said of feeling nearly impenetrable. "But you never want to feel too good, you know?"
Chicago has to feel pretty good, though. After some recent lineup changes, the Hawks have responded well. Hossa was recently added to the first line with Jonathan Toews
and Patrick Sharp
, and the defense pair of Duncan Keith
and Brent Seabrook
has been separated to good success.
Opponents are taking notice, too.
"They've got two first lines," Calgary center Craig Conroy
said. "They've also got two other lines that know their roles and play them (well). It's a very good team. Even with the injuries, they just roll."
It started early against the Flames, who haven't beaten Chicago in e ght games spanning two seasons.
Tomas Kopecky scored just 2:56 into the game for a quick 1-0 lead and then Troy Brouwer followed it up in the last minute of the first period to put the Hawks up two goals after 20 minutes. Both goals came on rebounds let up by Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff
, who'd been hot in Calgary's three straight wins coming into the game. Kane and Dustin Byfuglien scored Chicago's other two goals.
For the Flames, it becomes a numbers game as to whether they will make the playoffs. They came into the game tied with Colorado for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, but the Avalanche have a game in hand and played San Jose on Sunday night.
"The reality is we've got to get some help," Calgary coach Brent Sutter said. "It's not too hard to figure out the mathematics. We've got to run the table and (Colorado) can only get five points. We can't finish dead even with them. We've got to be ahead of them."