CHICAGO | The Blackhawks officially clinched a playoff spot Sunday night on, appropriately, captain Jonathan Toews’ third-period goal in a 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators.
The only turnabout was the Hawks’ comeback from a brief one-goal third-period deficit rather than coughing up a late lead, a recent aggravating trend. Now the Hawks can concentrate on seizing the No. 1 seed, guaranteeing home-ice advantage throughout the postseason.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Toews. “First and foremost, our No. 1 goal coming into every season is we want to make the playoffs.
“To beat a team like Nashville twice in a row on the road, then at home, is a great thing, especially when you work so hard. ... Somehow they steal the momentum right back, put up a goal (to lead 3-2) in the third period.”
With their May destination settled, another intriguing angle that will affect play throughout mid-spring and possibly beyond has cropped up. Who is the Hawks’ No. 1, and postseason, goalie?
Coach Joel Quenneville muddied the waters a bit. Instead of starting presumed No. 1 netminder Corey Crawford in the second of back-to-back games against the Predators, he again tapped Ray Emery. He had pitched a 1-0 shutout Saturday in Nashville.
So why did Emery get the call again?
“He’s coming off a rock-solid win,” Quenneville said before the game. “He deserves consideration to get right back in.”
The 14-1-0 Emery professed no surprise.
“Whenever I get the opportunity, I welcome it,” he said. “When I heard I was playing, I just prepared for the game.”
Emery wasn’t as sharp as in Saturday’s win. The low-scoring, mudder-style Pedators were unusually efficient, tallying three goals in their first 20 shots.
Dave Legwand slipped in a shot along the right side of the goal at 6:54 of the third period to give the Predators a temporary 3-2 lead.
However, top Hawks rookie Brandon Saad rammed through a tying goal at 3-3 at 9:37, just under a minute prior to Toews’ timely score.
Center Andrew Shaw and winger Brian Bickell scored the Hawks’ first two goals in the first and second period, respectively.
Meanwhile, the much-anticipated return of second-line winger Patrick Sharp from a shoulder injury could take place this week. Quenneville said Sharp is “really close” with a “good chance” of traveling to Minnesota for Tuesday’s game.
“We probably added a couple of extra days here to his (Sharp’s) time away,” Quenneville said. “But he’s been skating well, he wants to play, and we look forward to getting him in the lineup because there’s a lot more options with the lines.”