The Blackhawks officially had no preference who they faced in the Western Conference semifinals. But Blackhawks fans are getting the team they wanted -- the rival Detroit Red Wings.
Justin Abdelkader scored a shorthanded goal on a breakaway to break a tie game in the first period and Jimmy Howard stopped 31 of 33 shots in goal as the Red Wings beat the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in Game 7 of their first-round series Sunday night in Anaheim.
That sets up a second-round match between the top-seeded Blackhawks and the seventh-seeded Red Wings, who had to hustle down the stretch -- going 4-0-0 in the final week of the regular season -- to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1989-90 season. Games 1 and 2 will be Wednesday and Saturday at the United Center, according to the Red Wings.
The Blackhawks won the season series with the Red Wings 4-0-0, but three of the games went to overtime.
The Hawks won 2-1 on Nick Leddy's goal in overtime on Jan. 27 at the United Center; they won 2-1 in a shootout on March 3 at Joe Louis Arena, when Corey Crawford stopped Pavel Datsyuk, Damien Brunner and Henrik Zetterberg in the shootout; they won 7-1 on March 31 at Joe Louis Arena as Jeremy Morin, Brandon Saad and Dave Bolland scored first-period goals; and they completed the regular-season sweep with a 3-2 victory in a shootout on April 12 at the United Center after Jonathan Toews tied the game with 2:57 left in regulation.
Crawford was in goal for all four victories. He had a 1.19 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage (121-of-126) against the Wings.
''I don't know. I can't explain it,'' Crawford said when asked if the Wings bring out the best in him. ''One of those teams I guess that has gone well for me this year. Every game's different. Who knows? We've had some big games against them this year, obviously. It's one of those years I guess against a team where you've played well and everything has gone right for you.''
The Hawks' sweep of the season series is not likely to be considered a harbinger by either side in the playoff series, though many experts consider the Red Wings a more favorable matchup than the San Jose Sharks, who would have been their opponent had Anaheim won Game 7 against the Wings on Sunday night.
''It's almost a team like ours,'' Crawford said of the Red Wings. ''Obviously a puck control team. They skate well. Move the puck well. Lot of skill. Lot of patient players with the puck.
''They're d-men, it seems, like a lot of shots and screens from the point. A lot of big shots from the point. I don't know what else.''
The Blackhawks are coming off a 4-1 series victory over the Minnesota Wild and have not played since Thursday night. Though the Blackhawks-Red Wings rivalry will be a dominant storyline, the Blackhawks have been good enough this season that they feel they control their destiny.
''It's always been about our game and our job and what we can do and how we can play,'' Crawford said. ''We're going to stick with that.''
''The series will definitely get a lot tougher as you go along,'' said Patrick Kane. ''Our next opponent's going to be ready for us ... You've got to come out and play hard because you see when we do, we have a lot of success when we really push the pace.''
Along those lines, the Hawks are expecting the next round to bring about an increase in intensity.
''That's what we've talked about ever since Game 1 [of the Wild series],'' Patrick Kane said. ''I don't know if we've reached the level we think we should be at. That goes for me. That goes for everyone. Hopefully we can improve upon that.''
The Blackhawks lost to the Red Wings in the Western Conference finals in 2009 (4-1) and 1995 (4-1). Their last victory over the Red Wings in a postseason series was a sweep in the 1992 division finals en route to the Stanley Cup Finals.