Blackhawks back in series against Red Wings

Randy Sportak, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

CHICAGO — His Airness, Michael Jordan, was in attendance.

Patrick Sharp was the one to hit nothing but net to make the difference.

Sharp’s overtime goal to give the Chicago Blackhawks the 4-3 victory Friday pulls them back into their Western Conference final series.

“The shift before had some great pressure, so you kinda felt like a scoring chance was coming,” Sharp said. “I don’t know if was shown too well on the replay, but Sami Pahlsson made a great pass to get it back door. I just wanted to make sure I hit the net.”

The roller-coaster ride was more than the Blackhawks wanted, but it doesn’t matter now that they’re down 2-1 in the series.

After blowing a three-goal lead, they were so close to being as little as one game away from elimination at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

Instead, the Hawks have the opportunity to pull the best-of-seven series even tomorrow afternoon in the Windy City.

On a night the Blackhawks lost one of their top scorers in Martin Havlat to a hellacious hit, No.-1 goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to an undisclosed “lower-body” injury and blew a three-goal lead, the roller coaster ride was wilder than you’ll find at any amusement park.

“We knew carrying any negativity into the third period wasn’t going to help us at all,” Sharp said. “We weren’t happy giving up the three-goal lead, but we knew we needed to play our best third period of the season and played one of our strongest of the playoffs and carried it into the overtime.”

Having dropped the first two games of the series to the Red Wings, the Hawks were hoping a return to their frenzied United Center faithful would boost their game.

Sharp and Andrew Ladd scored 65 seconds apart midway through the opening frame to check that task off the list.

Then came the wild and wacky series of events.

First, Havlat was knocked from the game by Niklas Kronwall, who stepped up at the offensive blueline and rocked him with a checked that earned a major penalty and game misconduct.

Naturally, the hit was cause for much debate, which the league will have to sort through.

“It’s a dangerous hit. He hadn’t touched the puck,” Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville said.

To which Mike Babcock replied: “Havlat had it in his legs, Kronwall didn’t leave his feet — he did it on the follow through — just finished the check. He hit the guy fair and square. It’s a reaction to what happened, It takes on of your good players out right off the hop. In my opinion, it was absolutely the wrong call.”

Asked whether he figured Kronwall would be suspended, Babcock said: “I’d be shocked. I’d be absolutely shocked.”

Shocking was what transpired after that hit.

Pahlsson scored early in the second period to give the hosts a three-goal edge that had the sellout crowd of 22,678, which included Bobby Hull and Michael Jordan, ready to lift the roof.

But goals by Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Jonathan Ericsson in the final minutes of the period pulled the Red Wings even.

To add more adversity in the Blackhawks room, Khabibulin didn’t return for the third period, giving way to Cristobal Huet.

Yet, Quenneville’s young team came through.

“When you come into the locker room 3-3 after two periods, it’s a tough place knowing what we just gave away — we didn’t necessarily give it away, they deserve credit for what they did — but the locker room was good and we had some good energy and progressed,” Quenneville said. “These guys never say die and found a way.”

Huet stopped six shots in his 22 minutes of relief action, but it was perfect. Not bad for a netminder who hadn’t played in six weeks.

“I didn’t have time to think, really,” said Huet, whose last game was a win over Detroit near the end of the regular season. “I’ve been practising for a long time for that moment and I was anxious but at the same time ready to help the team any way I could.”

Now, it’s up to the Wings to make sure they snuff the young Blackhawks hopes of a comeback through the series.

“It’s a tough loss but they bounced back after last game,” said Wings forward Darren Helm. “It’s up to us to respond the way they did.”


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