After a disappointing and erratic regular season, the Chicago Blackhawks had a final chance to make their own way into the playoffs. Instead, they needed some help to get back to the postseason for a third straight year.
On their home ice, the defending Stanley Cup champs needed one point Sunday against their most fierce rival, the Detroit Red Wings, and they were in. Didn't get it.
The Red Wings carved out a 4-3 victory and put Chicago into a wait-and-watch mode with its collective fingers crossed. And the Blackhawks got the assistance they had to have Sunday night when the Minnesota Wild beat Dallas 5-3, giving Chicago the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"I've never been more excited after a hockey game in my life that I didn't participate in," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Sunday night after watching the Wild pull out the victory
"I was acting like a 2-year-old. ... It was unbelievable. I was shocked, surprised the way the whole game unfolded. I can't express my jubilation, enthusiasm and excitement."
As the eighth seed, Chicago will face top-seeded Vancouver in the first round. The Blackhawks have beaten the Canucks in the conference semifinals in each of the last two postseasons. Chicago was 2-2 this season against Vancouver.
"We know playing against Vancouver we got be special and got to be great," Quenneville said. "Anything can happen this year. Everybody is close, all the teams are basically comparable."
Quenneville said the Blackhawks are fortunate they were able to get in after losing earlier in the day. And now they have to take advantage of that.
"Certainly we got lucky," he said. "We got a break, a huge break at the end."
Jimmy Howard made 33 saves, the Red Wings killed a late power play and finally solved rookie goalie Corey Crawford, who was 4-0 against the Red Wings.
"It's so frustrating it has come down to this. I'm pretty much speechless," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said after the loss.
Toews and his teammates will be able to redeem themselves if they now make another deep playoff run after getting a second life.
Drew Miller, Danny Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom and Pavel Datsyuk scored for the Red Wings, who had already locked down the No. 3 playoff seed in the West and were trying to build momentum for the playoffs where they will open against the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Blackhawks had beaten the Red Wings 4-2 Friday night in Detroit.
Chicago went on a power play with 2:58 left when Jonathan Ericsson was called for holding with Detroit nursing its one-goal lead, but the Red Wings and Howard killed it. Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith couldn't get off a shot from in front of the goal as the final seconds clicked off.
"It was a lot of fun out there, they threw everything at us there in the third period and we withstood it," Howard said. "That's a great sign for us heading into the playoffs."
Michael Frolik, Brent Seabrook and Keith had goals for Chicago.
The Red Wings took the lead with a pair of goals 62 seconds apart in the second.
"We haven't been very good for a while, and yet we think we have a good team and we think we know how to play, and so it was good to see us play here," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
"It was another game when they're in playoff mode and we're not, we're stuck in a spot, but I thought guys showed good pride and good urgency and played the game the right way."
Miller's tip-in less than two minutes into the third period put the Red Wings up 3-1 and momentarily stunned the crowd at the United Center. But Chicago answered minutes later when Seabrook's slap shot from above the right circle found its way past a screened Howard, cutting the lead to one.
But about four minutes later, Cleary took a nifty pass from Todd Bertuzzi and flipped it past Corey Crawford to give the Red Wings a 4-2 lead. Keith's goal, when he reached in for a loose puck and shoved it past Howard, cut it to a one-goal deficit with just more than eight minutes remaining.
The goals in the second period from Holmstrom and Datsyuk gave the Red Wings a 2-1 lead and wiped out the Blackhawks' momentum from a goal minutes earlier by Frolik.
Patrick Kane stole the puck from Brad Stuart near the boards, hesitated with it and then fed Frolik, whose shot from between the circles at 5:18 of the second gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead.
But less than two minutes later, Holmstrom gathered in a puck that had come all the way around the boards and raced down the left side, powering in a shot to beat Crawford and tying the game at 1-1 with his unassisted goal.
It didn't take the Red Wings long to score again.
After a long shot by Bertuzzi was apparently blocked by Chicago's Nick Leddy, Cleary got the loose puck to Datsyuk in the slot and he rifled it past Crawford for a 2-1 lead.
Howard made a nice save on Patrick Sharp as he plowed through the crease and then flagged down a shot by Kane with his glove to preserve Detroit's one-goal lead.
Crawford made a point-blank save against Johan Franzen about halfway through the first period when the Blackhawks kept the puck in their offensive end most of the period and had two power plays, but came up empty. Chicago's Jake Dowell had three cracks at the puck from beside the goal after a cross-ice pass from Bryan Bickell, but Howard turned him away to keep the game scoreless.
NOTES: The Red Wings played without injured leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg and defenseman Niklas Kronwall. Babcock said it's likely Zetterberg will not start the series against the Coyotes. ... Chicago LW Troy Brouwer missed a third game with an apparent shoulder injury.