It was a foregone conclusion that the Blackhawks were going to make the playoffs thanks to their record start, but they made it official Sunday night.
The Hawks became the first team in the Western Conference to clinch a spot in the playoffs when they rallied in the third period with 3 late goals to beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 at the United Center.
Contact information ( * required )
It's going to be the Hawks' fifth consecutive playoff appearance, but it's only the first step toward the team's ultimate goal.
"We have one goal, and everyone knows what that goal is," Andrew Shaw said, referring to the Stanley Cup.
"First and foremost our No. 1 goal coming into every season, we want to make the playoffs," captain Jonathan Toews said. "I think that's a huge thing for us."
Goals by Brandon Saad and Toews 55 seconds apart in the third period wiped out a 3-2 Nashville lead.
Saad scored on his own rebound at 9:37 to tie it, and Toews put everything he had into a wrist shot that beat goalie Pekka Rinne off the crossbar at 10:32 on a feed from Patrick Kane behind the net.
Kane beat three Nashville defenders to a loose puck behind the net on the forecheck and spotted Toews coming off the bench at full speed.
"That should be the headline right there because you're not going to see that too often," teased Toews. "I was just kidding. It was a great play by Kaner. I came flying off the bench and he saw me in the slot.
"My first thought was to try and find Saad backdoor because I could hit him kind of going to the net there, but I went against that instinct and shot the puck and it happened to go in."
It was Toews' 19th goal of the season, tying Kane temporarily for the team lead. But Kane added an empty netter with 32 seconds to play.
"He always finds a way," Toews said. "But it doesn't matter. We'll take that extra one for a little insurance. It was pretty close (Saturday) trying to protect that 1-goal lead for a long time."
It was a crushing loss for the Predators in their quest to make the playoffs in the West. It was their third loss in a row and sixth in seven games.
"We've just got to play hard and see what happens," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Chances are very remote, but you've got to play hard. You're not going to do anybody any favors if you don't. You just embarrass yourself."
David Legwand said it's no time to give up.
"We're in a do-or-die situation," Legwand said. "But we've got to obviously move on and get a win Tuesday."
It was 2-2 heading to the third period when Legwand scored at 6:54 to put the Predators ahead. The Hawks took over from there.
"We're certainly pleased that it's occurred," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said of clinching a playoff berth. "We've had a good year up to date. We're very happy with what we accomplished, but we still want to keep trying to get better in games.
"How we play and playing the right way is going to be what we're stressing the last 10 games."
•Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.