EDMONTON - The Chicago Blackhawks will have at least one piece of hardware to show from their impressive season, regardless of what happens come the playoffs.
Patrick Kane led the way with a goal and two assists as the Blackhawks captured the NHL’s Presidents’Trophy for the first time in 22 years with a 4-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya also scored for the Blackhawks (35-6-5), who have gone 10-1-2 in their last 13 games to officially edge out the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top regular season record.
"To have the start to the season that we had and to keep playing consistently is an amazing thing for our team," said Toews, referring to Chicago's streak of earning at least a point in its first 24 games of the season.
"We’ve shown a lot of character, we’ve definitely learned from our mistakes the last few years and we’ve grown. I think everyone has matured as players in this locker room.
"We have to use that experience and use that confidence from being the No. 1 team all year and carry it into the playoffs."
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said it was nice to take the regular season title, but the true test is ahead.
"The start of our year really put us in a great spot, but the consistency has been there as well. I congratulate the guys, they deserve what they got," he said.
"Everybody had a hand in it, everybody contributed, it was a real, good team effort across the board. But I don't think we want to get too excited, we have some serious work to do still."
Nail Yakupov responded for the Oilers (17-22-7) who continue to drop like a rock towards another high draft pick with losses in nine of their last 10.
“The individual errors are just killing us at the moment,”said Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger.“We need to be very cognizant about the importance of reacting to this. The results are less important than the way we are playing and executing right now.
"We’re being tested right now in the severest of ways with the losing month like this. We should all expect more from each other.”
Edmonton goalie Devan Dubnyk agreed that his team has been found wanting of late.
“We need to be a group of professionals in here,”he said.“We need to understand that these games are valuable, regardless of who you are talking to or whose opinion it is. The simple fact is that they are valuable for us. It’s frustrating for every one of us in here. It’s unacceptable."
Chicago started off the scoring four minutes into the match-up as Toews elected to shoot on a 2-on-1, cleanly beating Dubnyk with a wrist shot to the stick side for his 22nd goal of the season.
The Oilers tied the game 1-1 less than a minute later, as Yakupov collected a rebound off the boards and blasted a rocket of a slap shot that Hawks starter Ray Emery had little chance on. It was the 12th goal of the year for Yakupov, the first overall draft pick in 2012.
The Blackhawks went up 2-1 eight minutes into the opening frame as Kane fought off Justin Schultz to go in on a breakaway and put it through Dubnyk’s legs with relative ease, equalling Toews for the team lead with 22 goals.
Corey Crawford came in to the Chicago net with six minutes left in the first after Emery left with a lower body injury and did not return.
Crawford didn’t look any worse for the surprise insertion. He kept his team in the lead with a beautiful glove save eight minutes into the second as Jordan Eberle waited for a sliding defenceman to go by before lifting the puck up high on the doorstep.
The Hawks came close to adding to their lead with six minutes left in the second as a puck got through Dubnyk’s legs during a scramble and sat on the goal line before being swept to safety by Schultz.
Edmonton only had two shots in the second period.
Chicago went up 3-1 five minutes into the final frame as Oduya took a pass from Kane on the fly and picked the top corner with a quick wrist shot.
The Blackhawks got an empty-net goal from Sharp to seal it.
Despite his early exit, Emery still managed to pick up the win.
Both teams play their second-last game of the regular season on Friday as the Oilers head to Minnesota and the Hawks return home to face the Calgary Flames.
Notes: It was the first time the Blackhawks played in Edmonton since Feb. 2, 2012, the night that Oiler Sam Gagner had an eight-point night to tie a franchise record for most points in a game with Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey. ... The Oilers have 20 players on their active roster who are in the minus column. The Blackhawks have just three. ... Patrick Sharp returned to the Chicago lineup after missing the last five games with an injured shoulder. Dave Bolland remained out with a groin injury... Centre and 2013 Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Drew LeBlanc made his NHL debut for the Blackhawks after singing as a free agent with the team earlier in the month…Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (shoulder) and Ales Hemsky (foot) remained out with for Edmonton, however Magnus Paajarvi returned from a foot injury…With the playoffs out of the picture, Oilers Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Devan Dubnyk accepted invitations on Wednesday to play for Team Canada at the World Hockey Championship.