On a night honoring Chicago's all-time shutout leader, Tony Esposito, Hawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin turned away 25 shots before a sellout crowd of nearly 21,000 to register his 38th career whitewash in a 5-0 victory over Washington.
The Blackhawks prevented the Capitals from moving into a tie for the last playoff slot in the Eastern Conference while keeping their slim post-season hopes alive to move within 7 points of a spot in the West.
Five different Hawks scored as they jumped on Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig for four goals in the opening period. Chicago outshot the visitors 18-6 to start the game.
Following the moving pre-game ceremony honoring Esposito, who had 74 career shutouts for Chicago and still holds the NHL rookie mark of 15 set in 1969-70, the Hawks wasted no time in getting the lead.
Defenseman James Wisniewski fired a long shot that Jason Williams tipped in just 1:27 into the contest. There was a brief video review to make sure his stick was not above the crossbar before he was awarded his 12th of the season.
Less than two minutes later on the first power play of the game, rookie Jonathan Toews collected his 21st after taking a pass from Patrick Kane to knock in his own rebound just outside the goal crease. Toews, despite missing 18 games due to injuries, is only one goal behind Phoenix's Peter Mueller in scoring among rookies.
Meanwhile, Kane leads all rookies in points (63), two ahead of Washington's Nicklas Backstrom, who was blanked in the game.
Midway through the period, veteran Yanic Perreault took a pass from Robert Lang to rifle a 35-footer over Kolzig's glove to make 3-0 for his 8th of the campaign.
Near the 18-minute mark, Patrick Sharp added to his team-high 35th goal on a 10-footer after taking a pass from Andrew Ladd for a 4-0 lead. Up to that point, the Hawks had an 18-3 edge in shots.
The Capitals got a late power play, reeling off three shots with the man advantage with Khabibulin's toughest save coming off a shot in the closing seconds by Sergei Fedorov
In the 2nd period, Khabibulin stopped scoring chances by Mike Green and Brooks Laich before the Hawks added their 5th of the game at 10:19.
Williams fed a pass from his own blue line to Rene Bourque, who broke loose to beat Kolzig for his 10th goal of the season.
In the last minute of the stanza, Khabibulin managed to stop a rebound tip by Sami Lepisto.
In the final period, Khabibulin again denied several more scoring opportunities. He halted Quentin Laing in-close and thwarted rebound shots by Laich and Matt Bradley.
The veteran netminder's best save of the game came at the 17-minute mark when he managed to glove a screaming 20-foot drive by Alexander Semin that appeared to be heading into an open corner of the net.
Hawks coach Denis Savard praised Khabibulin's play, plus the way Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook shutdown the NHL's leading scorer, Alexander Ovechkin, who has 58 goals and 102 points. The Capitals star was held to two shots on goal.
"We got off to a great start and the opening period was one of our best all year," Savard said.
Keith led all skaters with 27+ minutes of ice time and Sharp had a game high nine shots on goal with the Hawks holding a 42-25 edge.
The Hawks head to Nashville for a Saturday matinee with the Predators and then return for an Easter Sunday match with St. Louis at the United Center (2 pm).
AP Notes: Wednesday's crowd of 20,942 was the Blackhawks' ninth sellout of the season ... Perreault returned after missing 18 games with a broken wrist. ... Chicago LW Ben Eager missed his sixth game with a shoulder injury. ... Five Capitals sat out with injures: D John Erskine, C David Steckel, C Michael Nylander, D Brian Pothier and RW Chris Clark.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau: "We didn't match their speed and the way they came at us. I don't know if we were tired or whatever. They just played an awful lot better than us and made us look real bad.
"Both teams were out there [for the pre-game ceremony]. I wouldn't know why it would contribute to us more than them. Both teams were sitting on the bench. I think if you want to use that as an excuse, then that's what it is, it's just an excuse. The players have to be ready.
"You get to know a team after a while and you look and they were lethargic; they didn't have any jump from [Alexander] Ovechkin to [Donald] Brashear. There was something missing; there was a gear missing and they played very good. They made us look pretty bad."
Center Sergei Fedorov: "We could have had a better start in the first period. It's just experience, nothing else ... The first period was tough for us and we had a couple bad breaks. The start is very important in this building against this team."