CHICAGO – It started out all right for the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night, but they'd probably like to forget the final 40 minutes of their Western Conference Semifinals series opener.
With the game tied 1-1 heading into the third period, the Chicago Blackhawks took control in the middle period and didn't let up until the final horn sounded at United Center to conclude their impressive 4-1 victory.
The Blackhawks got outhit 43-24 overall, but that was mainly because they dominated the puck for such long stretches in those final two periods – outskating and outplaying the Red Wings at both ends of the ice.
"In the first period, except for the first shift, I thought we did a good job staying on top of them," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "Then in the second and third, for some reason, we ended up watching them play hockey instead of just going after them."
If that trend doesn't change quickly in Game 2 on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC), Kronwall knows all too well what will happen.
"[If not], it's going to be over too quick," he said. "We know we're a much better team than this. [The] second and third periods [were] not nearly good enough. We know we're better than this and we have to find a way to get better for Game 2."
Detroit got outshot 42-21, including 36-15 combined in the final two periods.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock sounded a similar tune as Kronwall and noted that Chicago was clearly the more rested team. Detroit finished an intense seven-game Western Conference Quarterfinal series on Sunday in Anaheim before flying back to Detroit for rest on Monday and practice on Tuesday.
The Red Wings flew to Chicago on Tuesday afternoon, which gave them two days to rest as compared to the six days the Blackhawks had since wrapping up their first series last Thursday.
"We have a day off and then practice," said Babcock, whose team flew back to Detroit after Game 1. "[We've] got to get up to speed because … we haven't played like that in a while. We got to get back at [it] and playing at a high tempo, because obviously they're playing at a level tonight that we weren't playing at."
In fairness to the Blackhawks, however, Babcock didn't pin the loss entirely on his team's tired legs.
"We're not trying to take anything away from them," he said. "They were better than us. The score tonight was more than fair as far as I'm concerned. They were better."
Chicago's forechecking effort was clearly a level up from Detroit's, especially as the game played out. The second and third goals scored by Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger, each in the third to make it 3-1 Blackhawks, came off strong puck control in the offensive zone and impressive forechecking.
The Blackhawks just grinded the Red Wings down, as they did almost every team in their conference this season, and Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard finally cracked a couple times despite a valiant effort to keep his team in the game.
"Second [and] third period, they just turned the game completely around on us," said Howard, who made 38 saves. "It felt like instead of trying to get something going, we were standing around watching a lot. [We've] got to take care of the puck. We turned the puck over way too much at our own blue line. It seemed like we were almost out of own zone and boom, they were having us right back in. Find a way to do a better job of getting the puck out."
Counting regular-season games, it was the Blackhawks' eighth-straight win against their Original Six rival dating to the 2011-12 season – continuing a trend that's developed the past four years. For all the talk about the Stanley Cup Playoffs being a different story, it looked quite a bit like the same old story that's been written in this series for a while now.
Afterward, Kronwall was asked if the feeling in the Red Wings locker room was more anger or disappointment about the way they played.
"I think a little bit of both," he said. "We know that we're better than this. We have to come out with a way better effort here in Game 2 to come out with a win."
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