Blackhawks learning hard lessons from Red Wings

Thursday, 01.01.2009 / 6:53 PM / Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009

By Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks were riding a nine-game winning streak and were flying high heading into a home-and-home series with the Detroit Red Wings.

Consider them grounded.

After dropping a 4-0 decision at Joe Louis Arena Tuesday night, the Blackhawks suffered another setback Thursday in a 6-4 loss to the Wings in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.

The loss dropped the Blackhawks to 0-3-1 in their four meetings against Detroit this season -- a statistic that could suggest the Red Wings are in their heads.

At the end of the day, though, Chicago coaches and players alike believed the Stanley Cup champions did nothing more than show why they won hockey's holy grail last season.

"They're the best in the world," Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. "That's what they proved tonight. I think they're a team that can just take over when they want to. They seem to have our number this year."

Indeed they do, as the Wings remain unbeaten against Chicago and outscored the Hawks 10-4 in two games this week. Not even a raucous crowd of more than 40,000 on the Windy City's North Side could intimidate the reigning champs.

With any young team, there are going to be growing pains. But Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville hopes his players learned a thing or two this week while playing against the League's best.

"I think it's a good measuring stick knowing that we have to improve as a team," Quenneville said. "We accomplished a lot prior to these last two games, and I think looking at the top two teams in our conference -- Detroit and San Jose -- there's a level there that we need to make sure we're closing the gap. We can't be satisfied with what we accomplished."

 But what is it about the Red Wings that makes them so great?

"They take advantage of mistakes," Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell said. "That's probably the biggest thing. You can't make mistakes and you can't give them opportunities. They're too skilled. The more opportunities you give them, they're going to take advantage of them. I think that's the biggest thing."

The Blackhawks took advantage of some early opportunities on Thursday with a pair of power-play goals that helped them build a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes. But Detroit responded with five unanswered goals, taking the air out of Chicago's balloon.

"We're young and we're learning and we're trying to get better every day," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We have to look at these two games as positive as we can. We have to take the positives from it, because there were some positives. I think as we keep going along here, we're going to get better."

While some may have thought the Blackhawks quickly closed the gap between themselves and the Red Wings after winning nine-straight games, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews admitted that Tuesday's 4-0 loss at Joe Louis Arena was a reality check.

They're well on their way, but the Blackhawks aren't there just yet.

"I think they definitely sent a message a couple of nights ago," Toews said. "They stepped up and played the same pace and the same type of game. It's tough that we came out with the lead (after the first period) and they just kept coming at us. They're so consistent. They've got four lines of guys that play the right way. They were tough to play against all over the rink. You've got to give them credit."

Although there are still two more meetings between the teams this season — April 11 and 13 — Kane hopes he'll be seeing more of Detroit come playoff time. What a showdown that would be.

"Hopefully, it's one of those things where we can get them back in the playoffs," Kane said. "They can have what they want now. They're a great team. You see how they can just take over a game. They're fun to watch."

Keith hopes people will soon talk about the Blackhawks the way they do about Detroit. Indeed, the Hawks possess a plethora of talent that few teams -- if any -- can match.

"Hopefully, one day, we can be a team like the Red Wings," Keith said. "We can have that confidence to know that no matter what the score is or who we're playing, we can win."

Quenneville agreed. After Thursday's 6-4 loss, his hope was that his players learned something from seasoned veterans such as Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom.

"We should be looking to improve and know that that's the type of team game we need to play from start to finish," Quenneville said. "They're as good as there is."