CHICAGO – Be careful what you ask for.
With Monday’s Game 6 win winding down and the ire they reserved for the Vancouver Canucks no longer needed, fans at United Center in Chicago charged up a familiar derisive chant aimed at their Original Six rival in Detroit.
As much as a matchup with the Anaheim Ducks would have accorded the Blackhawks a potential of four home games as opposed to three, there’s little question about which team the Indian Head faithful preferred to face — the Red Wings.
Blackhawks players and coaches, still buzzing over the door slam of a series finish they’d dealt the Canucks, had talked in its aftermath simply of playing whoever’s next and how both the Ducks and Red Wings were strong, hot teams — in short, all the other proper, noncommittal things you’d expect.
With Detroit’s clinching, 4-3 win over the Ducks Thursday, the wish of Blackhawks fans was granted. For their heroes of the ice, however, the challenge of upending the juggernaut from the Motor City still remains.
"Detroit knows how to win, period," coach Joel Quenneville said after Chicago’s Friday practice. "They’re the defending champions, and you could make a pretty good argument that they’re the best team in the entire League. We’ve got our work cut out for us."
While the Blackhawks managed a "split" of the season series (they were 2-2-2 taking into account a pair of shootout losses), no amount of white-hot play in the first two rounds could propel this young bunch from its underdog status as it arrives at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday.
"It’s hard to find a weakness in their game, and I’ve been trying for two years now," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "They have experience and know how to execute their game plan. It’s difficult to knock them off their game."
"Their puck management is extremely good," said alternate captain Patrick Sharp, who’s scored more career points (17) and logged more penalty minutes (32) against Detroit than any other club. "They’re a precise team, whose execution is second to none. They don’t give away many pucks, so we can’t expect to benefit from many turnovers or mistakes."
The other 2008-09 matchup stats tilt in Detroit’s favor, although not by much. The Red Wings outscored Chicago 23-20 on the season and outshot them by an average of more than three attempts per game, 216-195.
"Those (numbers) are closer than they sound," center Dave Bolland said. "We know that we can hang in against Detroit."
One area where the Hawks will have to improve against Detroit is penalty killing. The Red Wings scored a third of the time on the power play vs. Chicago this season, with eight goals in 24 advantages.
"We may have gambled against them too much," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "But overall we played them close, and winning at the end (the Blackhawks swept a home-and-home weekend series to end the season) gives us some confidence that we can beat them."
The overall feeling among the Blackhawks is one of excitement entering the series. Good teams become great teams by beating the best, and there’s no question, from their own Central Division on out, the Red Wings have been the class of the NHL for more than a decade running. As the 2008-09 season wore on, however, Chicago had a sense it was creeping up to Detroit’s level, and while the Red Wings may have taken the last weekend series of the regular season lightly, that April sweep was an enormous boost for the Blackhawks.
"Sure, Detroit is an explosive team," Quenneville said. "Yes, they can put a lot of points on the board. We are concerned with all their firepower.
"But you know, we’ve got some firepower of our own, and Detroit is going to have to contend with that, too."