Chicago Blackhawks' "survival rate," writes the Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey, "is right up there with rattlesnake handlers who smoke three packs a day."DETROIT -- After losing the first two games of the Western Conference Final, the
Great line, and speaking of great lines, how about that Red Wings' third line of Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson?
Samuelsson had the game-winning goals in both Games 1 and 2. Or, that second line of Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Dan Cleary? Cleary has three goals in the series and four in his last three games.
Meanwhile, first-line center Pavel Datsyuk hasn't scored in 11 playoff games. Marian Hossa has only one point in his last five games and has scored in only two of 13 games. Tomas Holmstrom has no points in nine games.
Detroit is winning with its depth and coach Mike Babcock isn't afraid to give ice time to his third- and fourth-line players. Nor is he afraid to break up his lines. For instance, Holmstrom is normally the first-line left winger, but Babcock has used a variety of players there, including Zetterberg, Hudler and Franzen.
Babcock has been spreading ice time around the 12 forwards and it's paying dividends. Veteran forward Kris Draper said he saw the excessive ice-time toll on Anaheim Ducks' star Ryan Getzlaf in their Western Conference Semifinal series.
"That's just how we've always been," Draper said. "'Babs' doesn't think he needs to ride a line for 20-25 minutes a game. You look when we played against Anaheim, there were times when Ryan Getzlaf played over 27 minutes. For us, we never have forwards in that situation."
Zetterberg has been the ice-time leader among team forwards at 22 minutes, 7 seconds per game, while Datsyuk has averaged 20:22. Franzen is averaging 19:39 and Hossa 18:54. Cleary is next at 17:09, followed closely by Filppula's 16:49, Samuelsson's 15:50, Holmstrom's 14:28 and Hudler's 13:43. Darren Helm is getting 10:23, Draper 9:49, Tomas Kopecky 9:31, Kirk Maltby 9:01, and Justin Abdelkader, who played the first two games in place of Maltby, is at 6:36.
You don't want to get to the playoffs and find your players are strangers to each other.
"Mike Babcock changes lines during games, on the road, at home, winning or losing. He doesn't have lines," a Red Wings official said. "You come to practice and find out who your linemates are. For instance, who is the left winger on Datsyuk's line? Well, what game are we talking about?"
Maltby has sat out a couple games after a career of playing a strong checking line role with Draper and Darren McCarty, a combination dubbed "The Grind Line." Abdelkader took his place in the first two games against Chicago, but Babcock hinted Maltby will be back in for Game 3 (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).
"The third line? The other teams have to pay so much attention to Zetterberg and Datsyuk's lines that they're able to get a little wiggle room," defenseman Brian Rafalski said. "You have some good shooters and good passers on that line."
"Samuelsson is very strong, strong on the puck. He holds onto the puck and is very confident that he's going to make the play," Draper said. "You saw (in Game 2) and Game 1, that when he has the puck between the hash marks, he can shoot it. He's got great confidence going on right now.
"I thought that line was instrumental for us getting up in the Columbus series, Hudler, Filppula, and Samuelsson," Draper said. "That was a huge goal (Tuesday) night when all three guys touched the puck. 'Sammy' made a great play in the defensive zone to get the puck off (Chicago's Brian) Campbell and away they went. It was a perfectly executed play and when 'Sammy' gets the puck in close, he can shoot it."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville amplified Draper's third-line comments during his Wednesday press conference in Chicago.
"They check well and their transition game off of those plays were very pivotal goals in two games," Quenneville said. "That's one area where we've got to be better."
At his Wednesday press conference, Babcock praised the third line, but hinted nothing lasts forever.
"'Fil' is a great skater. 'Sammy' shoots the pill. 'Huds' can shoot it a ton, too. He just doesn't want to. Wants to pass all the time," Babcock said. "They seem to be a good combination. 'Fil' and 'Huds' played together in the minors.
"Actually, I really like Cleary on that line to tell you the truth, gives them a net-front presence. 'Clear' has played real well on his line, so we've just gone that way. But at this time of year, you've got to play with whoever you get the opportunity with, and you've got to outplay the guy across from you. It's that simple."
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