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Hawks' pressure, Wings' 'D', broken stick tell the tale

Saturday, 05.23.2009 / 1:01 PM / Conference Finals: Detroit vs. Chicago

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

CHICAGO -- There are those around the NHL who believe that six-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom can stop any opponent, at any time ... with or without a stick.

Now we know that's just a myth.

After Lidstrom broke his stick just over a minute into overtime Friday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, teammate Valtteri Filppula handed his to Nick. But it didn't help; Chicago's Samuel Pahlsson picked up a rebound, zipped a pass across the slot, through a maze of players, to the left post -- where Patrick Sharp ripped a shot into the net at 1:52 to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 victory and cut the Red Wings’ lead in the best-of-7 series to 2-1.

It was sort of like a relay race. Lidstrom got the baton, but that split-second in between cost the Red Wings the game.

"Give them credit; they threw everything they had at us in the overtime and we were just outmanned with sticks down low, simple as that," Lidstrom explained. "Everything happened so quick. It was like a blur."

The ending capped a game that was like a plot from "CSI." What was going to happen next?

The Blackhawks came out with a nearly unstoppable forecheck, taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Sharp and Andrew Ladd. When Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall was assessed a five-minute interference major and a game misconduct at 13:08 for a crushing hit that put Chicago forward Martin Havlat out of the game, the Hawks appeared poised to take control.

They didn't score on the long power play, but they did make it 3-0 when Pahlsson tipped Duncan Keith's shot behind Chris Osgood just 45 seconds into the second period. Game over, right?

Not quite.

It's never a good idea to count out a defending champion -- especially one with a defense that includes Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart and up-and-coming Jonathan Ericsson. Lidstrom, Rafalski and Ericsson scored in a span of 4:23 late in the period to send the teams to the dressing room all even after 40 minutes.

"What a performance by their D," Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook marveled. "They lost a key player and not only shut us down, but found a way to play the extra minutes and still score all three of their goals."

Stuart, Kronwall's partner on Detroit's second defensive unit, played a game-high 28:39, had two shots, one hit and a blocked shot. Lidstrom played a typical 26:52 with a goal,
five shots, one hit and one blocked shot. Rafalski added a goal, three shots, one hit and one blocked shot in 25:03 and Ericsson had a goal, two shots and three hits in 23:35.

It was as good a performance by a down-one-man defense unit as anyone could ask for.

"We had to keep them off-balance," Rafalski said. "We had to make those quick outlet passes and keep them moving backward.
It worked until the overtime."

What's perhaps most incredible about the Wings' blue-line corps is that they're all fundamentally solid -- and very hard to get a clean hit on.

"Their D -- and not just Lidstrom and Rafalski -- always seem to be there ... ready to stop you," Sharp said. "They are so slippery, hard to hit. You never seem to be able to get a good hit on them and get them out of position."

But not in the overtime, when the Blackhawks kept the puck in the Detroit zone and kept the pressure on.

 
"On the shift before the winning goal, I thought we had them running around," Sharp said. "Then we got great pressure ... and got the chance we were looking for. Just enough time and space to make a play. A great backdoor pass by Sammy Pahlsson."

And a broken stick at the wrong time.

"I'm a big believer when you work hard enough, good things go your way," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "Good for them. They played hard. They found a way to score one more goal than we did."

That one goal overshadowed what was otherwise a great defensive performance by the five Detroit defenseman left after Kronwall was tossed from the game.

And ... oh yes.

"It's tough enough to play in the D zone this time of the year, especially when you don't have a stick," Sharp added. "We needed to take advantage of it. There's no way I was going to miss that open side of the net."

Maybe it’s a good thing that the Wings don't have much time to dwell on the loss. Game 4 is Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

"You can't beat yourself up over getting close to taking a 3-0 lead and not being able to finish it off," Lidstrom said. "Our experience tells us you have to have a short memory when you lose in the playoffs. There's always another game ... another chance to be better."
Quote of the Day

When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization. There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.

— Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz on signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to contract extensions