Certainly not the Blackhawks, but many of their fans and a goodly number of experts, had it all figured out. The path to another Stanley Cup would be smoother if the Detroit Red Wings were passed along the way, like some sort of toll both. You know, toss in the correct change and proceed onward.
Well, if that is so, we have now entered the ‘Be Careful What You Wish’ stage of the Western Conference Semifinals. It isn’t often that deep throats at the United Center depart the premises early to beat traffic, but it happened Saturday afternoon when 21,822 realized the Blackhawks were not going to beat the Red Wings.
Despite the vitriolic chants, their underdog status and a flawed regular-season report card, the proud visitors played a nearly perfect game to sedate the Blackhawks, 4-1, and create a 1-1 situation in the best-of-seven series, heading to Game 3 Monday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Given the fact that the Blackhawks began their schedule unlike any franchise in National Hockey League history, it is not a stretch to say that they are in an uncomfortable spot and seriously challenged for the first time since January.
“Series on,” intoned Detroit Head Coach Mike Babcock, more than once, but always with the caveat that his men continue to do what they do best. Why the Red Wings ever were perceived as easy prey is a mystery. Never mind their pedigree as pure thoroughbreds. They did vanquish a physically-imposing Anaheim club, and could not have accomplished such a feat if they were merely a troupe of highly-skilled figure skaters. The Wings can bump and bother, as they proved time and again Saturday.
Jimmy Howard, their goalie, was spectacular in the opener. He did not need to repeat in Game 2. The Blackhawks managed just 20 shots and were no match for Detroit’s transition prowess. Patrick Kane scored his first of the playoffs in the opening period, but as Babcock promised, the Red Wings would declare themselves much more forcefully than they had on Wednesday night.
That spread between games, and the next two—Monday night, then Thursday night in Detroit—could work in favor of the Red Wings, who had the more difficult first series and are not as deep. In fact, the schedule might already be helping the Red Wings. But not as much as their captain, Henrik Zetterberg. Good grief, he did everything but bring an octopus to hostile environs.
After Damien Brunner tied it 1-1 on a redirect at 2:40 of the middle period, Zetterberg choreographed the eventual winner by seizing the puck, burrowing in on the left side, freezing goalie Corey Crawford to the post, then feeding to Brendan Smith, a kid defenseman who did not miss. The Wings led, 2-1, and more significantly, were dictating pace of play.
The Blackhawks killed all of Detroit’s power plays to remain spotless for the postseason. But the Blackhawks did little on their power plays, which they thought were too few, given how the Red Wings seemed to be up-close-and-personal with their defensive approach. The Blackhawks could not, however, in clear conscience ascribe this sound defeat to officiating.
“Way off,” is how head coach Joel Quenneville saw his team’s performance. The Red Wings had more pep, smarts and structure. They looked a bit fatigued Wednesday night after returning from hotel California. On Saturday, as Babcock went on, “we wanted to start on time.”
Before the game, Quenneville received more congratulations on being nominated for the Jack Adams Award as outstanding coach. Bruce Boudreau of the Ducks and Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators also are on the ballot.
Quenneville is a native of Windsor, Ont.—which is actually south of Detroit—and Adams was a legend with the Red Wings as a builder and coach. Also, he ruled with an iron fist. Glenn Hall was a brilliant young goaltender with the Red Wings, but when he expressed interest in teammate Ted Lindsay’s theory about forming a players’ union, they were both banished to Chicago in 1957.
“That was hockey Siberia in those days,” recalled Hall. “It’s where players went to be punished. But I was glad to leave Detroit. I had to, anyway, after I told Mr. Adams to do something that was not physically possible and still isn’t.”
Hall was one of the last missing pieces in a revival by the Blackhawks. They won the Stanley Cup with him in goal in 1961, clinching at Detroit.