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Between the dots: Howard stifles, Wings frustrate Hawks in Game 4

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
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DETROIT—As their bus turned for the airport onto Steve Yzerman Drive, then wheeled past the Gordie Howe Entrance at Joe Louis Arena, the Blackhawks had to wonder. Are they facing the ghost of Terry Sawchuk, or are they creating a modern version of the Hall of Fame goalie?

Make no mistake about it, Jimmy Howard has been excellent in this Western Conference semifinal. However, in anchoring a 2-0 victory for the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night, his masked mastery of an erstwhile powerhouse opponent bore a familiar motif.

He handled 28 shots, but most were of the one-and-done variety. He yielded few rebounds, and sparse traffic around him rendered them harmless. He benefitted mightily from another comprehensive effort by hungry teammates, who clog lanes, chip pucks and exemplify how winning is equal parts inspiration and perspiration.

So it is that the upstart Red Wings have won three straight games with a yield of two goals as they point toward a potential clincher Saturday evening at the United Center, where the noise level for national television will have to go up some to top the din at the Joe on this night.

As if on cue, Jimmy Howard’s heavy metal band was providing background music again. Nick Leddy clanked a shot off the pipe to the goalie’s right early in the second, and Michal Handzus produced a resounding clank later. How many is that in the last week or so? Five? Six? Still, protecting a 1-0 lead in the third period, Howard answered Corey Crawford’s stop on Brendan Smith with an acrobatic denial of Dave Bolland.

Not until Daniel Cleary punctured an empty net in the 60th minute of a taut match was it over, and then you could take in Head Coach Mike Babcock’s refrains about how every man who dons a Red Wings sweater owes it to “Mr. Howe and Mr. Lindsay” to give until it hurts. Babcock did not, however, salute the Chicago power play for also contributing to this gala occasion in Hockeytown, although he could have.

His counterpart, Joel Quenneville, rearranged lines in quest of direct fire rather than perimeter shots. But captain Jonathan Toews, centering for Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell, remained without a goal for the postseason. Toews had to feel that he was not only wearing his own No. 19 sweater, but also Henrik Zetterberg’s No. 40. Frustrated and seething, Toews took three consecutive penalties in the second period. On the middle one, for high sticking Justin Abdelkader, Jakub Kindl beat Crawford from the left circle with Abdelkader hovering nearby.

Congestion. It’s a beautiful thing during the spring allergy season.

“We’re looking for more from some people,” said Coach Q. And some people are playing less. Brent Seabrook, 12:03. Leddy, 8:38.

The Blackhawks aren’t performing poorly enough to abandon hope, however remote, of winning this series. Stranger things have happened in the playoffs. But now the Blackhawks have to win Saturday or be gone. And after all they’ve achieved since January, that sounds strange indeed.

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