It is magic in any sport, and to reach the limit in their Western Conference semifinal, the Blackhawks went all out at Joe Louis Arena Monday night, when they could have put away skates for the summer.
Instead, they arose for three goals in the third period to beat the Detroit Red Wings, 4-3, and push this confrontation between Original Six rivals to a fitting conclusion Wednesday night at the United Center.
Game 7. Sixty minutes, or more, for the right to advance against a team to be named later from California. You think the Rolling Stones will create a fuss?
“This is fun,” decided Michal Handzus, who accepted an excellent feed from Niklas Hjalmarsson to beat Jimmy Howard for a 2-2 tie just 51 seconds into the final period. The timing was exceptional, because the Red Wings appeared to be elevating after Joakim Andersson’s knuckler escaped Corey Crawford midway in the second.
The Blackhawks managed to keep their problem to a 2-1 deficit at intermission, during which a few players apparently spoke about the need to suck the air from a loud building, press the issue, yet stay in controlled aggression mode.
“Lots of leadership here,” continued Handzus, who might qualify, he being a veteran who talked to Andrew Shaw the other day about when to say no to angry instincts. “I saw that when I came over here. Very focused group.”
With momentum shifting, the Blackhawks stunned the Red Wings again when Jonathan Toews made something out of nothing and shipped the puck toward Howard. A scrum ensued, Howard lost a grip on his stick, and Bryan Bickell fortified a massive postseason body of work with his fifth goal. It was 3-2 at 5:45, and when Howard regained possession of his stick, he slammed it in blind rage.
Since Marian Hossa opened the scoring and was followed by Handzus, you figured the affectionately tagged “Good Morning Slovakia” television crew that follows the Blackhawks and sends tape of local heroes back home would possess enough material for its show. But then Michael Frolik joined the frolic as a co-star, tallying on a backhand flip with a penalty shot. He was fouled by Carlo Colaiacovo.
Was it a borderline slash? If Detroit didn’t complain, the Blackhawks won’t. Besides, they needed it. Damien Brunner scored late with the Red Wings desperately attempting to force overtime. They have abandoned control of the series, which does not guarantee they won’t take it back on enemy ice.
This could wind up a rare seven game tournament during which each team wins three straight. Or it could be a huge letdown for the Blackhawks, who earned the No. 1 berth in a conference where the 2, 3 and 4 seeds perished long ago.
As Detroit Coach Mike Babcock noted, top lines and stars cancel out each other often in the playoffs, leaving heroics to role players. The Blackhawks are looking deeper now, particularly on “Good Morning, Slovakia.”