Several damaging penalties and a pair of rapid-fire goals against had Detroit in an early hole Friday night, but the Red Wings still had two periods to come back and a veteran defensive unit ready and willing to chip in at both ends of the ice.
That's just what happened in Detroit's 4-3 overtime loss to Chicago in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, as a Red Wings defense whittled down to four men at times not only bailed out a club that appeared in danger of capsizing, but led a rally of late second-period goals that created a whole new game heading into the third.
The Wings were forced to play the majority of the game without Niklas Kronwall, who was hit with a five-minute major and game misconduct for a hit on Martin Havlat with just under seven minutes left in the first. That accounted for 15 of the 23 penalty minutes assessed to Detroit in the first period alone.
Brian Rafalski also missed a brief period of time due to an equipment problem, winnowing the defense corps down to four men, but the Wings persevered.
The roll call of heroes skating in the Detroit zone:
- Nicklas Lidstrom, who scored a power-play goal to start Detroit's scoring and logged 26:52 of ice time.
- Rafalski, who tallied Detroit's second goal with just under three minutes left in the second and consumed 25:03 of ice time.
- Jonathan Ericsson, who converted the game-tying goal with 59 seconds left in the period and played 23:35.
- Brad Stuart, who assisted Ericsson and logged a team-high 28:39 of ice time.
"We were down, and we were short(handed), but we came up short," said Lidstrom after the loss. "It's not easy to play that way, but you can't complain. This is the playoffs, and you saw that we handled it pretty well."
That could be the understatement of Detroit's postseason. After all, it was the defense providing all three tallies in that second-period flurry and four of Detroit's nine total points on the game.
Coach Mike Babcock was proud of how his team rallied back into the game, but the game misconduct penalty issued Kronwall for his bone-crushing hit on Havlat still stung postgame.
"It's amazing how two guys as close as we are can see things so differently," Babcock said, following Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville into the press room. "The puck came along the wall, and Kronwall hit (Havlat) fair and square. I would be shocked if the League took any further action."
No matter how this loss snatched from the jaws of victory stung Detroit, to a man there were no excuses in the Red Wings dressing room.
"This is the playoffs," Rafalski said. "If you can pull on the sweater, you're expected to perform. You can say (our defenders) were shorthanded, but we were strong enough to pull us back into the game.
"We've just got to hit the ice hard right away (Sunday) and not force ourselves to have to come back at all."