What is so interesting about this Western Conference Semifinal series between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings are the similarities between the two organizations.
Chicago has been able to turn its franchise around by emulating Detroit. By that I mean puck possession, good two-way play, making plays offensively, being good offensively, not necessarily running guys through the boards but playing more of a puck possession and skill-type game.
The Hawks rebuilt their team through the draft and with some good trades and those great kids, of course, but it was all with an eye toward playing the Detroit Red Wings' style. Obviously with Scotty Bowman coming aboard as a senior advisor and having his son Stan run the show there as GM, certainly there is a lot of Detroit DNA in the Chicago Blackhawks, and it has shown in how they rebuilt the team and won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and how great they were in the regular season.
Interestingly enough, conversely for Detroit, the Red Wings now want to take a page out of the Chicago playbook. They want to play a fast game, a more up-tempo game, like the Hawks play. They don't quite have the personnel like Chicago does, but I know from talking to coach Mike Babcock -- especially after their series last year against Nashville, which I covered for Hockey Night In Canada, and even after Game 1 of this series -- I've heard him say "fast" enough.
Babcock wants that to be a point of emphasis. He wants them to play faster. They did a heck of a job playing faster in Game 2.
That is part of what makes Chicago so great. They might be the fastest-playing team in the League. It is interesting to see that it is Detroit who is trying to take a page out of Chicago's book now -- playing with more pace, playing with more tempo.
You hear Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville talk about those things all the time -- pressure and pace. Naturally that has become a big part of Chicago's game, but Detroit has wanted to make it more of its game as well, especially in this matchup between the teams.
Detroit is in a unique situation because it is rebuilding on the fly. It is a different organization because the standard of expectations is higher than anywhere the past two decades, save for maybe New Jersey.
If you look at the success the Red Wings had had in the past 22 seasons, with all the Stanley Cup wins and the great players, they have changed the way some teams play -- or they make teams wish they could play that way.
They've changed the game in many ways. They've brought in so many European players with such a high skill level. They've had so many great players that regardless of where they're from, they all play that great puck-possession style.
And then before this year maybe the best defenseman ever to play in Nicklas Lidstrom retires, and the Wings had to play a different style of game. They had to re-tool the way play a little bit. Not so much that it was going to change the organizational philosophy, but it took some getting used to. Not having No. 5 back there for 25 minutes a night changes a lot of things.
They've had to re-tool the way they play on the fly, which was challenging as they got used to it. There have been some growing pains, but it is different. They are trying to push the pace a lot more. They are trying to be more aggressive and forecheck. A lot of these things weren't really a hallmark of the Red Wings before, except for maybe when they had the Grind Line with Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby.
They are adding more of that into their game this year. That's where moving a guy like Justin Abdelkader into the top six has made a big difference. They have guys like Drew Miller and Darren Helm when he is healthy who are bringing more of that Grind Line-type game for the Wings.
Without Lidstrom on defense, it was kind of like, 'OK, how do figure this out? How do play without him?' They brought in Danny DeKeyser and he was really good for them -- even better than some people expected -- and Brendan Smith was a guy they had high hopes for him for a long time. He's starting to show some of his potential.
I think it has been a challenge for Babcock and his staff, because they weren't as good at the beginning of the year. They were able to figure out how to get better and how to navigate that as the season went on.
There is one more thing I want to add about this series. You really have to look at both of these goalies. I don't think you'll find two goalies that are more improved than Jimmy Howard and Corey Crawford.
Obviously, Jimmy was an All-Star last year and Corey was really good his first but struggled at times last year. This year both of these guys have been outstanding. Howard helped get the Red Wings here, and Crawford with Ray Emery was obviously outstanding because they won the Jennings Trophy.
I just don't think there are two goalies who have improved more over the past year or so than these two guys. They've both come a real long way, and that isn't something that a whole lot of people have talked about.