DETROIT -- The wild swings of emotion and perception are part of the spectacle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A team can go from title contender to also-ran in the span of three periods.
For some of the younger players on the Detroit Red Wings going through this for the first time, they might have been surprised Sunday to see what was written about them or the questions asked of them after losing Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
After winning five of six playoffs games to not only knock out the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks but also push the Presidents' Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks to the brink, the Red Wings were quickly anointed underdog darlings in the hockey world.
Then they got whipped Saturday night at United Center and the narrative changed.
They have a chance to rebound Monday night in Game 6 at home, and they still have two more chances to knock out the top-seeded Blackhawks. Fortunately for these younger players, the veterans in that dressing room will be able to tell them that focusing on that task and not worrying about who has the momentum or what is being said is a big part of the mental process at this time of the year.
"We would have liked to be better, but it's a work in progress," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said Sunday at Joe Louis Arena. "We've got a chance to make something happen, do better tomorrow. We have to learn from past experience and move on and we're in good shape."
Detroit's first-round victory was a bit of a roller coaster. The Red Wings fell behind to Anaheim three times in the series before finally putting together back-to-back wins in Games 6 and 7.
This Western Conference Semifinals series with Chicago started the same way before the Red Wings put together another set of back-to-back efforts at Joe Louis Arena to grab control and a 3-1 series lead. But their first chance to complete a significant upset and reach the Western Conference Finals did not go as planned.
"You've got to put teams away, they're not going away," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "It's not like they got a holiday booked somewhere that they've got to get to. They're competing to stay in it. I thought that was evident and it was a real good message for our team. We thought we had done a pretty good job expressing that prior to the game, but obviously in our play it didn't show."
For the members of this Red Wings team who have competed in every conceivable situation, Saturday's loss was more than just a lost opportunity. It was a challenge.
"In the first round, we had one bad one, one good one, one bad one, one good one, one bad one, and then we finishes off with two good ones. We've just got to find a way to come back and play good," Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "We know we can do it. We've just got to play the way we want to, within our structure. I think we’ve learned a lot this playoffs. We've been finding a way to come back from playing bad and have a good game."
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville put three of his four star forwards together on one line in Game 5, and they responded with a dominant performance. Up to that point in the series, much had been made about how Zetterberg and Detroit's top defense pairing was frustrating Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who scored his first goal of the postseason in Game 5.
Quenneville was able to manipulate the matchups in Game 5 and got that top line of Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp away from Zetterberg, Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson at times. He won't have as much say in that matter in Game 6 at The Joe, where the Red Wings will enjoy last change.
"You've got to put teams away, they're not going away. It's not like they got a holiday booked somewhere that they've got to get to. They're competing to stay in it. I thought that was evident and it was a real good message for our team. We thought we had done a pretty good job expressing that prior to the game, but obviously in our play it didn't show."
-- Detroit coach Mike Babcock
"It's easier to control the matchup when you have home ice," Zetterberg said. "We'll have it tomorrow and we'll see what coach wants to do. I think sometimes you can coach a little bit too much and try to match up too much, but I think also when you have a chance to have the last change, you should take advantage of it."
Babcock has said all along he doesn't care if Zetterberg's line or Pavel Datsyuk's line skates against Toews, though he will be sure to get one of them out there against the Blackhawks captain. In Chicago's Game-5 win, Quenneville was able to sneak a couple of shifts for Toews' group against one of the bottom two lines for Detroit in Game 5.
"When the game got going and they were playing better than us, they could play anybody against anybody," Babcock said. "The whole key to matchups, when you're playing real good and they're playing real good, it could go either way. When you're not [playing well] and they're playing real good, they can do whatever they want."
The general consensus from Detroit players and Babcock was simple -- they didn't play very well on Saturday. So they'll identify what needs to be better and move on.
"It's way harder on your psyche when you play well and you get thrashed," Babcock said. "We weren't very good -- period. We skated better than in Game 1, but it was a lot like Game 1. They were good and we were watching."