CHICAGO – There will always be injuries, it’s just the nature of the sport. However, the Red Wings had an exorbitant number of injuries in the regular season, especially to the bottom four defensive corps.
Now it’s that group of players that have quietly produced against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference semifinals, which the Red Wings could close out tonight with a win in Game 5 at the United Center.
“This year we had a lot of injuries,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “A lot of guys have been in and out of the lineup. When they got the call to play they’ve been doing a good job, here in the playoffs as well.”
The defensive pairings of Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincey, and Carlo Colaiacovo and Jakub Kindl have done a yeoman’s job against the Blackhawks, collectively producing two game-winning goals with 20 hits, 19 blocked shots and a plus-6 rating.
“They’ve been great for us, really providing us some solid defense,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Kept it simple, making the right plays, making the right decisions out there.”
While Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson provide stability on the back end and give the Red Wings good matchups against top-line opponents, the bottom four guys have gained consistency over time.
“Quincey’s really kind of settled in, and Smith has gotten better for us this year, and Kindl has some good offensive skill and has played better,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Carlo who has been unavailable to us pretty much all year has played much better once (Danny) DeKeyser got hurt, and got an opportunity to go every day. So it’s been a work-in-progress on the back end. We struggled to move the puck early in the year and we’ve gotten better at it. … We’ve done a pretty good job in this series.”
All four D-men spent time on the injury list during the regular season, but none more than Colaiacovo, who missed 42 games with a separated shoulder sustained in the second game of the season at Columbus.
Tonight, Colaiacovo will play in his seventh postseason game with the Red Wings, which is one more game than he played in during the season. His contributions were necessary when DeKeyser went down with an injury in Game 2 of the Anaheim series, and Brian Lashoff wasn’t efficient as his replacement.
Injuries have peppered Colaiacovo’s career, a severe concussion followed by knee surgery, then this season with the shoulder problems. In the last eight seasons, the Toronto native has averaged 47 games played.
“It’s never fun to be in that situation,” he said of his injuries. “You play hockey to play the game. Those were tough times. I battled through it, kept myself ready had a positive attitude, worked really hard every day and just kept being a great teammate. Now I’m getting an opportunity. There is never a better feeling in the world, this is when you want to be playing hockey this time of the year.”
In September, Colaiacovo signed a two-year contract with the Red Wings, his third NHL club. He said his main reason for picking the Original Six franchise over a few other options was for the chance to make a long run in the playoffs. He’s gotten his wish, and the Wings have capable blue-liner playing mistake-free hockey in the last six games.
“Ever since he came in, he’s a really good puck-moving defenseman,” Kronwall said. “At the same time he’s solid in our own end. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him and more. So he’s been great for us.”
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