CHICAGO – As is the case in most hockey games, special teams will play critical roles in the Western Conference semifinals series between the Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.
“I don’t want there to be high-scoring games, so we have to do a real good job on our (penalty) kill,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Our kill started as the worst at the league and we climbed our way to twelfth. The last round we were 72 percent, didn’t do a very good job on the kill.”
In their opening rounds series with Anaheim, the Red Wings scored six power-play goals on 25 chances – that’s a 24 percent efficiency rating, which is their highest power-play percentage in the last three postseasons.
However, the Wings’ next challenge is against a far stingier club, whose penalty kill didn’t allow a single goal in their five-game series win over the Minnesota Wild in the first round. The Blackhawks were a perfect 17-for-17 on the penalty kill.
“We’ve had an opportunity to watch what Minny did and we’ll try to – obviously not do the same thing – but you got to find a way to put it by their penalty kill and then their goaltender,” Babcock said. “I don’t know how many power plays they’ll be in the series, I know nothing about that. I just know in the end you have to get to the goaltender.”
Goals could be a premium in this series. That’s certainly been the case over the last two seasons with these two clubs. Since the 2009-10 season, the winning team has scored three or fewer goals in 15-of-21 games. And other than the 7-1 fiasco on Easter Sunday, Detroit and Chicago have battled it out in one-goal games in 12 of the last 16 contests.
“You’ve got to get pucks on net and be there for second chances,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “They did play well against Minny so that’s going to be a big challenge for us. It’s going to be a big part of this series. If you have good special teams there’s a good chance you have of winning.”
Damien Brunner plays the point on the second power-play unit that had some first-round success by getting consistent net-front pressure in front of Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller. That will be a key in this series against Corey Crawford, who in his NHL career is 11-2-2 with a 1.82 goals-against average all-time versus Detroit.
“Anaheim had pretty big defensemen in front of the net,” Brunner said. “They were not skating that good, but they were very big, so we did a good job of having a net-front presence. The Blackhawk guys are probably, other than (Brent) Seabrook, are not that big, but they all skate well. So maybe the net-front battle will be key too. So if we did a good job against Anaheim, we should do the same thing because they’re smaller in front.”
The Blackhawks haven’t allowed a power-play goal at home since April 12 when Johan Franzen scored in the second period of a 3-2 shootout loss. Franzen led the Wings with three power-play tallies against the Ducks.
Regardless, the Wings are ready to get this new series underway.
“Round to round match-ups are different as you go,” Justin Abdelkader said. “We're a different team than Minnesota. As you go through the playoffs and face different opponents, things kind of change, so we'll be ready for their penalty kill, their power play.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose