DETROIT – May 29, 2013 – the last time Detroit and Chicago faced each other, in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.
It’s a night that took a long time for the players in the Red Wings locker room to put behind them.
“It took a while,” Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said. “Especially I think after you see them win. I mean that made it even that much harder. But you know what, you gotta move and you learn from situations like that. I think it was a good experience for us. But like I said at the same time to see them go on and win it was pretty tough.”
With a 3-1 series lead over Chicago in the best-of-seven series, Detroit had a berth to the conference finals within its grasp. But the Blackhawks rallied to force Game 7, and eventually scored in overtime at the United Center to end the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup dreams.
“You've got to take it one game at a time and we just couldn't close them out in Game 5 in Chicago,” Abdelkader said. “I thought we played good and had chances. We just couldn't come out with a win. And then Game 6 was really a tough one, when we had a lead going into the third period and gave up a goal right away. I thought we had control of that game, for the most part. And then Game 7 just came down to a bounce in overtime.”
It’s still difficult for defenseman Jonathan Ericsson not to imagine what could’ve been if that bounce had been in Detroit’s favor.
“I still think like, when I think about it, it’s like so close, it could’ve been us,” Ericsson said. “But on the other hand they’re a really good team too and they found a way to win throughout the whole season. They beat that record and I don’t know, all the credit to them too, so they found a way to win.”
Knowing it took the eventual Stanley Cup champions to eliminate the Red Wings from the playoffs doesn’t exactly offer consolation, though.
“We knew that they were a good team, they had a good chance,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “I don’t know if it feels better or worse knowing that you were close to beating them. Maybe it would’ve been a different scenario so it’s always tough when you lose out of the playoffs, that’s for sure.”
Abdelkader didn’t need many words to sum up his feelings.
“Bittersweet I guess it would be, right?” the forward asked.
But with a new season and new faces in the locker room, the heartbreaking Game 7 is a thing of the past as the Red Wings prepare to host their Original Six rivals Wednesday for the Blackhawks only visit to Joe Louis Arena this season.
“We don’t really think about that it’s our first meeting,” Nyquist said. “We’re just focused on the game. Big game at home, bounce back from a tough game yesterday against St. Louis. We know they’re a good team, it’s going to be a challenge for us, they got a lot of skill and a lot of speed so it will be a good battle.”
The matchup is just another in a long line of challenging games recently, which have included Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles and St. Louis. The Blackhawks enter The Joe on a two-game winning streak, boasting a 32-8-11 record that places them second in the league behind 75 points.
“They’ll be tough,” Abdelkader said. “We’re going to have to play good defensively. We’re going to have to spend more time in their end. I think last night we got in trouble, we just spent too much time in our own end and kind of wore us out. Our group’s gotta be a forechecking group, a grinding group and we gotta play good defensively and try not to give up too much.”
The Red Wings will possibly welcome back two more players from the injury list. Backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson (groin) will get the start against the Blackhawks, while Ericsson (fractured ribs) is questionable, coach Mike Babcock said.
But the defenseman doesn’t think coming back against a dominating Chicago team is different than any of the other strong teams Detroit has faced lately.
“Shouldn’t be a big deal,” Ericsson said. “Looking that the schedule it doesn’t really matter who I’m coming in against they’re all top teams right now. It’s going to be a good thing. I really have to be on my toes tomorrow. It’s challenging to play those guys. Always fun to play against them. We have to play our best game in order to win.”
Although Detroit is currently holding down the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference with 52 points, the Red Wings know from past experience that anything is possible as the playoff race heats up.
“Last year we showed some resilience and determination coming down the stretch,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.
And he doesn’t see why history can’t repeat itself.
“Absolutely,” Kronwall said. “Why wouldn’t it?”
Follow Andrea Nelson on Twitter @Nelson_Andrea