CHICAGO – Three goals in the third period has been a reoccurring problem for the Red Wings in the playoffs, one that reared its ugly side again Wednesday night at the United Center.
The Blackhawks’ third-period blitz was the deciding factor in what otherwise had been a tightly contended Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. With the scored tied to start the period, the ’Hawks scored three times to run away with a 4-1 decision over Detroit.
“In the third period we were giving up too many chances again,” Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “They were coming with breakaways and stuff like that. We’ve got to clean that up. It’s frustrating, but it’s only the first game.”
Detroit had third-period issues in their series win over Anaheim. Despite winning the seven-game series, the Wings were outscored in the third periods, 12-5, by the Ducks.
Through the first eight games of the playoffs, the Wings have surrendered 15 third-period goals, and a trio of three-goal third periods.
It’s a theme that the Wings would like to eliminate.
“We did a lot of traveling back and forth the last series,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I saw us yesterday practice and I wasn't surprised when I saw us today. I didn't think we were very quick and executed. We're not trying to take anything away from them. They were better than us. The score tonight was more than fair as far as I'm concerned. They were better.”
The Wings played their best stretch in the first period when they battled to a 1-1 tie through the first 20-minutes. After Marian Hossa gave the home team a 1-0 edge on the power play, Damien Brunner responded with an even-strength tally less than two-minutes later.
“I think we came out, had a good start, a good first period,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Then in the second period, we didn't execute good enough, I think, in our own end. We couldn't really get through the neutral zone and I think it started in our own end. The D couldn't really move the puck to our forwards and just came wave after wave and got tired in the end.”
The final outcome could have been worse it not for goalie Jimmy Howard, who made several spectacular saves in the second period, including a stellar toe save on a breakaway by Dave Bolland. Howard stopped 38-of-41 shots. The Blackhawks’ last goal came on Patrick Sharp’s empty-netter.
“Howie saves us for sure in the second period,” Ericsson said. “That was Chicago’s strongest period and our weakest of course. We were lucky to have it 1-1 and we were setup pretty good and we should have been better in the third period. But it is what it is and we’ll go for Game 2.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: It was predicted that special teams would be a driving force in this playoff series between the Wings and ’Hawks. But it didn’t take long for the forecast to come true.
Before the first period reached the halfway marker, the Blackhawks struck with the first power-play goal of the game and the series when they converted on a Brendan Smith turnover in the Wings’ zone.
From there, captain Jonathan Toews whirled from a Wings’ defender in the left circle and teed up a beautiful pass into the slot where Hossa unleashed a one-timer that whizzed by Howard before the Wings’ goalie could react.
Chicago’s penalty-killers also kept the Wings’ power play at bay, holding Detroit scoreless on three man-advantages. The Blackhawks are the only team not to allow a power-play goal in the postseason this year.
“They’re really good team on the PK and in general,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “They make it really hard on the team. We do get off the shots, but they do a pretty good job of staying in the lanes. It’s hard to get the pucks to the net. We have to find a way because we have guys in there to get a greasy one.
“They’re playing well, give them credit. That was a good effort by them, not so much on our part. We have to do a way better job, not only on the power play department, but also 5-on-5.”
PHYSICALITY 101: The Red Wings averaged 23 hits per game in their first-round series win over Anaheim. They had nearly that many in the first period of Wednesday’s series opener at the United Center.
The Wings were the aggressors in the opening 20-minutes first period, pounding out 21 hits, including four by forward Justin Abdelkader, who buzzed around the rink searching for anyone wearing a red jersey to hit.
“We wanted to come out and try to take their time in space away with our physical play,” said Patrick Eaves, who had three hits, including two in the first period. “Hopefully we can carry that into three periods of play and take their space away throughout the ice. They got a little room on us, especially in the second there.”
Detroit finished with 43 hits, which is its season-high. The previous high was 31 hits in a 3-2 shootout loss at Chicago on April 12.
Ten different Wings’ players collected at least one hit in the first period; 17 players registered hits in the game, including nine with multi-hits. Abdelkader led the hit parade with eight, followed by Daniel Cleary (six), Jonathan Ericsson (five) and Henrik Zetterberg (four). Johan Franzen had three hits, while Smith, Cory Emmerton and Carlo Colaiacovo had two apiece.
GOAL STOPPER: With 2:41 left in regulation, Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook saved a possible Wings’ goal when he swatted the puck out of midair after Brunner’s shot rang off the bottom of the crossbar and appear to be heading across the goal line.
THREE STARS: 3, Johnny Oduya, CHI (1 goal); 2, Marian Hossa, CHI (1 goal); 1, Patrick Sharp, CHI (1 goal, 2 assists).
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