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Wings get boost from healthy D

by Matthew O'Day / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT -- Just in time for the stretch run, the Red Wings’ defense has reassembled in full.

With Chris Chelios’ return to action against Chicago on Tuesday, Detroit can ice its full complement of defensemen for the first time since the January 30 game against Phoenix, when Niklas Kronwall was forced out of the lineup due to injury. During that stretch, the Wings went 7-8-2 and looked as though they may lose their bid for the Presidents' Trophy as the team with the best record in the league.

Fighting the absences of Chelios and Kronwall, as well as injuries to Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, the Red Wings acquired defenseman Brad Stuart at the trade deadline to bolster their then patchwork blue line. With those five, as well as Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebda, the Wings were able to demonstrate what they hope to be the stifling defense, which will propel them throughout the NHL playoffs.

“[For Brad Stuart], I think it takes a few games to get used to the players he’s playing with, you know, our tendencies, how the forwards are playing, where they want the pucks," Lidstrom said. "It takes a few games to get to know your teammates, and I think he’s been doing a tremendous job so far.”

And there was no question that the Wings’ blueliners took it upon themselves to put the screws to the Blackhawks – a team whose speed and opportunism had given Detroit problems earlier in the season.

“I thought tonight we played a lot better for 60 minutes,” Lidstrom said. “A lot of teams we’re playing lately are fighting for that playoff spot, and Chicago, tonight was no different. They’re playing hard – with desperation too – and I think it shows early on.”

Winning four out of the previous five matchups, including both contests at JLA, the Hawks had demonstrated an ability to get shots on Detroit’s netminders – as well as protect their own. In the first three games between the two teams -- all Hawks victories -- the Red Wings only outshot the Blackhawks by an average of two per game – a far cry from the nearly 11 shot per game advantage Detroit has enjoyed this season.

It was a combination of Detroit’s discipline – only providing Chicago with two fruitless powerplay attempts – and their lockdown defense – Chicago only amassed 20 shots on goal to Detroit’s 47.

“I was very impressed tonight,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We had a lot of territorial play and it was a good night for us.”

“We kept them on the outside more, and we didn’t give them too many scoring chances,” added Lidstrom.

A powerplay midway through the game could have given the Hawks the lead, but Detroit’s penalty killing unit – headed by a Lidstrom-Chelios pairing – held Chicago without a shot for the entire two-minute span. With momentum on the side of the Wings, Pavel Datsyuk scored the game-winner later in the period.

And while the score was close, the shot tally was far more indicative of the flow of the game. The Red Wings’ defense did a fantastic job of keeping Chicago’s potent offense away from goalie Chris Osgood while his rookie counterpart, Corey Crawford, did a stellar job but ultimately couldn’t keep Detroit’s offense at bay.

Ultimately, the Hawks got a preview of the smothering Detroit defense, which should be present through the rest of the season, and into the playoffs, and as Lidstrom notes, the team is preparing for the long run.

“We’re talking about paying attention to details," he said. "We’re really looking at sharpening things up and we’re trying to correct the last 10 or 15 games we have here.

“I’m actually eager to get some games under my belt before the playoffs start.”

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