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Wings ready to take on the Madhouse

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Damien Brunner reacts to his overtime goal in Game 4. He and several other young players helped the Red Wings upset Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs. (Photo by Dave Reginek)

DETROIT – Before Damien Brunner arrived in the United States last September, he’d been forewarned about the painful auditory levels inside the Madhouse on Madison.

“They said ‘Just you wait until you play in Chicago, you’re not going to hear the national anthem,’ ” Brunner said. “That was a pretty cool feeling.”

The United Center will be rocking with the ferocity of a freight train on Wednesday when the top-seeded Blackhawks host their archrivals from the Motor City in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Nicknamed the Madhouse on Madison for a reason, the Red Wings fully expect that the Blackhawks’ fans will add to the craziness of playoff hockey throughout the second-round series. Yet while many of the Red Wings’ younger players have played at 1901 West Madison Street, they haven’t been a part of the playoff scene.

Thanksfully, the younger guys have veterans like Daniel Cleary, who have witnessed, and weathered, the insanity for years. Chicago’s first-round draft pick in 1997, the Red Wings’ veteran forward has played in more than 50 games at the Blackhawks’ home. Cleary also played a pivotal role in the Wings clinching the 2009 conference finals over the Blackhawks to advance to the Stanley Cup finals.

But over time, opposing veteran players learn to filter out the noise, otherwise, Cleary said, it can be a very scary place to play.

“Chicago’s going to be a fun matchup,” Cleary said. “It’s going to be like no other in terms of anthem, in terms of energy and crowd for some of the younger players who haven’t seen it before. As a young player you just have to embrace it. Intimidation can’t be any sort of factor and our kids aren’t smart enough to realize what intimidation is anyway.”

The Wings’ kids weren’t rattled in the first round series. In fact, they were quite the opposite. The young guys were efficient throughout the series, especially third-line forwards Brunner and Gustav Nyquist, who each scored big overtime goals to beat the Ducks. Another big contributor was third-line center Joakim Andersson, who won more than 59 percent of his face-offs in the defensive zone, including 10-of-11 in the first two games of the series.

The hands-on nature of what the Wings’ youth movement is currently experiencing, and will continue to experience in the upcoming Chicago series are all valuable lessons in becoming NHL players.

“You learn by being a part of it,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “You have to go through those situations to learn. That's what they did. The Andersson line was huge for us, played a lot of minutes in that (Anaheim) series. The experience will make them better.”

Seven different Wings made their Stanley Cup playoff debuts in the last series. Yet this next round will bring with it a whole new set of circumstances for the young guys, from the history of the Original Six rivalry to the disdain that fans from both cities share for one another.

“It’s a tough thing about emotion,” rookie defenseman Brendan Smith said. “My first game in Anaheim I had the butterflies going, but once you get going you get rid of those and your momentum kicks in. What coach told us was to put your emotions behind you and go out there and play with passion and do what’s gotten you to this stage of your life.”

What got the Red Wings to the second round was their attention to small details, their willingness to battle in the corners and fight for space in front of the opposition’s crease. It’s something the young guys hope to continue to do against the Blackhawks.

“The biggest thing I learned from the last playoff series was the competition level and how competitive each person is,” Smith said. “If you don’t play a full 60 minutes you’re going to be a minus player, you’ll be scored against and you’re not going to be the best player out there.”

The Wings would like to minimize the Blackhawks’ scoring, if for no other reason than to pull the plus on the Scottish indie rock band The Fratellis after each Chicago goal.

“It is a good song,” said Zetterberg said, of the catchy beat. “But you wish you would hear it in different circumstances.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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