The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/25/13 at 04:25 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings head into Game 5 against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight (8 PM EDT, NBC/CBC/97.1 FM, and FSD will air a post-game show) holding a 3 games to 1 series lead, but they face a strange and difficult opponent for several reasons:
First, as the Hawks repeatedly mentioned on Friday, they rallied from a 3-0 series deficit against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011, and forced OT in Game 7; and second, Jonathan Toews is, depending on how you read his lecture about what a great player he is and how he's going to break out tonight, either due for a stellar game or due to completely lose it on Saturday night.
While the Blackhawks held an optional skate and were downright verbose in insisting that the series is still theirs to win, not lose, the Red Wings didn't practice and arrived in Chicago in the evening, stating that they both have to play better and must approach tonight's game knowing that Chicago's going to bring their best.
As they told NHL.com's Brian Hedger, the Hawks are anything but down on themselves...
"What's there to be down about?" Toews said. "Obviously we're not where we want to be in the series, but dwelling on that and feeling sorry for ourselves isn't going to do anything. We've got a positive group of guys and had a great season all year for that reason. We're going to stick to what helps us win hockey games, so we're focused on getting ready for [Game 5] and nothing more than that."
Chicago's optional practice Friday was attended by 12 players on the ice plus the assistant coaches. Notable names participating included Toews, rookie Brandon Saad and Brent Seabrook -- all of whom have struggled to produce in this series.
There weren't enough players to really work on many facets of the game, such as a power play that's 1-for-12 in the series and 3-for-25 in the playoffs, but they did get in some shooting practice against backup goalie Ray Emery. That might be even more important than doing full team drills.
The Blackhawks probably heard the all-too-familiar clank of puck off metal in their sleep Thursday night and hope their aim improves in Game 5. They didn't play poorly in either of the past two games, but hit too many posts and crossbars and couldn't solve Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who has been outstanding since dropping Game 1 by a 4-1 score.
It doesn't look good for the Blackhawks going into Game 5, but they do have a remarkable comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 to build hope. Chicago lost that series in overtime of Game 7 in Vancouver, but the Blackhawks said they're confident they can push another sticky situation to the brink.
"Everybody's counting us out now except us in here," Seabrook said. "The only thing you can really do is look back at past experiences and go from there. We look back at the Vancouver series and being down 3-0, we gave ourselves a chance and had a hard-fought game in Game 7 and just missed out by one goal."
And while the odds are against them, as the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus noted...
There have been 229 teams that have trailed 3-1 in a Stanley Cup playoff series; 20 have come back to win. It last happened twice in 2010, with the Montreal Canadiens rallying to beat the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers becoming the first team since the 1975 New York Islanders to erase a 3-0 deficit by beating the Boston Bruins. Daniel Carcillo was on that Flyers team that eventually lost to the Hawks in the Stanley Cup finals.
Coach Joel Quenneville’s St. Louis Blues won a first-round series against the Phoenix Coyotes in 1999 after trailing 3-1.
‘‘Things happen,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘Momentum — we talk about how important it is come playoff time. [The Red Wings] obviously have it right now, but one game can turn everything around.’’
The Hawks don't just believe that they're going to win Game 5. They believe that they're going to win the series, as they told the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc:
"It's happened," Quenneville said on the eve of Game 5 on Saturday night at the United Center. "(With) momentum, we talk about how important it is come playoff time. (The Wings) obviously have it right now, but one game can turn everything around. That's what we're looking for. The big picture looks bleak, but at the same time, we have two home games. We have one at a time, and getting off to a big start is what we're looking for and simplifying it and go shift by shift."
Another nearly momentous comeback hits closer to home for others in the Hawks dressing room. Two years ago the Hawks fell behind the Canucks 3-0 in the first round before storming back with three consecutive victories to force Game 7. The dream ended in overtime but left an indelible mark.
"It just goes to show that things like that are possible," said Jonathan Toews, who scored late in Game 7 to force overtime. "We were very, very close to winning that series.
"I'm sure Detroit knows and we know that this series is long from being over, that (Saturday night) is going to be the toughest game for both teams. We can keep that in our hip pocket (and) just know that … if we focus on one game at a time, that there's a way out of it. We're not worried about winning three in a row yet. We want to win (Game 5) and we'll go from there."
Added Seabrook: "There have been a few guys in this room who have come back from 3-0 and given themselves a chance to win. We look back at the Vancouver series and being down 3-0, we gave ourselves a chance and had a hard-fought game in Game 7 and just missed out by one goal."
Quenneville continued while speaking to the Chicago Daily Herald's Tim Sassone:
"It's happened," coach Joel Quenneville said. "We were down 3-1 when I was in St. Louis (and won a series against Phoenix); Car Bomb (Daniel Carcillo) was in Philly (when the Flyers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to stun Boston in 2010). We were down 3-0 against Vancouver (in 2011) and took it to Game 7 in overtime. Things happen."
The Hawks are going to need better results from Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Toews still is without a goal in nine playoff games. Hossa, Kane and Sharp each have 1 goal in the series, while Keith and Seabrook are part of a power play that has fizzled badly (1-for-12).
"Our best players need to be our best players," Toews said. "We need to lead. We need to grab the rope and start pulling for the rest of the guys, and it starts with myself."
Toews is coming off one of the most forgettable games of his career Thursday in Detroit. He took 3 straight penalties in the second period and was in the box when Jakub Kindl scored what turned out to be the winning goal on a power play in the Red Wings' 2-0 victory.
"I understand what happened in the second period wasn't a good thing, but I don't attribute it to me losing my temper," Toews said. "I was a little bit careless with my stick and unfortunately it cost me and it cost our team."
Toews obviously thinks he got too much of the blame for the Game 4 loss.
"I think when things go well for our team sometimes maybe I get a little more credit than I deserve and I think the same goes the other way," he said. "We're positive. There's a good feeling in the locker room today. We're very close to finding a way to win one game, and we do that we know all that confidence and momentum is going to come rushing back and that's what we're focused on."
Toews did indeed "accepted criticism" for his performance on Thursday, and his teammates are backing their captain up, as the Northwest Herald's Tom Musick noted...
Teammates reiterated their faith in the Hawks’ captain despite his zero-point, three-penalty performance in Game 4. Toews has no goals, three assists and 10 penalty minutes in nine playoff games this season.
After Toews’ third penalty Thursday in Detroit, veteran Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook skated toward his longtime teammate for a quick pep talk.
“He’s the best player on the team and our leader, and if the rest of the group sees him like that, it’s going to trickle down,” Seabrook said. “So we need him to be focused and ready. I just told him to sit down and take a couple of deep breaths and be ready to be back out there because we need him.”
Toews denied that frustration had interfered with his focus.
“I understand that what happened in the second period wasn’t a good thing,” Toews said. “I don’t attribute it to me losing my temper. I think obviously I was a little bit careless with my stick, and unfortunately it cost me, it cost our team.”
As did the Chicago Sun-Times' Lazerus...
“He’s one of the best players in the world, he’s a hard worker and he’s going to work through this,” Seabrook said of Toews. “I think we all take the burden for being down 3-1. We all win as a group, we lose as a group. Just because one guy’s not scoring doesn’t mean he’s going to win the game or lose the game for us.”
Said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville: “He’s a true leader and he’s everything that represents our organization in the right fashion. You couldn’t ask for a better captain or a better competitor than Johnny.”
Toews, as he’s been saying all week now, believes the Hawks are agonizingly close to breaking through — one puck that hits the post and goes in rather than out, one greasy goal in a crowded crease, one seeing-eye shot from the point on the power play.
Then the floodgates will open. He believes this. The team believes this. At this point, they have to.
“There’s a good feeling in the locker room, and the guys are very confident that we’re very close to finding a way to win one game,” Toews said. “And when we do that, we know all that confidence and momentum’s going to come rushing back. That’s what we’re focused on. That’s the only thing we can worry about.”
And the Chicago Daily Herald's Mike Spellman, reiterating Quenneville's remarks:
"He's a true leader," Quenneville said. "He's everything that represents our organization in the right fashion. You couldn't ask for a better captain or a better competitor than Johnny. Sometimes his frustration shows because he wants to do things the right way and he will continue to do it the right way."
Toews went so far as to tell the Chicago Tribune's Kuc that Henrik Zetterberg's not bothering him at all...
Still without a goal in the postseason, captain Jonathan Toews said he has been able to create scoring chances despite the strong defensive effort against him by Henrik Zetterberg.
"I'm not as worried about him as maybe you guys think I should be," Toews told the media. "He's a good player. I'm obviously trying to limit his scoring chances when he gets the puck, but I'm still getting chances. He's doing a great job of playing smart, defensive hockey, but it doesn't mean I'm not getting chances and not getting to the net. Those chances are coming, and at some point they have to go in."
And in terms of the Hawks' mindset going into tonight's game, Brent Seabrook may have summarized things most succinctly while speaking to Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers:
“We’re as upbeat as we can be; we’re just trying to focus on tomorrow’s game,” said Brent Seabrook. “We talked about past experiences and what we can do as a group and we have to come out with a strong effort tomorrow. This is what we play for: the Cup. It’s the best time of the year. Our season’s not over yet.”
The fact that Seabrook and his defensive partner Nick Leddy haven't played as much as usual may mean that the Hawks will shake up their defensive pairs, just as they've tweaked their forward lines, as the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash noted...
Seabrook’s playoff-low 12:03 of playing time in the Hawks’ 2-0 loss to the Red Wings is an alarming number for a player of his caliber — an eight-year veteran in the middle of a five-year, $29 million contract. He averaged 22:00 of ice time in the regular season, second highest on the team behind iron man Duncan Keith. The 12:03 against the Red Wings in Game 4 is the lowest time-on-ice of Seabrook’s 658-game NHL career. His previous low was 13:27. He’s never played less than 16:00 in a game over the last six seasons.
‘’Maybe we’re talking about the matchup,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said when asked why the pairing of Seabrook and Nick Leddy (8:38) had limited ice time in Game 4. ‘’We’ve been looking at pairings across the board, whether we’re looking for more even minutes as we go along. But moreso the pairing and the matchups were [why] their minutes were down the last couple of games.’’
With the Blackhawks trailing 3-1 in the series and facing elimination, Quenneville indicated changes in the defensive pairings — currently Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Seabrook-Leddy and Michal Rozsival-Johnny Oduya — could be made for Game 5 on Saturday night at the United Center.
‘’We’ll see,’’ he said.
But Quenneville told the Chicago Daily Herald's Sassone that he wasn't thrilled with the performances of his forwards on Thursday...
Joel Quenneville refused to admit that his line switching Thursday in Game 4 pretty much was a failure.
"We haven't changed too much with the lines," he said. "The majority of guys have played with each other over the course of the season, whether it's two guys on a line or one adjustment here and there. We don't necessarily visit changing when things are going well, and this year that's kind of been the case. We've tried a few adjustments here to spark our offense. Certainly we felt over the last few games it's been a little sparse."
The Blackhawks have not done a good job of battling for position in front of the Red Wings net, allowing Howard to see most of the shots he’s facing. There have been few second-chance opportunities in the three consecutive games the Blackhawks have lost in the series.
“With goaltenders these days, there are a lot of good goaltenders left in the playoffs, and that’s what it’s all about,” Saad said. “You watch other series, you have to get those ugly goals, get in front of him and bang in some rebounds.”
All of that being said, however, and including these reassuring tidbits from ChicagoBlackhawks.com's Leah Hendrickson...
3. Patrick Sharp is tied for the NHL lead in postseason goals, shares fourth in points and had points in six consecutive games from May 3-18: His 10 points (6G, 4A) pace the Blackhawks. Sharp tallied a playoff-high three points (1G, 2A) in Game 1 against Detroit.
4. Corey Crawford’s .981 save percentage while shorthanded also paces all goaltenders remaining in the postseason: In 23 career playoff contests, Crawford has a maintained a 2.14 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.
5. The Blackhawks are 7-2 in Game 5 under coach Joel Quenneville: In five of those nine situations, Chicago has scored five or more goals, outscoring their opponents 35-19 overall in Game 5s. Defenseman Duncan Keith leads current Blackhawks with nine points (3G, 6A) in nine Game 5s.
The Northwest Herald's Musick noted that the numbers that count don't stack up well for Chicago...
Eleven times in franchise history, the Hawks have dug a 3-1 hole in a best-of-seven series. Eleven times, that hole has proved to be too steep to escape.
I hate to say it, but I have a feeling that this year’s team will extend that streak to 12 for 12. Sure, it’s possible the Hawks could rally for three consecutive playoff wins against the Wings, whom they defeated four consecutive times during the regular season. The Hawks’ losses in Games 3 and 4 in Detroit were close – really close – as a handful of shots clanked off posts.
The Hawks met as a team Friday before a dozen players took the ice for an optional skate.
“Everybody is counting us out now, except us in here,” Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “That’s the only thing you can really do is look back at past experiences and go from there.”
Here’s the thing. Those past experiences are not exactly comforting.
2012: Down, 3-1, the Hawks win Game 5 before losing Game 6 against Phoenix.
2011: Down, 3-0, the Hawks win Games 4, 5 and 6 before losing Game 7 against Vancouver.
2009: Down, 3-1, the Hawks lose Game 5 against Detroit to end their season.
2002: Down, 3-1, the Hawks lose Game 5 against St. Louis to end their season.
1995: Down, 3-1, the Hawks lose Game 5 against Detroit to end their season.
I could keep going – a half-dozen more examples exist from 1968 to 1989 – but you get the idea.
And, amongst the Toronto Sun's acerbic Rob Longley's 5 reasons that the Wings are frustrating the Hawks...
2. 'Hawks turning Doves: There has been a tendency to jump all over Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, but he is just part of the problem.
Toews gets the headlines not having yet scored in these playoffs and the outburst of frustration resulting from three second-period minor penalties Thursday. He's also being hounded (and outplayed) by Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, which is one of the developing story lines.
"That sends a message to the rest of the team," Howard told reporters in Chicago on Friday.
That said, the Wings are getting that type of physical edge throughout their lineup. In the two Detroit games, they matched the 'Hawks hit for hit and finished check for finished check. Better yet, the Wings have turned the other cheek much better than their favored foes.
3. Wide Post vs. Thin Post: Babcock dropped the term "wide post" between Games 3 and 4, acknowledging that perhaps his team was getting some of the better bounces.
The 'Hawks hit three off the iron in Game 3, plus had a Viktor Stalberg goal waved off. In Game 4, there were two more posts for the hard-luck 'Hawks. In either of those tight games, one favourable Chicago bounce could have created a dramatically different scenario heading into Game 5.
The Wings aren't about to apologize for having the wide posts on their side, of course. But when a third-pair defenceman like Jakub Kindl bangs one off the inside of the post for the game-winner in Game 4, you know things are going your way.
4. Scatter the Seeds: With their core and recent success, not many would have considered the Wings a seventh seeded playoff team. But with the L.A. Kings marching from the No. 8 seed to the title a year ago, it only heightened the belief of the Wings, who are now a win away from having dumped the top two teams in the Western Conference this spring.
This is not the NBA where the top seeds generally imply a significant edge in talent, an advantage that seems to hold up more consistently. The intangibles of toughness – mental and physical – seem more relevant in hockey, and the Wings appear to be getting more stout in that department by the game.
If you wish to read the Chicago Sun-Times Mike Spellman's Q and A with Blackhawks color commentator Troy Murray, or glance at the Chicago Tribune's Kuc's Datsyuk-vs-Kane match-up box, you may most certainly do so, and in addition to the Friday practice post's Hawks videos...
You may most certainly enjoy watching Toews and his teammates (Frolik, Leddy, Seabrook) speak to the media Comcast Sportsnet Chicago, which also posted a clip of Quenneville's comments, Tracey Myers' take on Game 5 and the charmers that are CSN Chicago's Sports Talk Live crew talk about the Hawks' situation, we'll allow NHL.com's "off day sound" to give us the final Hawks commentaries...
And while NHL.com's Brian Hedger's game preview will serve as our pivot point between the Hawks and Wings' perspectives...
Red Wings [team scope]: Detroit keeps building confidence with every Chicago shot that doesn't go in the net, whether it's stopped by Howard or clangs off metal. The Red Wings also have also won the faceoff battle in every game of this series, which is one of the details that's looming as a large factor, especially when the margins were as close as the past two games at Joe Louis Arena.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are leading the way in draws, and Joakim Andersson and Cory Emmerton are getting the job done on the third and fourth lines. After winning three games in a row, the Red Wings hope to end this series before the Blackhawks can get even a little wind back in their sails.
"We know that they're a desperate team," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I’d like to think that we’ll be desperate as well. You want to be as prepared as the opportunity is important and we have to play that hard.”
Blackhawks [team scope]: They've tried changing the personnel at least a couple of times, but Chicago's power play is still a major problem area. It's gone from a nagging problem for almost the entire second half of the regular season to a concern in the Western Conference Quarterfinals to a major reason they're facing potential elimination after five games.
Chicago is 1-for-12 (8.3 percent) on the man-advantage in this series and 3-for-25 (12 percent) in nine Stanley Cup Playoffs games. That's on top of struggling against Detroit's defense and Howard in 5-on-5 play, leading to a combined two goals in the past three games, none for captain Jonathan Toews in the postseason.
"We all take the burden for being down 3-1," Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "We all win as a group and we lose as a group. Just because one guy isn't scoring doesn't mean he's going to win the game or lose the game for us. It takes a team effort and we all have to pick our socks up here."
Who's hot: Howard recorded his second career playoff shutout in Game 4 and through his past six games holds a 5-1 record with a 1.67 goals-against average and .950 save percentage.
NHL.com's Wings "off day sound" will begin our survey of the Wings and the Wings writers' takes on the challenges the Wings face tonight...
And the Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton of all people leads the Wings portion of this entry off by noting that the Wings' coach won't stop pushing his players to "maximize their potential":
Mike Babcock has done much to goad the Red Wings to the verge of exterminating the best team in hockey's regular season, to jam well-timed adrenaline needles into his club. Cheerleading is not one of those things.
"He deserves a lot of credit for our success, but he's not doing cartwheels and pompoms in front of the room," defenseman Kyle Quincey said. "It's just, 'We've been here before, 22 (playoff) years in a row, we have a responsibility to win.' "
If that precise phrasing — a "responsibility to win" — isn't exactly what Babcock said, it is what his team has heard. And that has been enough, a message that's more motivation than pressure, one resonating with a potpourri of veterans and youth to bring the Red Wings from scrounging for a postseason berth to sitting one win from the Western Conference finals.
Babcock has his team playing its best at the right time. His approach — gumming up the neutral zone, getting physical with the Blackhawks' skill players — has been a master stroke. Sprinkle in some luck, and the Red Wings are living up to what the Red Wings are supposed to be.
"You can tell there's a demand for winning, and the responsibility to come in and be a contender every night," rookie defenseman Brendan Smith said from his corner locker stall at Joe Louis Arena. "I mean, look around the room. You see all the (pictures of) Stanley Cups over there. There's so much history. And now being a part of that, I try to take that on, and a bunch of the other guys are as well."
There had to be something for Babcock to use as a toehold this season, and this was it. Nicklas Lidstrom had retired. Six rookies and first-year NHL player Damien Brunner became regulars. There was carryover with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk as exemplars of what it meant to be a Red Wing, but it needed to be said as well as done.
"When you put on our sweater, there's an obligation to Mr. (Gordie) Howe and Mr. (Ted) Lindsay and people that came before you to compete like a Red Wing," Babcock said. "I don't think there's an obligation to win like a Red Wing. There's an obligation to prepare for the opportunity you're given, to compete for what you've been given and to maximize your potential. ... That doesn't guarantee winning. You need a certain amount of players and depth and breaks to win. So, to me, that's not the pressure. The pressure comes to prepare well, to work hard, to compete hard, to make sure you're doing what you should do, in respect of the uniform and respect of one another."
In terms of tonight's game, the Red Wings fully expect to face an incredibly determined Blackhawks team supported by a raucous United Center Crowd,as they told the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan...
"The United Center will be loud; that's probably an understatement," forward Daniel Cleary said. "The start will be important. You want to play a good road game, be real sharp. The start will be important to them. That's going to be their main focus. The crowd will be charged up, and the main thing is to keep them loose physically and make sure our minds are sharp."
The Red Wings weren't thrilled with their first period in Game 4.Chicago had 14 shots on net, and it took some outstanding goaltending from Jimmy Howard to keep the Blackhawks off the score sheet.
"We got better as the game went on," coach Mike Babcock said. "We need to start on time for sure. On the road, the first 10 minutes is always important. I would say the start is important every night."
The Blackhawks have scored only two goals in the last three games and face an unexpected and long summer answering questions if they lose to the Red Wings in Game 5.
For that reason alone, and the fact the Blackhawks have the confidence and knowledge they didn't lose in regulation time in the first 24 consecutive games this regular season — so what's the next three games in this series? — should keep the Blackhawks flying in Game 5.
"They're going to come out with everything they have," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "We have to match that."
And they continued that line of thinking while speaking to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...
“It’s important, but it’s also the most difficult, knocking a team out of the playoffs,” goalie Jimmy Howard. “You’re expecting them to come out and play extremely hard, extremely urgent (Saturday) night and we’re going to have to be extremely focused at the same time.”
This is the Blackhawks’ first three-game losing streak this season. They had just three two-game losing streaks during the regular season.
“Our thing is it’s a race to four,” forward Daniel Cleary said. “Those guys are champions, they’re winners, they know the toughest game ever is the one to eliminate a team. We have to be ready. It’s going to be the hardest game we’ve played all season.”
“The start is important every night,” Babcock said. “I didn’t think we were very good (Thursday), we gave up 14 shots and were very loose in the first period, turned the puck over and weren’t sharp. We got better as the game went on, we got eight in the second and six in the third, so we need to start on time tomorrow, for sure. I think when you’re on the road that first 10 minutes are always important.”
“The lead is important, the start is important,” Cleary said. “You want to go out and play a good road game. Their building is going to be loud and we have to keep our minds real sharp and play real loose. We can’t play tight.”
Since the Presidents’ Trophy was introduced in 1985-86, the Wings are 2-1 in the playoffs against the team that won it. They beat Colorado (1997) and Dallas (1998) and lost to Edmonton (1987).
“I guess the way that I look at it is when you’re coaching and playing it usually doesn’t matter to you what the people on the outside think,” Babcock said when asked about being in a position that no one felt they would be at against the Blackhawks. “It matters what you think and we think we have a good group and we’re determined to keep playing and we have a tough task ahead of us but we’re excited for our opportunity.”
"Of course we want to win the next game," said captain Henrik Zetterberg. "We know the fourth win is always the toughest one. We need to come out, play good from the start and sort it out."
"They're going to come out with everything they have and we have to match that," said defenseman Niklas Kronwall. "Take care of the puck and make sure we get the pucks deep and hopefully spend some time in their zone instead of the other way around."
After turning aside 86 of 88 shots in the past three games and allowing Chicago a combined two goals, goaltender Jimmy Howard is looking forward to the challenge of trying to end the series on the Blackhawks' home ice.
"I think it's a lot of fun to play here," Howard said. "It's a blast from the national anthem to hearing how the fans are constantly into the game. The atmosphere here at the United Center makes for a great game.
"(Winning Game 5 is) important, but it's also the most difficult, knocking a team out of the playoffs. You're expecting them to come out and play extremely hard, extremely urgent tomorrow night, and we're going to have to be extremely focused at the same time. Our mindset can't change. We have to go out there and match the intensity tomorrow night."
Howard readily told DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose that there's no doubt that his defense is helping him see pucks and distribute rebounds properly...
Goalie Jimmy Howard has been incredible in this series, improving to 5-1 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in his last six games. His lone prior playoff shutout was on April 20, 2010, when he posted 29 saves in a 3‑0 victory over the Coyotes in Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
While Howard has made 86 saves on 88 shots during the Red Wings’ three-game winning streak, the veteran goalie shares a lot of the recent success with the team’s defense.
“Yeah, they’re doing a great job in front of me,” Howard said. “If there’s a rebound laying around they’re getting to it pretty fast for me. They’ve been helping me out a lot and why I think we’ve been successful here.”
But if the Blackhawks think that they're peaking at the right time, the Wings told Roose that they feel exactly the same way going into an elimination game, and that as "underdogs," any pressure other than the pressure they place upon themselves plain old doesn't exist:
“Pressure? No, pressure’s for tires, that’s the old saying,” said forward Daniel Cleary, while speaking to reporters at the Red Wings’ team downtown hotel Friday afternoon. “Our thing is it’s a race to four. Those guys are champions, they’re winners, they know the toughest game ever is to try and eliminate a team. We have to be ready. It’s going to be the hardest game we’ve played all season.”
The Red Wings certainly know what it’s like to have their backs against the wall. It was just two weeks ago that they faced elimination at home in Game 6 against Anaheim. But the Ducks couldn’t close out the Wings, who are now one win away from knocking off the top-seeded Blackhawks.
“As a team here, the last two weeks and so far in the playoffs we’ve done a lot of good things,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We did a few bad things. We lost a lead in the third a couple times, we won a few in overtimes. I think we got a lot of experience the last month or so and I think it’s good for the club.”
The experience has paid off, especially for the young players, who together, are experiencing the highs and lows of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in their careers.
“I think it’s a great learning experience for some of our younger players who haven’t been in an elimination game,” Cleary said. “We’ve got a lot of us that have, that have gotten through it, that have been eliminated. I think for us, learning anything? All I know is it will be the hardest game. Being on the other side of it that’s how it always is, how it should be.”
In terms of Henrik Zetterberg's battle with Toews in Chicago, when the Blackhawks will have the last change, the Wings' captain had this to say to MLive's Ansar Khan:
“I don’t think it’s man on man,'' Zetterberg said. “It’s two teams that play out there.''
That being said, Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji reports that Howard arrived in Chicago with no less bluster than the self-confident and/or bordline arrogant pomp with which he left Detroit--and for the Wings, there's a healthy sense of confidence imbued throughout the roster:
"I always had faith in myself, always believed in myself, that I can go out there and play extremely well in the playoffs," Howard said. "So far in the playoffs I think I've done that but we still have a long ways to go. It's great the position we're in but now we got to work harder."
That attitude is also what makes the Wings dangerous. They have enough veterans who have been through it to know that until you've won that fourth game, nothing is guaranteed.
Players like Howard, captain Henrik Zetterberg, defenseman Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk learned from guys like Chris Osgood, Steve Yzerman, Nick Lidstrom and Igor Larionov that you can't afford to get too high after a win and you certainly afford to get too low after a loss.
They've also learned that in the playoffs, you have to remain poised. Things aren't always going to go your way. You're going to let in a bad goal, you're going to give up an odd-man rush, you're going to get slashed and not have it called, but you can't let it get to you.
Now it's Howard, Zetterberg, Kronwall, Datsyuk and the other veterans teaching the young kids like Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Damien Brunner, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl the way it all works at this time of year.
Of course, nothing teaches like experience and the young Wings gained a lot of it at the end of the regular season and in the seven-game series against the Anaheim Ducks.
"We learned a lot," Zetterberg said. "As a team here, the last two weeks and so far in the playoffs we’ve done a lot of good things. We did a few bad things. We lost a lead in the third a couple times, we won a few in overtimes. I think we got a lot of experience the last month or so and I think it’s good for the club."
Prior to leaving for Chicago, the Wings told the Windsor Star's Bob Duff that the shortened 48-game season and the adversity they've faced during said season--in terms of roster turnover, injuries and inconsistent play--may or may not be giving them an advantage over Chicago...
“It was different this year,” Detroit centre Cory Emmerton said. “It was tough to kind of tell how it would have worked out over a full season.”
This time, it’s the Wings who are taking advantage of the absurdity of seeking to determine form charts when nearly half the season is thrown in the trash. In the wild West, the second (Anaheim), third (Vancouver) and fourth (St. Louis) seeds were sent packing in Round 1 while top-seeded Chicago hangs on by a thread, leading once again to that age-old question – is it better to come into the playoffs home and cooled out, which was Detroit’s downfall many a previous spring, or battling for a spot, which is what the Wings were forced to do this year?
“It’s been a tough year with a lot of injuries and I think maybe just near the end where we knew they were must wins, we kind of came together a little bit more,” Detroit defenceman Brendan Smith said. “The parity in our league, it’s crazy how close it is. Every team is so good. Any team can make the playoffs and any team can make a run. We saw that with L.A. last year being an eighth seed, and yet they go on and pretty much destroy the competition. You just want to make the playoffs and keep on playing. The biggest thing for us is yeah, we did scratch and claw our way in, but we knew we were playoff ready.”
Even Detroit coach Mike Babcock, as determined a competitor as there is, wouldn’t have laid odds that he was in charge of a contender this season.
“If you would ask me two months ago, I would be shocked,” Babcock admitted. “We started playing better and better. Once we got through the Anaheim series, you go in thinking you have an opportunity. We’re competing at a high, high level. We don’t do things right all the time, that’s for sure, everyone can see that. But I think we’re doing things hard all the time, trying hard. There’s a lot to be said for effort and battling.”
In terms of "detail work," the Wings told the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness that the biggest key to stopping Toews and his teammates begins in the faceoff circle...
Chicago’s Jonathan Toews finished second in the league during the regular season by winning 59.9 percent of the faceoffs. In the playoffs, he’s seventh winning 57.6 percent, but has been less effective against the Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg through [four] games.
In the first [four] games of the series, the Blackhawks’ captain has won just 39.2 percent (11-of-28) of the faceoffs he’s had to face Zetterberg on.
“I think both are good faceoff guys,” Wings forward Joakim Andersson said. “Toews is top five, he’s a great, great faceoff guy, but Zetterberg is so competitive. He’s not going to let Toews run a show in the circle. He’s going to dig in there and do whatever it takes to win some draws.”
Through [four] games in the series, Toews had won 46.8 percent (29-of-62) of his faceoffs.
“Toews is so good and he’s going to win his share of faceoffs, but Zetterberg is going to make sure that he wins his part too,” Andersson said.
And it continues with attention to taking away "time and space" on their successful penalty-kill, as they told the Free Press's Helene St. James:
"We just try to minimize their space and time,” Henrik Zetterberg said Friday. “They’re good players, and they will find a way to hurt you if you give them room.”
The Blackhawks haven’t converted on a man advantage since winning the opening game of the second-round series.
“I think we’ve been able to do some good things, disrupt them up ice and make it hard for them,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We know that they’re so talented, all they need is once chance and the puck’s in. We’ve been able to do a good job there, I think.”
The hot streak has not without reason coincided with Drew Miller’s return from a broken thumb. He entered the series for Game 2, giving the Wings three options on the fourth line to use as penalty killers, in Miller, Patrick Eaves and Cory Emmerton.
As Kronwall put it, “Millsie getting back in the lineup’s been huge for us.”
Depending on the situation, the Wings will use Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the penalty kill, but if a little wear and tear can be saved on those two, that’s not a bad scenario. Miller (Michigan State) and Eaves both bring so much speed to the PK units, and Emmerton has shown a nice little knack for opportunistic breakaways; even if they aren’t turned into goals, they eat up valuable seconds and stick a little dagger into opponents, who’ve given up a scoring chance on their power play.
On an individual basis, the Detroit News's John Niyo doesn't believe that Jimmy Howard is as good as any of his Cup-winning predecessors, and he states as much...Before admitting that Howard is more than earning his way up the playoff wins ladder (and justifying the team's investment in him) while playing with a chip on his and his team's respective shoulders:
Jimmy Howard is not a Hall of Famer. He is not Terry Sawchuk or Dominik Hasek or even Chris Osgood, though after four full seasons as Detroit's No. 1 goaltender he sure sounds a lot like the latter, doesn't he? Self-assured and self-deprecating, soft-spoken yet defiant, sounding oblivious and completely aware all at once.
Jimmy Howard knows what he is, and what that means. And so do his teammates.
"I don't know if you can ask much more from Howie than what he's done for us since he's got here," veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall said of Howard, who has stopped 86 of 88 shots the last three games. "If you're not appreciating what he's doing right now, I don't know if you're a true fan, to be honest with you. That's how good he's been. He's been the backbone of our team."
The Wings are underdogs in this series against the Blackhawks, and they're enjoying every minute of that. So is Howard, who admits he once wondered, "Do I really belong here?" but now is just fine being perceived as the goalie who can't or won't, even as he shows everyone he can and just might.
"I sort of feel like I've been an underdog all my life," said Howard, who grew up in tiny Ogdensberg, N.Y. and spent three years in college and four in the minors before finally getting his shot in the NHL. "Coming from a small town, people always said, 'You'll never have an opportunity. You'll never have a chance to do this or that.' For me, I sort of just relish it. I kinda like playing that role."
His teammates kinda do, too, though they're all starting to outgrow it. The seventh-seeded Wings are one win from the Western Conference finals — suffocating a Chicago team that hadn't lost three consecutive games all season — while Howard's suddenly a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
He's doing that as he speaks. And while he's not interested in calling his shots — "I don't think I'm like Dom, who could just say I'm gonna get a shutout tonight," he joked Thursday night — he is intent on stopping them.
"I always had faith in myself," Howard said, reiterating a point he has made frequently the past couple years. "I always believed in myself, that I could go out there and play extremely well in the playoffs. So far in these playoffs, I think I've done that. But we still have a long way to go."
And again, as the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa notes (in another exhaustively detailed column), there's no doubt that Babcock's pushing the right buttons while pushing his players and pushing them hard--and Krupa achieves his aim in discussing Babcock's strengths by asking Ken Holland what happened when the coach Holland refused to hire to succeed Scotty Bowman ended up defeating the Wings in the 2003 playoffs:
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Holland said. "We joke about it. He's a great coach. He makes players accountable. He's got tremendous work ethic. He's passionate. There's a lot that goes into it. He's here every day at seven in the morning going over tape. He's got a plan. When the players come in, he's got it down, what message he wants. He makes his judgments."
Some players may blanch at the intensity and unwavering purpose. Asked whether he sought a more positive approach to them this season, given the turnover and relative youth of the roster, Babcock said, "I actually think we're positive with all our people.
"I think the impact of the words positive and accountability and feedback sometimes are in how it's received, not given," he said. "And so, to me, the key in life — I don't know what you're like — but when someone's got an issue with me, I like them to tell me so I can fix it and I can get better at it. And some people, when you give them feedback, they take that in a negative way. Whereas I think when people are trying to help you, that's a positive thing.
"Young guys need a lot of work. You spend a lot of time with them. You share as much as you can with them. Ideally, they're coachable and you can help them. What we do with our veterans here is we still try to help them. But we try not to have as many meetings and give them more space, and when we need to show them something, show them. But when we don't have to, we leave them alone that way."
And no, Babcock has no problem with not necessarily being on "friendly" terms with players that do indeed clash with him on a semi-regular basis:
"You know, it's interesting to me," he said. "Steve Yzerman told me when Scotty coached him here, he hardly ever talked to him, and then when he was working with me for two years, Scotty was talking to players all the time.Scotty Bowman loved the players, absolutely loved them. But he had a job to do."
Babcock said he "loves the players," too. "When you're pushing people who don't want to be pushed, sometimes they don't like it. I'm here to tell you when you look at the group of coaches who are still playing right now, they're pushing people. That's just the reality.
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