Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Blackhawks Game 3 set-up: exceeding one’s performance envelope

The Detroit Red Wings will face literal and figurative heat tonight as they attempt to carve out a 2-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks (7:30 PM EDT, NBCSN/CBC/97.1 FM, post-game on FSD). The Hawks are going to make a lineup change in adding Viktor Stalberg, they're still determined to make this series a short one, and the local weatherpeople are forecasting temperatures of 85-90 degrees in Southeastern Michigan for this afternoon, so Al Sobotka's has his work cut out for him ensuring that both teams aren't skating on gravel, too.

This game is obviously a little different if you happen to believe that momentum transfers from game to game: just as there was a two-day break between Games 1 and 2, the Wings and Hawks won't play Game 4 until Thursday and Game 5 on Saturday (at 8 PM EDT), and as you already know, Jonathan Toews' complaints about a lack of hooking and holding penalties called will probably fall upon rabbit ears, not deaf ones, so it's going to be an uphill climb for the Wings...

In no small part because the Blackhawks have absolutely owned Detroit at Joe Louis Arena of late--they swept the Wings in two games this season and have absolutely dominated the Wings at home over the course of the last couple of regular seasons, with the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc pegging Chicago's record at JLA at 9-1-and-1 since the 2010-2011, so the Hawks told Kuc that home ice is what you make of it...

"Just because you're playing at home doesn't mean you're going to win the game — that was proven in Game 2," winger Patrick Sharp said after the Hawks' practice Sunday at the United Center. "You play all season long so you get that home ice and I guess if a series ever went to seven games the team with home ice would be happy to be playing at home.

"But we're comfortable playing on the road as well. It doesn't matter where we're playing, it's a tough game and we've got to be ready to play better than we did (in Game 2)."

The Hawks were the best road team this season with an 18-4-2 record. In the first round against the Wild, they split two games in St. Paul, Minn., before wrapping the series up at home.

"Hockey is the same game no matter what building you're playing in," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "On the road, you obviously want to have the fans behind your back, but you have to find ways to fight through and play our game. Sometimes we end up playing better on the road.

"You're going into the other team's building knowing the mentality you're going to have to have. You have to have that do-or-die attitude. You have to have it at home as well, but when you don't have the crowd behind you, it's kind of you against the world."

And they told ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers that they're looking forward to playing at the Joe, "lively back boards" included:

Blackhawks forwards Andrew Shaw and Dave Bolland said they enjoy playing in Detroit.

“I like it,” Shaw said. “It’s fast ice. It’s a great environment. The fans are right on top of you. It gets me going. I know a lot of the other guys like playing there as well.”

Bolland said, “We like playing there. They have good ice. When you get good ice, you’re moving that puck easy. Skating, everything is moving faster. It’s a faster pace. We’ve always had success at Joe Louis.”

Quenneville said the game does play differently in the Red Wings’ rink.

“We’ve been in their building a lot of times, and we see what the puck is capable of doing,” Quenneville said. “That’s why the unpredictability -- the end boards, the side boards -- there’s almost a spring to that puck. It’s almost a livelier game in certain areas, and awareness of both sides of the puck is something we got to be ready for. Certainly buildings have faster ice or maybe smoother ice or maybe the players feel good for them, maybe there’s a quicker pace. They certainly got some ingredients in their building that are different from ours whether it’s the boards, end boards, high boards. You’ll have some unpredictable bounces out there. But the ice, there’s a lot of good buildings where the ice is good. Our ice has not been a problem. I’m not complaining about it. But they got good ice.”

The Hawks insisted that they had not overestimated the Wings' resolve in Game 2 while speaking to ESPN Chicago's Jon Greenberg...

"The Wings are good and if anyone thought anyone was going to cruise through this series, they were wrong," forward Patrick Sharp said. "Look at the talent they have out there and how well they play their team game. We know it's a great series."

And Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers...

“They had a long, hard-fought battle at the end of the season to get in, and what they did against Anaheim is unbelievable,” Andrew Shaw said. “They can score, they can play defense. They’re great in all aspects of their game and we have to be ready.”

Bryan Bickell gave Detroit its credit for the talent they have but doesn’t see a lot of differences between the Wings now to the Wings of a few months ago.

“The games we had against them were pretty close (in the regular season). The level of hockey in the playoffs changes,” he said. “They did what they needed to do to win; they got by Anaheim for a reason. But we have to bounce back yesterday like we did previously.”

The Wings are a good team, there’s no doubt. They recognized, and capitalized on, the desperate situation they were in on Saturday. They’re playing some of their best hockey at the perfect time. But the Blackhawks know how they can play, how they usually play, and know they have the depth and strength to rebound from that forgettable Game 2.

“We have a lot of respect for what they’re capable of. They beat a good Anaheim team. We know how good they can be. But we also have to be better,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You have to earn everything you get. So forget about everything we accomplished before (vs. Detroit). We have to accomplish everything on our own here.”

So the Hawks suggested that it was on them, as it were, to clean up their game and to impose their will upon the Wings. ESPN Chicago's Powers took note of two of the Hawks' points of emphasis...

Tougher on Detroit: The Blackhawks are planning to make the game more difficult on the Red Wings’ top players in Game 3 just like Detroit did to them in Game 2. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews expressed a frustration in how the Red Wings handled him in Game 2.

“We can’t give them any space,” Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland said. “When you give [Pavel] Datsyuk, [Henrik] Zetterberg, [Johan] Franzen and all those guys space, they’re going to do something with it. They’re great players obviously. They’re some of the top players in the world.

“If you give them an advantage of not getting hit, not being around them and laying the body or doing something, they’re going to be creative. I think you’ve seen that last game with what happened.”

Cleaner neutral zone: Quenneville pointed to the neutral zone, where he feels his team struggled the most in its offensive game in Saturday’s loss.

“The neutral zone, we talk about predictability and expectations out there, and I think we got slowed down in that area,” Quenneville said. “I thought the neutral zone was where we were too sloppy. The predictability wasn’t in place. We got stalled making extra plays. You know they cut off dumps and they broke up plays. I think getting a cleaner neutral zone, I think everybody would like to have.”

And the Hawks talked about displaying more grit and jam while speaking with Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Myers...

“It’s something you deal with and learn about your team as you go along, how you respond to games like yesterday. You can break down a lot of things technically that could’ve been better, but it gets down to the compete level and going into the hard areas,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “But we’ve felt we’ve been a pretty good road team all year. Losing home ice, (it was) one of those days when they were much better than we were. And it certainly got our attention.”

Now the Blackhawks must adjust accordingly. The Blackhawks have had great results in Detroit, going 7-0-1 there over the past three regular seasons. This, however, isn’t the regular season.

“We’ve played in that building a lot but everything that happened in the past is in the past,” Duncan Keith said. “We’re worried about the big game tomorrow. It’s going to be tough, whether it’s in Joe Louis, the United Center, or wherever. We know it’s going to be tough.”

The Blackhawks know if they want to keep that record at Joe Louis, they need a much stronger effort in Game 3. They have to take advantage of the ice, which players said is fast and suits their game. The rest of their game will have to follow.

“We have to compete, work hard and prepare in all aspects,” Andrew Shaw said. “(Going on the road) just shows we have to stick together, compete for each other and we’ll be fine. We have to ramp up our intensity in Game 3.”

The Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash...

"‘Playing our team game better,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘Doing some things that we want to do out there, dictate a little bit more. And just listen to our coaches. They put a game plan in. They have a feel and the pulse of our game and know what they want us to do. It’s up to us to execute.’’

But after the Game 2 loss, there’s something else to consider — that the Hawks might be in a little deeper than they think. The Red Wings are playing their best hockey at the right time. Mike Babcock is unlikely to be outcoached. Wings stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are unlikely to be ruffled, even by the gnatty Dave Bolland and ­Andrew Shaw.

Opponents often bring their best against the Hawks, only to elicit a similar response and get buried by the Hawks’ overall excellence. Could the Hawks be on the other side of that equation this time? Sharp is confident, but wary.

‘‘I like my teammates,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘I like the team. There’s a lot of heart in our room that we can bounce back from [how] we played in Game 2. It’s just a tough team we’re playing. The Wings are good. If anybody thought anyone was going to cruise through this series, they were wrong. Just look at the talent they have and how well they play their team game. We know it’s going to be a great series.’’

It might turn out that Sharp is wrong. But it’s tough to say after the way this series turned so suddenly. Every X-and-O explanation goes back to the same thing: ‘‘They just played harder than us. A lot harder,’’ Bolland said. ‘‘We’ve got to battle harder.’’

And the Chicago Daily Herald's Tim Sassone did some player-calling-out:

The Hawks' top four defensemen — Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook an Nick Leddy — all were minus-2 in Saturday's 4-1 loss in Game 2.

Patrick Sharp was minus-1 with 1 shot on goal. Marian Hossa was minus-1. Patrick Kane was minus-2, as was Dave Bolland, who also took 3 penalties.

Those are the guys who are the Hawks' difference makers — and they were all nowhere to be found Saturday.

...

Toews was right about one thing: The Red Wings made it a lot tougher on the Hawks' best players than the Hawks did on Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. The Hawks need to get up in their grills and make them pay a price. This is the playoffs, where you're supposed to punish the other team.

The Hawks have yet to punish anyone in these playoffs. They've played too soft up until now, against Minnesota and Detroit.

"I thought it was easier on their top guys then it was on our top guys," Quenneville said. "That's something that we have to look at."

Shifting focus back to individual players, you would think that Viktor Stalberg's return to the lineup was akin to getting Darren Helm back, and there's no doubt that Stalberg provides offense--he registered 23 points over the course of 47 games played--but Stalberg's benching served as the one point of controversy for the Hawks, so that's why it received such rapt attention from the Hawks' press corps, including the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash:

Stalberg’s demotion has been the biggest point of contention for the Hawks in the playoffs. Being able to scratch a skater with his speed against the Red Wings is quite the luxury. It was one the Hawks could afford until a 4-1 loss in Game 2 made Stalberg look like a missing ingredient. However, as Stalberg pointed out, his speed wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the teamwide clunker.

‘‘I think that’s an asset we really need on this team. I don’t think it’s just one player,’’ Stalberg said. ‘‘We didn’t play with much speed throughout the lineup [in Game 2]. It’s going to be hard for us to be successful. We’re looking to play a speed game no matter if I’m in or not. That’s what we’ve got to do [in Game 3].

What does his probable return mean for the Wings? A speedy winger to deal with, as ESPN Chicago's Powers noted...

"I think that's one of his strengths -- his quickness and his speed, be it off the rush, loosening up coverage, going wide on D, maybe getting some entries on his own," Quenneville said. "I thought he improved his play this year. When we talk about [the] decision not to play [him], we had a tough decision with [Dave Bolland] coming back in. Nice to see [Stalberg] back in there [at practice] with the option, and that [third] line playing together, which has been fairly consistent and pretty effective for most of the year. I think we can use his speed."

Bolland, who skated in Stalberg's place on the third line in the first two games, skated with the second line in practice on Sunday. Bolland was often with the second line when healthy during the regular season.

Blackhawks forward Michal Handzus and defenseman Johnny Oduya missed Sunday's practice, but Quenneville said they're fine.

A shift in personnel, as Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Myers noted...

Stalberg is “likely” to play on Monday, coach Joel Quenneville said, when the Blackhawks will face the Detroit Red Wings in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series. It’s been a trying few days for Stalberg, who was relegated to the white jersey, reserved for those either injured (he was not) or out of the top four lines (he was). But Stalberg, who was back in black and back on the third line with Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell on Sunday, wants to put that all behind him.

“I don’t think I’ll play any different from sitting out. I want to play the same way I have all year,” he said. “If they didn’t think I did that the first round, so be it. At the end of the day, that’s what made us all successful all year, from a personal to a line standpoint. That’s all I’m looking to do now. I’m not looking to change anything. I’ll just use my speed to create something out there.”

As for whether he could’ve made a difference in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 drubbing by Detroit in Game 2, Stalberg doubted it.

“I don’t think yesterday would’ve made much of a difference, whatever lineup you had. We didn’t play well enough,” he said. “We weren’t intense enough or playing hard enough. It’s going to take a better effort for us to have a chance in the series.”

The Blackhawks may look to change a few things up for Monday. Michal Handzus and Johnny Oduya didn’t practice on Sunday, but both will play tomorrow night. Whether Handzus centers that second line again or Dave Bolland does it –- he did in Sunday’s practice in Handzus’ absence -– is uncertain. And with Stalberg coming in, someone will have to come out. Daniel Carcillo sported a black jersey on Sunday, but he could be odd-man out tomorrow.

And a reunion of a different kind, as noted by the Chicago Daily Herald's Mike Spellman:

With the apparent return of Viktor Stalberg to the lineup, center Dave Bolland was back skating between Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line.

"They played a lot together all year long," Joel Quenneville said of the trio. "Bolly getting up to speed here, being out for a bit, I thought he's progressed getting in the lineup here and we know what he brings come playoff time. I think he's got reliability on both sides of the puck, and he's got that playoff intangible of being hard to play against. That was something our whole team could have used more of (Saturday)."

Bolland's move to the second line would seem to leave Michal Handzus as the odd man out. The veteran center did not skate Sunday but was deemed "fine" by Quenneville.

The Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton believes that Bolland is the team's x-factor player when playing alongside Kane and Toews...

Bolland was minus-7 during an injury-dotted season and was minus-2 with six penalty minutes in Game 2 after a strong Game 1. But some quickness and coarseness is what the Hawks are after. Regardless of where he skates, Bolland is in position to provide it.

"After being out for a bit, I thought he's progressed getting in the lineup here," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We know what he brings come playoff time. He's got reliability on both sides of the puck, and he's got that playoff intangible of being hard to play against. That's something our whole team could have used more of (in Game 2)."

Perhaps wild alterations land Bolland elsewhere, but Viktor Stalberg's likely return to the third line logically means Bolland usurps the No. 2 center role from veteran Michal Handzus, who didn't practice again Sunday.

...

"I still have to play my defensive game, still have to do the little things," Bolland said. "I'll be in their zone a lot more. When you're with (Sharp and Kane), you have the puck a lot more. They're creative guys. It's a little bit of a different role, but nothing can change."

Still, Bolland may need to walk that fine line of aggressiveness that doesn't propel him into the box Monday. The Hawks will seek to choke off the opposition's skill players, much like the Red Wings managed to do in Game 2. That is a job for Bolland, as long as he's on the ice to do it.

"We have to be laying the body and making sure that their players know we're coming," Bolland said, "and that there's no chance."

The Chicago Sun-Times' Potash agrees with Hamilton's assessment....

Bolland is supposed to be instigating and scoring. Instead, he’s slashing, roughing and sitting. He was a minus-2 in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings in Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series Saturday. In two games, he has spent 24 minutes on the ice and 10 in the penalty box. He had a breakaway in Game 1 and was stopped by Jimmy Howard.

But Bolland never gives up and usually finds a way to make an impact. With Viktor Stalberg’s impending return to the third line and Michael Handzus not practicing again Sunday, it’s likely Bolland will be moved from the third line to Handzus’ spot centering the second line for Game 3 on Monday in Detroit.

And even on a line expected to score, Bolland won’t change his game. The Hawks need his physical presence even more now.

‘‘I think we’ve got to be more physical,’’ Bolland said. ‘‘I don’t think we [were] last game. You give [Pavel] Datsyuk, [Henrik] Zetterberg, [Johan] Franzen and those guys space, they’re going to do something with it. You can’t give them any advantage of not getting hit. We’ve got to be laying the body and making sure their players know that we’re coming and there’s no chance.’’

That has been a fine line Bolland has been on the wrong end of so far. He has been penalized five times — three times for roughing and twice for slashing.

‘‘It’s a fine line,’’ Bolland said. ‘‘You have to obey the rules.’’

And the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc went so far as to compare Bolland to Justin Abdelkader (and I'm cutting to the chase here):

Chris Kuc says: Bolland and Abdelkader already have had a few battles in the series and as things progress, the teams' respective agitators figure to butt heads quite a few more times. The key is to get under the opponent's skin without leaving your team short-handed.

In the not-so-marginal-marginalia section, from the Chicago Tribune's Hamilton and Kuc (and I'm ignoring the Chicago Daily Herald's Mike Imrem's ramble other than mentioning its existence to you):

On target: Brandon Saad still has only one assist during the postseason but fired a team-high five shots on goal in Game 2. The Calder Trophy finalist thinks he's close.

“Even if it doesn't go in, we're going to get rebounds and create chances and traffic,” Saad said. “The last two games especially, I've had a lot of chances. Hopefully we get one here coming up.”

One-timers: Defenseman Johnny Oduya was “fine,” per Quenneville, but sat out practice following a team-high 30 shifts in Game 2. … No goalie change is imminent as Quenneville said, “We're fine with Corey (Crawford)” on Sunday. … Game 5 at the United Center on Saturday is set for 7 p.m.

For the record, NHL.com's Brian Hedger did post the Hawks' practice lineup...

Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa

Patrick Sharp – Dave Bolland – Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Viktor Stalberg

Daniel Carcillo – Marcus Kruger – Michael Frolik

Duncan Keith – Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy – Brent Seabrook

Sheldon Brookbank – Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford

Ray Emery

And aside from making an actually amusing joke about Joe Louis Arena's ice, the Northwest Herald's Stan Musick offered a game preview that's solid:

PICK TO CLICK

We apologize to White Sox play-by-play announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson for stealing his phrase. Then again, his nickname is Hawk, so hopefully he understands.

Blackhawks: Brandon Saad: The Hawks’ talented 20-year-old rookie talked us in to this one Sunday as he discussed his many quality chances in the past two games. It’s true that Saad led the Hawks with five shots on goal in his most recent game, and he has lots of confidence.

Red Wings: Damien Brunner: After scoring a goal in Game 1 and scoring another goal in Game 2, we’re starting to pick up on a trend with the Wings’ 27-year-old center. He has proved that he can find the back of the net with four goals in nine playoff games this spring.
THREE STATS TO KNOW

In this corner: The Wings went 13-7-4 on home ice during the regular season, although they lost both of their home games against the Hawks.

In that corner: The Hawks went 18-4-2 on the road during the regular season, including the aforementioned wins at Joe Louis Arena. No team in the NHL won more road games than the Hawks.

High stakes: The Hawks are 21-8 in playoff series when they take a 2-1 lead. They’re 9-19 in playoff series when they fall behind, 2-1. After today’s game, we’ll have a better idea about the Hawks’ series chances.

And the multimedia portion of this entry includes exciting (okay, not realy) videos of Joel Quenneville's off-day presser...

Quips from Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg from the Chicago Tribune...

 

A slightly strange off-day report from Comcast Sportsnet Chicago (at least Henrik Zetterberg shows up at the end)...

And Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Chris Boden and Tracey Myers' game preview:

Video from the Wings' side? I found one, and it's Fox 2's off-day report, starring Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, lasting for 33 seconds:

 


NHL.com's Hedger's game preview serves as our pivot point in terms of shifting from the perspectives of the Blackhawks to those of the Red Wings' players and coach:

Blackhawks [team scope]: Viktor Stalberg is likely to get back in the Chicago lineup after being scratched the first two games because of a coaching decision. Stalberg is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and fills out the Blackhawks' third line on the right wing, with Bryan Bickell on the left side and scrappy rookie Andrew Shaw in the middle. That line in particular gave Detroit some trouble this season, especially in the two games at Joe Louis Arena, and coach Joel Quenneville is hoping for a similar effect on Monday night. Chicago also needs to come up with a way to get its rush game going again, so it can keep constant pressure on goalie Jimmy Howard and create more scoring chances.

"I noticed the pace of their game was a lot higher," forward Patrick Sharp said of the Red Wings in Game 2. "Their compete level was higher and they clearly wanted that game more than we did. I mean, we wanted to win, but didn't play the way we felt … like we deserved to win. I think we can [play] a lot better than we did. To beat these guys, you've got to play hard from start to finish."

Red Wings [team scope]: Detroit backed up what it preached after Game 1, when the Red Wings said tired legs from a grueling cross-country, seven-game conference quarterfinals series against the Anaheim Ducks was the biggest reason they were outskated by Chicago in a 4-1 loss in the series opener. Detroit looked like a different team in Game 2, outskating Chicago and paying better attention to the middle of the ice to help slow down the Blackhawks' attack. Howard had to make 19 saves, but many were timely and impressive. Damien Brunner, Brendan Smith, Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula all scored in the win.

"At the start of the year, we weren't a good team," coach Mike Babcock said. "We all understood that, but we buckled down and we got better. It's been a fun year for us. If you would have asked me before the playoffs, I would've told you the same thing. It's been fun for us. Then suddenly you have a little success in the playoffs and it's more fun."

Who's hot: Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane scored his first goal of these playoffs in Game 2, which was his second in his past 20 postseason games. Sharp picked up an assist to extend his points streak to six games. … Red Wings forward Damien Brunner scored another goal after also scoring in the series opener.

For the Red Wings, there's no doubt that shutting down the Blackhawks involves continuing to grind upon and grind down Toews and his teammates, as MLive's Ansar Khan noted...

“Everyone has to win their one-on-one battles,'' Zetterberg said. “It's nothing different for me.''

This clash of captains could heat up even more as the series, tied 1-1, shifts to Joe Louis Arena for Games 3 and 4, Monday and Thursday. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has the last change and likely will match Zetterberg against Toews at every opportunity.

“Z’s Z,'' Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “This time of year, he comes and he competes. Most nights, he’s the best player on the ice. No different on (Saturday), the way he was all over Toews the whole game, shutting him down. We’re going to need that for the whole series.''

The Red Wings know Toews will respond.

“He's one of the best players in the league,'' Zetterberg said. “He has a really good work ethic, a lot of skills. We got to be ready for him.''

...

Zetterberg didn't think there was an inordinate amount of contact, saying both teams have played more physical games. But, clearly the Red Wings wanted to take the body at every opportunity.

“I’m sure it’s going to be just as physical as it’s been the last two games,'' Detroit's Niklas Kronwall said. “Toews is one of the best players in the league and he brings it every night. That’s going to be a tough battle.''

Though the Wings made sure to point out that stopping the Hawks involves an entire team-vs-entire-team effort as opposed to one player winning a battle against another player:

“I don’t think it was really physical the last game,” Zetterberg said. “I’m pretty sure both clubs have played more physical games than we did in Game 2.

“You can’t just focus on Toews,” Zetterberg continued. “That line with (Brandon) Saad and (Marian) Hossa is a good line. You’ve got to play them as a five-man unit, got to be aware where everyone is. Their D jumps up in the play, so it’s not just one player, you have to focus on everyone.”

The Wings expect the Blackhawks to push back in Game 3 Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Joe Louis Arena.

“He’s stepped up so big for us,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “He’s proven that he is one of the all-time captains in only one year. He’s such a clutch player and we look up to him. I think we feed off his strength and his competition level.”

Babcock knew Zetterberg would shoulder a lot of the responsibility after the Wings were dominated in the second and third periods of Game 1.

“That’s what makes Toews and (Pavel) Datsyuk and Zetterberg different, they just compete,” Babcock said. “When it doesn’t go their way, they dig down and find a way to go harder. That’s why they’re a great example for the rest of your group.”

Yes, Babcock did bark when asked to discuss Toews' resiliency, as the Vancouver Sun's Cam Cole noted, but he also answered the question:

“Well, he won the Conn Smythe in ’08, he knew how to play then,” said Babcock, more or less dismissing the notion that Zetterberg has, if anything, elevated his game even further since succeeding the hallowed Nick Lidstrom as captain to start the season. He’s a fierce competitor. Stats show he scores better at playoff time, and he’s normally a slow starter in the league, this is the first time he hasn’t been — but I think he and (Pavel) Datsyuk give us a great one-two punch, real determination, real good defensively, much harder people than you’d expect ... and I’m not talking craziness, but they compete and so it gives us good balance.”

...

“I wouldn’t even say it’s just Jonathan Toews — it’s their whole offence,” rookie defenceman Brendan Smith said Saturday. “You have to be a little more conscious with some of these players. They’re all-stars, they’re phenomenal. You have to play them as hard as you can and bump them and be on the defensive side.”

Shall we wax poetic about Zetterberg's leadership? Sure, why the hell not, with the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa taking the honors--and I strongly suggest that you read the rest of his article:

Beyond the talk, the psychology and the leadership style is perhaps the major basis for his authority in the room: Zetterberg plays well because he is so determined and courageous. He excels when the most is on the line, as he has proven again this April and May. And he often does it against the players for the other team who are not only the best, but just about the biggest.

Against the Blackhawks in Game 2, he had one of the finest playoff games of his career. He assisted brilliantly on the winning goal by Brendan Smith. Skating desperately from taking a faceoff to beating a Chicago defenseman to the puck in his zone, he began the play that led to Valtteri Filppula's capping goal, on which he was credited with a second assist.

He dominated Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks. And much of his effort could not be seen, including a 200-foot back-checking sprint, in which he beat Toews back into the Red Wings zone despite the Chicago captain's head start.  It erased a two-on-one rush, at a critical juncture.

Zetterberg's style of play and success make a quietly effective leader a charismatic one, too. All around the room, the players know they are not asked for more effort than their captain gives, because they see what he does, time after time.

"He's top notch," Howard said. "In the dressing room, he speaks up when he has to. But, more importantly, he goes out there and displays his leadership qualities on the ice."

In terms of other individuals who need to step up, Damien Brunner's flourishing alongside Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson, as the Free Press's Helene St. James noted...

“It's a good spot for him,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s going to get better, just because he’s going to get bigger and stronger. He’s going to understand the league more. He’s better already defensively. We think we’ve got a good player in him.”

Several times during the first-round series against Anaheim, Babcock brought up Brunner, talking at length about how Brunner might not be this and that — like good defensively, or big — but what he is is a scorer, and scorers are what a team needs. The message is the same as the Wings go deeper into Round 2. “He wants the puck and he scores,” Babcock said. “I think anybody who wants the puck and plays with the kind of speed he has, is valuable to you.”

The Wings thought Brunner could be valuable to them after seeing him dominate in the Swiss league in 2011-12. Other teams did, too, including Tampa Bay and Dallas. The Wings won Brunner’s services for one-year and $600,000 — a relationship they’d like to extend — and then the upside to the lockout last fall that delayed his NHL arrival was that Brunner got to be familiar with Zetterberg, who went to Zug to play. Zetterberg ended up being line mates with Brunner.

“I saw that he was a good player,” Zetterberg said. “He’s really good offensively. He still has something to learn defensively, but when you start playing in a system, you start learning that, and I think he’s been doing that all year.”

Brunner isn’t a big guy, but he’s wily and willing to go the net and be in hard areas. “He's strong on his stick,” Zetterberg said. “He’s strong when he battles with the puck. I think he improved a lot at protecting the puck. In Switzerland, you don’t have to protect the puck that much in the offensive end, but he’s become a lot better at that here.”

And while Jimmy Howard jokingly suggested that Brunner's clueless at times, Babcock doesn't believe that's so, as he told the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...

“He wants the puck and he scores,” Babcock said. “Anybody who wants the puck and plays with the kind of speed he has is valuable. He’s going to get better just because he’s going to get bigger and stronger, he’s going to learn the league more. He’s better defensively already. We think we’ve got a good player.”

The goal ties him for the team lead in the playoffs with Johan Franzen. He’s also second on the team, tied with Pavel Datsyuk in points, with seven.

“He’s a sniper,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “That’s what he’s been doing all along for us, all season long. We’re happy to have him. He finds a way to get goals.”

But thus far, Brunner is enjoying the ride, as he told the Edmonton Sun's Derek Van Diest:

“It’s an experience, the travel, playing every other day,” Brunner said. “We got used to that during the regular season, but it’s more intense and all the fans are into it, it’s a lot of fun. I knew it was going to be intense and tough and we went the full seven games right away. On the other side, it’s hard to expect something that you’ve never been in. I’m enjoying it.”

...

Brunner has found success playing on a line with Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson. The third line has been strong for the Red Wings, particularly in their own end.

“I think we have pretty good chemistry and I really enjoy playing with those two guys, they’re great guys off the ice too,” Brunner said. “We’re having fun together and we support each other. You just try to put shifts together, get some offensive-zone time, keep the puck away from them and get some momentum.”

And if there is a third individual who needs to elevate his level of performance, there is no doubt that Jimmy Howard will face Chicago's best tonight.  As DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose notes, the stats don't suggest that Howard has been huge for the Wings thus far, but he's getting the job done...

Howard hasn’t been great. He’s 24 goals-allowed is actually tied for the most this postseason, but he’s been sharp when the Wings have needed him most through the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals against the top-seeded Blackhawks, who have out-shot Detroit, 62-51.

“He didn't have to win us the game – for once,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I don't think we stole Game 2. I don't think we got lucky. I don't think the goalie had to do it. The goalie just had to play.”

It’s Howard’s composure that gives the Red Wings a chance to win every night. It also helped that he was the understudy for past Stanley Cup champions like Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek.

“They lived in the moment,” Howard said. “They just went – you know that old cliché – game by game, day by day. It’s no different for myself. It’s trying to find that fine line between not getting too high and not getting too low.”

Despite a 4-1 loss in Game 1, the score could have been much worse if not for the outstanding performance of Howard in the second period that preserved a 1-1 tie through 40-minutes. Though the ’Hawks only had 20 shots in Saturday’s loss they did have a few quality scoring chances that were snuffed out by Howard.

“Howie, he’s been stellar for us for three years now,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “He just seems to get better and better. He’s been stealing games for us all season long and in the playoffs. He’s got confidence in a good way. He knows he’s a great goalie and obviously, believing in himself helps him prepare for each night and he goes out there and proves it each night.”

And Wings goalie coach Jim Bedard, who reveals to the Free Press's Jeff Seidel that the Wings kind of sort of stumbled upon Howard, has developed a special skill that is absolutely necessary to succeed as a goaltender in Detroit:

Howard has something else that compliments that competitiveness. “He has a goalie memory,” Bedard said, “and it’s very short.”

For Howard, the defining moment of the season and the great test of his memory happened over two days in the middle of April. On April 16, he signed a six-year, $31.8-million contract. Which thrilled some Wings fans. And it seriously upset those who think that Howard is the evil reincarnation of Brandon Inge and Ryan Raburn and Jose Valverde, or, shoot, anyone else who polarizes Detroit sports.

The next day, Howard had a disastrous game against Calgary. He mishandled the puck twice, leading to two goals, and Calgary won, 3-2. At the time, the loss momentarily knocked the Wings out of the playoffs.

“It’s on me,” Howard told reporters afterward.

That game fueled the fire of those who don’t like Howard, the ones who say that he doesn’t handle the puck well and lets in too many easy goals and no lead is ever safe with him between the pipes.

Not that Wings fans can be critical or anything. How did Howard respond to the mistake? The Wings finished the regular season by winning four of their last five games.

“We got into the playoffs and we are still playing today,” Bedard said. “That’s how he handled it.”

Bedard doesn’t want Howard to think. Thinking is bad. He just wants him to react. “Not every save has to be pretty,” Bedard said. “Perfect is for bowling.”

At the same time, as the Detroit News's Kulfan suggests, Howard needs to out-battle Crawford...

Battle within the battle: Keep an eye on the goaltending matchup between Jimmy Howard and Chicago's Corey Crawford. Howard was sharp in Game 2, and though certainly not peppered with shots (only 20), he made a key stop when needed. He was also the reason the Red Wings were even close in the Game 1 loss.

Crawford appeared to be fighting the puck at times in Game 2 and looked vulnerable. Neither Crawford or Howard has ever taken a team deep into the playoffs. This is their opportunity.

But the Wings need to focus on several other points of emphasis to succeed tonight, including employing a smooth transition game:

Moving the puck: Transitioning the puck from defensemen to the forwards wasn't a problem in Game 2. The Red Wings spent little time in their zone, and it was the Wings who were attacking and making life miserable on the Blackhawks.

"There was a feeling in here after Game 1, guys were saying that wasn't us," said defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, who talked about how the "flow" was much better.

As long as the Red Wings aren't struggling attempting to get the puck out of their zone, and are instead pressing the issue in the Chicago end, the Red Wings are in good shape.

And Kulfan wisely pointed out that one of the biggest points of emphasis involves keeping the Hawks pissed off while displaying a more consistent form:

Red Wings players feel the frustration from the Blackhawks might just have come from simply the lopsided loss and that Chicago will be a different team returning to Joe Louis Arena.

"That's just natural anytime you're down a couple of goals," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "When we're down a few goals and things aren't going and the puck isn't bouncing our way, we get frustrated, too."

The key for the Red Wings, said Kronwall, is to play the Game 2 type of puck possession that was lacking in Game 1.

"We did a lot of good things that we wanted to do," Kronwall said. "We have to keep playing that way."

Said forward Henrik Zetterberg : "We have to play two good games in a row. Against Anaheim (in Round 1) we played a bad game, then a good game, and bad game. We have to find a way to come out (in Game 3) and really take charge."

The Wings continued while speaking to the Free Press's St. James...

"We have to play physical, try to eliminate all the space we can,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said today after an optional practice at Joe Louis Arena. “Because when they do have just a little bit of extra space, we know how dangerous they are, and that’s why they’ve had so much success this season. That’s one of the keys. First game, wasn’t too good for us. Yesterday, we did a lot of good things. We have to keep playing that way.”

So far the second-round series has matched the first round, where the Ducks and Wings traded Games 1 and 2. As much as home-ice advantage doesn’t seem to mean all that much, the Wings don’t want to hand it right back after all the good work done Saturday at United Center.

“We bounced back from Game 1 and we deserved to win Game 2,” Damien Brunner said. “I think they’re not happy about their game, probably, but it’s on us to keep on a roll and stay focused and get our fans excited. It’s definitely good to come back with a tie series. It’s easier to get into the series on the road, because you’ve got the pressure at home to win both games. Now it’s fun. I think the fans are really excited about the rivalry and that we’re in the series, now.”

...

“We know they’re a hell of a team,” Kronwall said, “and it’s going to be a long series.”

As it turns out, Wings coach Mike Babcock's having a hell of a time coaching his team, as he told MLive's Ansar Khan...

“It's the most fun I've had coaching in a couple years, by far, just because we have a real enthusiastic group, not that we didn't before,'' Babcock said on Sunday. “At the start of the year, we weren't a good team. We all understood that, but we buckled down and got better. It's been a fun year for us. If you would have asked me before the playoffs, I would've told you the same thing. Then, suddenly you have a little success in the playoffs and it's more fun.''

The fun could just be starting. The Red Wings feel they are in a good spot, tied 1-1 in their Western Conference semifinal series with the heavily favored Chicago Blackhawks heading into Game 3 Monday at Joe Louis Arena.

“We've had great growth from within, I think the most since I've been in the National Hockey League,'' Babcock said. “In saying that, that may be because we have a different type of team. We got a whole bunch of kids, so we have a chance for growth.''

Their growth is being accelerated in the playoffs.

“When I coached junior hockey, I used to always say a playoff game, development-wise, to a regular season game was like 2-1,'' Babcock said. “Your players are getting better and better. That's what's happening for our kids right now. We're playing a good team in Chicago that knows how to play, so it pushes you, and I thought our guys played real well (in their 4-1 victory in Game 2).''

Who's impressed Babcock? He told Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji...

"That (Joakim) Andersson line has been a key for us because we got worked in the three-hole for the first two, three months," Babcock said. "The growth of (Brendan) Smith and (Jakub) Kindl has been huge for us. (Jonathan) Ericsson has gotten much better.

"We seem to have people playing in spots that suit them better. When (Danny) DeKeyser came in, it helped us immensely.

"The biggest improvement out of anybody has been Justin Abdelkader. He was our fourth-line center, and suddenly he's playing with Pavel (Datsyuk) all the time and he's a dominant, physical guy for us."

Niklas Kronwall agreed with his coach, as he told NHL.com's Corey Masisak...

"Going down the stretch, when we really had to win to make the playoffs in the first case -- that is when I really felt like the team was getting together and pulling together and all working the same direction," Kronwall said. "I think that's something we've learned over the latter part of the season -- how we have to play to have success. I think that's proven in the playoffs, too. It is pretty easy to see what we're doing right when we win and what we're not doing right when we don't."

Babcock used an analogy from his early days in coaching.

"I've said it before, but when I used to coach junior hockey I'd always say that a playoff game development-wise to a regular-season game is like two-to-one," he said. "In the playoffs, the players get better and better. I think with our kids, that is what's happening right now. We're playing a good team right now in Chicago. They know how to play, so it pushes you.

"I thought our guys played real well [Saturday]. … For the first while we weren't good enough to play that way. I agree, you start believing that it is the blue print after you have some success. In order to have some success, you have to be good enough to do it. We've worked on it since Day One. We were a work in progress, because we didn't know what we were going to be early."

Some quotes are worth repeating, via the Free Press's St. James...

“We’ve had great growth from within, “he said. “I think the most since I’ve been in the NHL for sure.”

And the AP's Larry Lage...

“It’s the most fun I’ve had coaching in a couple years, by far, just because we have a real enthusiastic group,” Babcock said. “At the start of the year, we weren’t a good team. We all understood that, but we buckled down and we got better. It’s been fun for us. If you would have asked me before the playoffs, I would’ve told you the same thing. Then suddenly you have a little success in the playoffs — and it’s more fun.”

The Detroit News's Bob Wojnowski and the Oakland Press's Pat Caputo are going to take us out with spirit-of-of-the-thing columns. Wojnowski notes that there really is a changing of the guard taking place in Detroit (and he also reveals some of the Wings' seating arrangements), and as Zetterberg's "old" by this team's standards, he's...Bemused...By what's going on:

"Of course with all their speed, it makes you feel a little younger," Zetterberg said. "Then you see how young they are and how many years are between you and them, and you feel old again."

Several are 10 years younger than Zetterberg, Pavel Datysuk, Daniel Cleary and others, but the mentoring has its limits. Zetterberg said the kids went to see "Iron Man 3" on an off-day in Anaheim during the first round, and he politely declined.

"I think they have a little different taste in movies," Zetterberg, 32, said. "The good thing is, there's a lot of them, so they have something to talk about."

He laughed, and for a team that has spent 20 years skating with heavy expectations, there's a spirited looseness now. They still make their share of mistakes, but they make them enthusiastically and less frequently. Zetterberg is playing the role of calm, determined captain brilliantly, so smothering against Jonathan Toews in Game 2, the Blackhawks captain uncharacteristically whined about the officiating. Zetterberg usually doesn't say much, but the young players listen and watch.

"The good thing is, they don't tell you what to do, they just kind of give you advice and let you do it on your own," Damien Brunner said. "They show you the way, so it's easy for us."

Brunner began the season on the top line with Zetterberg and Datsyuk, and it was overwhelming at times. Now he's on the all-rookie third line with Joakim Andersson, 24, and Gustav Nyquist, 23, and the development has been startling. Brunner has seven points in nine playoff games and is tied for the team lead in goals (four).

Defensemen Brendan Smith, 24, and Jakub Kindl, 26, also have grown, with Smith the fearless wild card. In Game 2, he jumped into the offensive zone and the Blackhawks burned him the other way, with Patrick Kane scoring. The next period, Smith jumped in again and took a terrific pass from Zetterberg to score the winner.

...

"I think we keep the (veterans) on their feet a little bit," Smith said with a smile. "They kind of chirp that it's a different day and age where the younger guys have a bit more say, and they razz us about it. The game is getting a lot younger, and I think we've got a really good bond. We might make them feel a little younger because they're hanging out with us, and we love that. We're like sponges, taking everything in."

And the Oakland Press's Caputo offers three reasons--and I can think of many more than three--that Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk should have their numbers retired one day as they've been model citizens on and off the ice, regardless of what happens over the remainder of the Wings-Blackhawks series:

Look what they have done this season heading into Game 3 of what has the makings of an epic semifinal Western Conference Stanley Cup playoff series vs. the heavily-favored Blackhawks.

- With the Red Wings in jeopardy of missing the playoffs, Zetterberg and Datsyuk played arguably the best hockey of their respective careers, willing Detroit to a postseason spot.

- With the Red Wings down three games to two in an opening round playoff series vs. the Anaheim Ducks, Zetterberg and Datsyuk put the Red Wings on their collective back and carried them to the next round.

- It’s 1-1 with the Blackhawks going into Monday night. The atmosphere at Joe Louis Arena figures to be super-charged. Without Zetterberg and Datsyuk, this doesn’t happen. Yes, the Red Wings have some other good parts, but Zetterberg and Datsyuk are the difference makers.

And it hasn’t only been their extraordinary skill, but the way their leadership has rubbed off on other players.

They are wily mentors handing down lessons they have learned from playing on championship teams in the past. They have provided this leadership the best way possible - by example. What we are finding out this playoff season is the Red Wings’ tradition isn’t fleeting. They are living up to their reputation.

Damn straight.

I don't know if the Wings are going to win tonight, and I sure as hell don't know if the Wings can beat the Hawks four more times over the next five possible games, but like I said in the recap of Game 2, I believe in this team's present and future, and I finally believe that they're going to live up to the grand expectations we Wings fans place upon them, even if they don't do so this spring.

In the interim, why the hell not *#$%@& with the Hawks and *#$%@& with the out-of-towners who will insist that the series is over if Chicago does win tonight. When you've got a team that's exceeded the edge of its perceived performance envelope by several orders of magnitude...

Sometimes you need to treat it like my mom's 1994 Mercury Grand Marquis, which rattles and shakes and wobbles as it sails down the road, attempting to kill its occupants with sudden shifts of direction (she's beat it all to hell)...

Sometimes you've gotta know that deep down in there, even if the transmission is wonky, the engine is still a cop car-quality speed demon, and when the time is right, you stomp your damn foot on the gas pedal and watch and feel the speedometer blow off the chart (I know my Chrysler Pacifica is governor-limited to 113 miles an hour, and while it's "by feel," I'm still pretty sure that the Merc can exceed 120).

If this team has afterburners, this sticky, stormy-to-be Monday is the perfect time to light 'em up.

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink
 

Comments

PaulinMiamiBeach's avatar

you know, there were a lot of times that it seemed like bad ice slowed down the high-flying versions of the Wings…could it be time for Al to help slow the Blackhawks down now that the worm has turned?

Posted by PaulinMiamiBeach on 05/20/13 at 09:36 AM ET

TreKronor's avatar

‘‘I like my teammates,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘I like the team.

Hmmm…

Posted by TreKronor on 05/20/13 at 10:05 AM ET

Mistercristo's avatar

They have to win three out of the next five, not four.  Somehow, that seems like a vastly different task.  Thanks again, and keep up the great work, George.  I have no reason to go anywhere besides TMR & WIIM.  Kudos.

Posted by Mistercristo from Cameron Frye's garage, circa 1987 on 05/20/13 at 10:25 AM ET

PaulinMiamiBeach's avatar

They have to win three out of the next five, not four.  Somehow, that seems like a vastly different task. 

the playoffs are funny like that.  going up 2-1 tonight would be awesome for the Wings, because it reduces it to “we only have to win 2 of the next 4, while they have to win 3 of the next 4”  75% > 50%

 

Posted by PaulinMiamiBeach on 05/20/13 at 10:41 AM ET

awould's avatar

I’m not a fan of the embedded videos’ autoplay feature. Kind of hard to follow one when they’re all playing at the same time.

Posted by awould on 05/20/13 at 11:56 AM ET

HockeytownOverhaul's avatar

amen awould, and it’s lagging the shit out of my comp.  Turns into a dedicated “thing” just to open up a TMR post.

Posted by HockeytownOverhaul on 05/20/13 at 12:13 PM ET

TreKronor's avatar

Not sure why, but they don’t autoplay for me.

Posted by TreKronor on 05/20/13 at 02:57 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

Damn Comcast Sportsnet Chicago and the Chicago Tribune…I’m not a fan of them and I’d prefer to not embed them, but there are times that I forget that not everyone has flash-blocking software. Sorry.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 05/20/13 at 03:08 PM ET

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.