The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/24/13 at 01:08 PM ET
Updated with one more audio interview at 1:43 PM: Prior to the Red Wings' 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, both the speculatory-minded and measured thinkers in the Detroit media corps suggested that, "Whoever wins Game 4 will win the series."
Wings fans might agree with that assessment, but the Score's Cam Charron suggests that no one should write the Blackhawks off heading into Game 5 on Saturday...
And that's just fine with the Red Wings. As the Globe and Mail's Eric Duhatschek points out in his weekly notebook, Wings coach Mike Babcock readily admits that his team's playoff run seems highly improbable...
[When] Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was asked if he could have imagined this turnaround happening, he was candid: “If you had asked me two months ago, I’d be shocked. A month ago, we started playing better. Once we got through the Anaheim series, you go in thinking you have an opportunity. Our big thing was just to prolong the series and maybe the pressure gets up on them and in the end, you get through it. But we’re competing at a high, high level. We don’t do things right all the time. But I think we’re doing things hard all the time. We’re trying hard. There’s a lot to be said for effort and compete and battle, and our penalty killing’s been outstanding.”
It was a game that could have gone either way, but went to Detroit – one of those times when a one-goal game (the second Red Wings’ goal came into the empty net) wasn’t an exercise in drudgery, but a close, tight, competitive contest. The Blackhawks rattled two shots off the goalpost behind Howard, making it five goalposts hit in the last two games. For Howard, the Red Wings’ goalie, who recorded his second career shutout, he has now surrendered just two goals in the past three games to the Blackhawks, who were No.2 behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins in scoring this year.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville went out of his way not to be critical of Toews’s game, and said his captain brings more than just scoring to the table: “He does a lot of things – production, effort, puck possession, how he plays in his own end, how he plays without the puck, how he kills penalties, how he is in the face-off circle. There are a lot of elements to his game that help our team. So we don’t measure just his contribution offensively. Right now, tonight, it was across the board.”
And as USA Today's Kevin Allen attempts to handicap, "What makes a Stanley Cup champion," the Windsor Star's Bob Duff notes that the Red Wings' captain is both more than willing to admit that his team has come a long way...
“We didn’t look at where we finished in regular season,” said Henrik Zetterberg, captain of the Red Wings, who entered the playoffs as the seventh seed in the West. “It’s a new season, the playoffs. We went through it a lot. We’ve been the top seed and lost in the first round. It’s a new season, you can’t care what you’ve done in the regular season.”
And that--after Duff rather exhaustively dissects the Wings' playoff history as underdogs--the Wings fully believe that they have a long way to go:
“They’re a great team and they’re not going to give up,” Detroit defenceman Jakub Kindl said. “It’s going to be tough going back to play in their building.”
Game 5 of the series is Saturday night at Chicago’s United Center.
“I think we’re happy with what we did on home ice,” Zetterberg said of Detroit’s wins in Games 3 and 4 at Joe Louis Arena. “That’s what we wanted to do, play two good games here. It’s nice that we won but it’s the first to four (wins). We’re happy with what we did, but now we refocus and do a good job in Chicago.”
The Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc took note of the Wings' post-game comments, too:
Said Wings defenseman Jakub Kindl, who scored the winning goal in Game 4: "The series isn't over yet but we're happy with the way the games we've played here. But they're a great team and they're not going to give up. Their building is going to be jumping, so we just have to play the same type of game and play tight in the neutral zone."
After an historic season that began with a record-setting 24-game run without a regulation loss and ended with the Presidents' Trophy--given to the team with the best record in the NHL--the Hawks have seen their offense silenced by Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. In the three losses in the series, the Hawks have a combined two goals. This despite a strong first period in Game 4 when the Hawks created several glorious scoring chances that Howard turned aside.
"We knew they were going to play desperate hockey (and) they are going to play even more desperate on Saturday night," Howard said. "We’re going to have to match it, we can’t rest on our laurels. We’ve played good the last three games but we have to ratchet it up even more. The hardest win of the series is to get that fourth win."
As noted in the game recap, ESPN's Craig Custance wrote an absolutely wonderful article about Jimmy Howard...
Detroit isn’t a town that’s known for treating its netminders particularly well. And yet, on the day of the Red Wings' biggest game of the season, the local sports talk radio station was debating which of its current star athletes fans trusted more for a big-time performance: Howard or Tigers ace Justin Verlander.
Howard got overwhelming support.
The Red Wings are the pesky underdog. The goalie is the local folk hero. It’s all backward this spring in Detroit.
Howard laughed when he was asked if he’s winning over this city.
“That’s a good question, you’re going to have to ask the fans that,” Howard said. “For me, it’s about going out and performing -- not only for these guys in the dressing room, but the guys like [GM] Kenny [Holland] and [goalie coach] Jim Bedard who had a lot of faith in me to give me the ball and run with it four years ago and stick with me. It’s about proving myself to the guys in here in the organization."
And on this night, proving it to guys who came long before him in this organization. A blessing from Mr. Hockey -- if that doesn’t win over the last remaining Howard doubters, nothing will.
“I don’t know if you can ask much more from Howie than what he’s done for us since he’s got here,” Kronwall said. “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.”
And NHL.com's Corey Masisak reports that Howard's plain old having a good time doing what he's doing:
"I sort of feel like I've been an underdog all my life," Howard said. "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 like playing that role."
Since losing Game 5 in Anaheim and sliding to the brink of elimination, the Red Wings have won five of six -- including administering Chicago's first three-game losing skid of the season.
Howard has been phenomenal, stopping 189 of 199 shots in these six games (a .950 save percentage). Since a Game 1 loss to Chicago, he has stymied the mighty Blackhawks like no one has this season. Three games -- all wins -- and a total of two goals allowed on 88 shots.
"I think it is a lot of hard work paying off," he said. "I don't think it has anything to do with the contract talks paying off or anything like that. I think it is just learning from my mistakes in the past and just pressing forward -- continuing to work hard and try to get better. It was good to get that out of the way, and not having to think about it. It allowed me to just go out there and play."
Howard described himself as a "hermit" Thursday when asked about his off-ice activity during the playoffs. Earlier in the series he responded to a question about time off by saying he spent most of it in his suburban home with his son, James Russell Howard IV.
There is a definite sense of calm from Howard -- whether he is looking for a loose puck in a scrum on the ice, dealing with one full of media members in the dressing room or just being at ease with his place as the starting goaltender in a hockey-mad city. That said, even he can allow himself a moment of child-like wonder when a hockey icon wants to shake his hand after a job well done.
"Not only Mr. Hockey, but we get to see Mr. [Ted] Lindsay all the time, Vladdy [Vladimir Konstantinov] before every game, you still to get see [Chris Chelios], [Kris Draper], [Chris Osgood] flying around here," Howard said. "It is great to have that history around here and have guys that are still fully invested and fully interested in us. For us, it is about going out there and carrying on the tradition."
Howard spoke with Fox 2 after the game, too:
In terms of "out of town news," both the Free Press's James Jahnke and MLive's Brendan Savage have penned columns noting the national reaction to the Wings' win and Hawks' loss, and SI's Allan Muir offers both Wings-related and other-team related news in his morning roundup.
Jimmy Howard - 5 – He was brilliant and aggressive all game long. His glove was locked in and tracked the puck really well. Big save on the sharp breakaway was about the positioning – Howard had taken ice and not given the shooter anything. On the big save on Bolland, it was more of a Jonathan Quick lunge across and forward that he came up with, took the angle up approach on the puck, and it came back on the ice to the right pad. Good read.
Before and after Toews’ meltdown, the Hawks showed signs of being able to take this must-win contest. It wasn’t the Hawks’ best game, but it was better than the one the Wings brought.
Problem was, the Hawks’ output mirrored the meager offensive results of Games 2 and 3.
Check that: worse, as they suffered their first shutout this season.
Patrick Kane? Anything?
Marian Hossa? You there?
Patrick Sharp? A little something?
The Hawks forechecked well enough to force turnovers all over the Red Wings zone, but Jimmy Howard came up big.
The Hawks also used their speed to force the Wings into penalties, but again, nothing.
Nothing, period. Nothing is what this dwindling season is turning into.
The Hawks were looking for heroes. They didn’t need their captain to pretty much waste a period. They didn’t need the rest of the band to pretty much waste a great regular season.
The CBC's Doug Harrison noted that Toews isn't alone in the underperforming player category, too:
Toews also hasn’t been able to solve the smothering defensive play of Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg. While Kane, a 23-goal man in the regular season, has scored twice and added an assist in the series, he has been criticized for his work ethic at times in this post-season.
“I’d love to see Kane get mad,” [Hockey Night in Canada analyst P.J.] Stock said. “How many times does he just give up on a play … go to the bench and doesn’t change [lines] hard? It frustrates your coach and that’s one of your best players, and he’s not giving you the effort you need to win."
Kane could rebound in a must-win Game 5, but it might be too late to save Chicago’s season.
Heading back to Metro Detroit, 97.1 the Ticket filed a trio of columns, with Eric Thomas stating that the Wings are, "In the driver's seat"...
Many Wings deserve praise. Mike Babcock deserves the most, he’s taken a team that performed poorly at times during the regular season, putting it mildly, to one game away from beating a team many expected to kiss the Cup. Jimmy Howard deserves heaps of praise. Until this series, Howard has been underwhelming at best in the playoffs, inept at worst. Against the Blackhawks he’s put together two complete games, on Thursday night posting only his second career shutout in the playoffs. Howard entered this year with questions; in the last two games he’s provided answers. The defense has come completely out of nowhere; the penalty kill has been perfect since Hossa scored in game one.
Let’s hit pause on the love fest for one quick minute; what happened to Chicago?! Not to inspect the proverbial horse’s mouth, but the question needs to be asked. Blackhawk fans should be ready to storm Madison Street, pitchforks and torches ablaze while they chant and demands answers. If a season that began with record breaking promise comes crashing down in a heap like this, to a rival no less, they deserve to be furious. ‘Hawks fans should want Joel Quenneville fired, rehired, then fired again. He’s getting brutally out-coached by Mike Babcock. It’s not like the Wings are beating them with a high flying attack. The ‘Hawks appeared asleep through much of the game, before they skated away frustrated for the second straight time.
Either way, the Wings deserve credit. They made the playoffs by inches and they aren’t leaving any time soon. After decades of titanic expectations, these Wings seem to be reveling in the role of scrappy underdog, a position the franchise hasn’t been in since they hired Scotty Bowman in 1993. Many players on this team have never seen in this role in their careers.
Dan Leach kind-of-sort-of gives Jimmy Howard due praise, or something close to it...
If Howard keeps playing this way and the rest of the team continues their masterful play, it would not be crazy at all to say that Howard can win a Cup this year, when so many thought that impossible. All the more impressive, this Red Wing team also has to be considered a Wings team with the least options on the bench in recent memory.
This is a day and age in hockey when there really is no Hall of Fame-esque goalie; no Martin Brodeur, no Patrick Roy, those types of goalies. There are plenty of really good ones like Pekka Rinne, Henrick Lundqvist, and Tukka Rask, but no one that you know will always be a difference maker. That is the company Jimmy Howard is so close to joining. Much like Joe Flacco, who won a playoff game in each of his first five seasons for the Baltimore Ravens, but wasn’t considered elite until he won the Super Bowl. Howard can quiet all those doubters by winning it all.
Many were upset with the big money and long contract Jimmy got because he was yet to prove himself in the postseason. That is understandable. Jimmy had always seemed to be a great regular season goalie, but as all hockey fans know, all that matters, especially in Motown, is the second season. Now on the precipice of beating what many people much smarter than me thought was the best team in the NHL, Howard could move one series away from the Stanley Cup Finals, eight wins away from what so many always hoped he could do, but never believed he could. If he keeps up what he has shown over the past three games, the unthinkable just weeks ago could very well be in the cards.
And the Ticket's Stoney and Bill spoke to coach Mike Babcock this morning:
After a breathtaking game that had his team taking the playoffs series lead, a jocular Red Wings coach Mike Babcock called into the Stoney and Bill show on 97.1 The Ticket to discuss the team’s sudden success.
“I don’t know how responsible I am, but it’s nice to be part of something,” Babcock said, adding, “I think we’re working, were getting good saves out of Howie, the bottom line is you’ve got to find a way as a team to do it … Just by being competitive we’re giving ourselves a chance.”
On the Blackhawks unexpected misfortune he said, “(It’s a) high-flying, high octane team and you can’t get your power play going, that’s usually a real source of frustration.”
It seems like the energy in Joe Louis Arena has been louder this series than during any game in recent years, Mike Stone pointed out. Babcock said there’s a reason for that.
“I think for a number of years we just came to the Joe and sat on our hands because we were supposed to be better than everyone else, it was our right,” Babcock said. “I think our fans are a little more fired up, there was no expectation for this group and the group has done well.”
CBS Sports recently chose Pavel Datsyuk as one of the five most likeable guys left in the playoffs. Does Babcock agree?
“He’s hilarious,” Babcock said. “He’s beyond smart and he has a twinkle in his eye, he’s looking to have a laugh, he’s just a good person, unbelieveable work ethic and determination, a great leader, he loves his teammates. He’ll be in the rafters one day at the Joe, he’s that determined. I’m proud to coach him, he’s a good, good man.”
You'll have to read the rest of the interview's summation for Babcock's anecdote about Vladimir Konstantinov.
97.1 FM's Pat Caputo just Tweeted the following...
And another champion of "spirit of the thing" columns, the Detroit News's Bob Wojnowski, offers a opinion-laden Game 4 recap:
The Red Wings finally busted through the impenetrable Blackhawks penalty kill, and it was because Toews kept giving them chances. Chicago had killed off all 30 of its opponents' chances in the playoffs until Kindl fired his slapper with one second left on the power play. Midway through the second period, Detroit had a 1-0 lead, forged by composure more than anything.
The Red Wings knew another desperate push was coming from the favorites, and they were prepared for it. Late in the second period, Justin Abdelkader tangled with agitator Bryan Bickell and both drew four minutes in penalties. Bickell still might have been loopy from an earlier crushing hit delivered by Jonathan Ericsson, which left him wobbling.
Everything was ratcheting, a constant swirl of skating and shots, with Howard calm in the middle. The Blackhawks dented him only twice in the previous two games, and surely Wings fans know this routine. You say you're not wildly frustrated, you say you like your chances, you say you'll keep shooting. But by definition, thievery sneaks up on you, and Howard was busily thieving.
The Blackhawks can't like — or believe — what they're seeing. The Wings are making them see double, using every body part at their disposal, most notably their heads.
In injury news, the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness updated Darren Helm's status:
“Something happened [in Anaheim] and I was in quite a bit of pain, so I’ve stayed off,” Helm said. “I haven’t been on since. I probably feel decent enough to go and twirl around. That’s probably the hardest part for me is knowing that I can go and probably twirl around, but at the same time we know it hasn’t been successful in the past. We just have to find a different way to deal with it.
“I try not to think about it or talk about it too often, but that’s the case,” Helm continued. “I feel better a little bit each day by doing what everyone is telling me what to do. So it’s progress. As long as I stay off the ice for a while it will get better, I hope.”
Helm has been sidelined pretty much the entire season with a slightly torn disc in his back.
“I think it all depends on the weight room and where I’m at there and how I’m feeling and what I can and can’t do,” Helm said when asked about if he has a timetable for returning on to the ice. “We’ll see from there. We haven’t talked about that at all.
There are no plans so far for Helm to have surgery this offseason.
“We haven’t talked about that,” Helm said. “They haven’t found anything that warrants to go under the knife. We’re just doing what we’re doing. It’s slow and not fun, but it needs to be done as I look forward my future and the few years that I have left here.”
Via RedWingsFeed, NHL.com posted two "Bridgestone Moments" involving Red Wings plays against the Blackhawks...
The Grand Rapids Griffins posted a video previewing their AHL Western Conference Final match-up with the Oklahoma City Barons, which begins with back-to-back games in Grand Rapids tonight and tomorrow...
And Kris Draper always said that if the Wings are playing hockey at or around his birthday, it's been a good year for the team:
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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.