The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/24/13 at 04:05 AM ET
After dropping a 2-0 decision to the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks, who now trail the teams' second round series 3 games to 1, headed back to Chicago to prepare for Saturday's game, but not before sounding downright Red Wing-like in terms of their post-game comments.
The, "We think we played well" line came out, they made sure to mention that they're hitting goalposts and aren't getting much puck luck, and they insisted that bearing down a little more in the offensive department would yield a certain comeback for a team that posted a fantastic regular-season record. But many of those comments came from someone who took three minor penalties in the game, who made a point of saying, "I'm not going to comment about the officiating," and while Jonathan Toews told the Chicago Daily Herald's Tim Sassone that his team fully believes in its ability to rebound...
"We're still a confident group in here," Toews said. "The talk the last few days has been the adversity we're facing. We knew this was going to be a tough series against Detroit so we're not running into anything we didn't expect."
The Hawks were looking to bounce back from losses in Games 2 and 3. In a familiar ending, the Hawks lost 2-0 to fall behind 3-1 in the series.
"We're not going to dwell on the losses," Toews said. "It wasn't the result we wanted, but we're not sitting here being negative about it either. We know we have to take this series one game at a time and that it's a long way from over. Against any team, whether you're up three games to whatever, the fourth one is always the toughest to win. We've got to let it all out now."
The Hawks have had things basically go their way from the season opener in Los Angeles, when they started their record points streak of 24 games to start the year.
"Obviously, all year we seemed to go one game at a time and kind of maintained a sense of consistency almost where nothing seemed to disrupt that," Toews said. "We had a lot of momentum going through the regular season and this seems to be the first time we're running into some tough adversity. There's nothing wrong with that. It's something you have to embrace come playoff time. You don't win a Stanley Cup without going through something like that so we have to welcome it and whatever they throw at us we've got to smile and throw it right back in their face. That's what playoff hockey is all about."
And he insisted to ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers that he and his team will break through offensively in short order...
Aside from the penalties, Toews also went goal-less again. He has yet to score in nine playoff games this season after matching Patrick Kane with a team-high 23 regular-season goals. Toews had three shots on goal on Thursday. Toews isn't sure what else he or his teammates can do to finally break through offensively. They've scored just two goals in their last three playoff games.
"We're getting shots," Toews said. ‘We're getting chances. Hit a bunch of posts again tonight. They're just not going in. We got to keep working hard. We're not making any excuses for ourselves. We know we're playing good hockey. We're playing hard for each other. We're not leaving anything out there. Nothing to be said about that. We just need to find a way to score. It's simple as that."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville certainly wasn't going to blame Toews for Thursday's loss either. Quenneville found plenty to be pleased with from Toews' 19:23 of ice time on Thursday.
"I think [Toews] does a lot of things," Quenneville said. "Whether it's production on how you measure his effort, puck possession, how he plays in his own end, how he plays without the puck, how he kills penalties, how he's in the faceoff circle, there's a lot of elements to his game that helps our team game. We don't measure just his contributions offensively. Right now, it's across the board [for our struggles.]"
But the Hawks admitted to ESPN Chicago's Powers that they're frustrated by their inability to achieve results:
"We're working," Keith said. "I don't know. It's frustrating. I don't really know what to say right now. … I don't really know. You look at it. We competed. Obviously, it's still not good enough. We're going to find a way to get more."
The Blackhawks were mostly in shock following Thursday's 2-0 Game 4 loss. They took full blame for not playing well enough in the Game 2 loss, but they felt everything was in place in Game 3 and again in Game 4 to knock off the Red Wings.
It just didn't happen. Up and down the checklist, the Blackhawks thought they accomplished what they had set out to do on Thursday. Goaltender Corey Crawford was at the top of his game, stopping 25 of 26 shots. The Blackhawks created plenty of quality chances for the second consecutive game and finished with 28 shots on net. The penalty kill allowed a goal, but it was the first one in 31 chances this postseason. To further frustrate the Blackhawks, the numbers of posts and crossbars they've connected with in the past few games has nearly reached double digits.
"Everyone's a little [ticked] off," Crawford said. "I thought we played well again. It just seems like we're not getting bounces. I think we had three off the post and out, and they had one off the post and in. It just pretty much sums it up the last couple games for us."
Puck luck and bad breaks, they insisted, were the root of their problems, as the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus noted...
“Everyone’s a little pissed off,” said goaltender Corey Crawford, who was excellent in a 25-save performance, beaten only by Jakub Kindl’s power play goal from the point in the second period. “I thought we played well again. It just seems like we can’t get bounces. We go [two] off the post and out, and they go one off the post and in. Just pretty much sums it up for the last couple games for us.”
The Hawks wanted to come out with the same intensity and pace that they played the third period of Game 3, and they did just that. Joel Quenneville drastically shook up the lines — Handzus centered Sharp and Marian Hossa, while Toews skated with Bickell and Patrick Kane — and they all appeared to click early on. For the first time since Game 1, the Hawks were creating space for their forwards and getting good shots off from the middle, not just from the outside. The Hawks also were generating turnovers in the Detroit zone. But Henrik Zetterberg continued to hound Toews with every stride he took, and Howard took care of the rest.
The Hawks had 14 shots in the first period, but Howard stopped them all. The second period, however, was a disaster. After squandering a power play early on (the Hawks’ second of three dismal power plays, including one with 4:45 left in the game), Toews took three straight penalties — a hook and two high-sticks. After taking just 11 minors in 47 games in the regular season, the Hawks captain was whistled three times in 5:34.
“It’s frustrating,” Duncan Keith said. “We competed, but obviously it’s still not good enough. So we’re going to have to find a way to give more.”
The task that faces them is daunting. And the team they’re playing only seems to be getting better with each game.
“Eventually, something’s got to give,’’ Toews said. “We’re too good a team. We’ve got too much talent. For as hard as we’re working, something’s got to go our way.’’
The Hawks are concerned about their power play's inability to dent the Wings, as they told the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc and Brian Hamilton...
"We can look at it over the next couple of days, but we have to find a way to get (better)," winger Patrick Sharp said. "It's as simple as that. We have to find a way to sustain some momentum and get some pucks to the net. Raise our intensity level. We have to outwork their four guys and right now we're not doing that."
The Hawks had retooled the groupings, splitting up an All-Star cast on the first unit for balance. It didn't work, with the Hawks failing to score on two power plays before the Red Wings got on the board and therefore failing to seize a crucial big start.
"I don't know if it lost momentum in the game, but we obviously could have used something off it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "The one at the end wasn't very good and I thought there wasn't even enough time to measure momentum. Certainly it would have been nice to get one."
And the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash...
Since scoring on their first power-play opportunity in Game 1, the Hawks are 0-for-11 on the power play.
‘‘I don’t know what you want me to say,’’ defenseman Duncan Keith said when asked about the power play. ‘‘Same thing every time. It’s not good.’’
Who noted that the Hawks still have full faith in their goaltender:
One factor that can no longer be ignored is the excellence of Red Wings’ goaltender Jimmy Howard, who made that lead stand up. Since allowing three goals in Game 1, Howard has been virtually impregnable, stopping 86 of 88 shots (.977 save percentage).
‘‘He’s playing good,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘He made a couple of big saves there. We hit a few posts. We knew that he’s a good goaltender before this series, and nothing’s really changed since. But to get shutout in the playoffs — we have to find a way to generate some goals.’’
But not everything the Hawks are saying jibes with reality, as Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers suggests:
The Blackhawks, however, have few answers for why they’re not scoring, whether it’s on the power play or 5 on 5. They now have just two goals in their last three games. Yes, they’ve hit posts. Yes, Howard has been good. But the Blackhawks’ top players haven’t gotten the shots on net. Toews had three, but Patrick Kane had two and Marian Hossa and Sharp each had just one. Dave Bolland and Michal Handzus each had four.
The Blackhawks are feeling the frustration of their absent offense. They’re now feeling the pressure that comes with being on the brink of elimination. The Blackhawks still think they’re right there, still think they can turn things around. But unless they start scoring quickly, in any way possible, they’ll be starting their offseason a lot quicker than they planned.
“We played our tails off. We did a lot of good things. We just didn't find the back of the net. Eventually, something’s got to give,’’ Toews said. “We’re too good a team, we’ve got too much talent. For as hard as we’re working, something’s got to go our way.’’
For reasons that remain unknown, as the Chicago Sun-Times' Lazerus notes, Brent Seabrook isn't playing 20-25 minutes per game...
Brent Seabrook played less than 18 minutes in Game 3, while his partner, Nick Leddy, played just 14:37. Duncan Keith, for comparison, played nearly 26 minutes. Seabrook averaged about 20 minutes per game during the regular season. Coach Joel Quenneville danced around it a bit, but suggested Seabrook needed to pick up his game.
“It’s the matchup, it’s the way the game’s being played, how we’re playing, and how he’s playing that reflects that,” Quenneville said. “Our defense has been pretty solid throughout most of the season, and we need everybody to be strong. We’ve got to be comfortable with everybody against anybody. We’re looking for more.”
Seabrook played just three minutes in the first period Thursday night.
And while Toews rebuffed a suggestion that the Wings are "getting better" with this quip to Lazerus...
“Maybe so, but so are we,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We’re going to keep believing in ourselves. There was a reason we made it this far. We’re a good team — we’re a really good team. We have a lot of players with some great ability in this locker room. When you put it all together, and we play the right way, we’re an amazing, amazing bunch of guys.”
Patrick Sharp offered this to the Chicago Tribune's Kuc...
"We have to find a way to dig in," winger Patrick Sharp said. "This series is going back to Chicago to play in front of our fans and use our home ice. We have to find a way to force a Game 6."
And coach Joel Quenneville offered the following to the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan about his team's chances of rallying from a 3-1 deficit...
"Going into the series we knew they were a good team and they played well in their prior series," Quenneville said of the Red Wings. "They had momentum going into it. The last couple of games were tight games and every game is going to be like that going forward. We've just got to look at the small picture going back home."
ESPN Chicago's Powers noted that the odds are not on Chicago's side:
The Red Wings are one step away from eliminating the Presidents' Trophy winners. The Red Wings went up 3-1 in the series with Thursday's victory. According to NHL.com, only 20 of 229 teams, 8.7 percent, have come back to win a series after trailing 3-1. The Blackhawks' lack of offense has been the story of the series. The Blackhawks were second in goals with a 3.10 per-game average during the regular season and averaged 3.40 goals per game during their first-round series. They've scored five goals in four games against the Red Wings. Thursday's loss also marked the first time all season the Blackhawks lost three consecutive games.
Neither are Toews' on-ice actions, as the Chicago Sun-Times' Rick Morissey noted:
The Hawks needed a huge effort by Toews, and he responded with … wait for it … three straight penalties in a five-minute stretch of the second period. Two of them were high sticks.
It was almost unimaginable that a player normally so calm and collected could leave such a huge crater on the ice. That might have been more unlike him than his earlier rah-rah comments. The frustration of a tough playoffs clearly has gotten to him, no matter what he told media members Thursday morning.
“Emotions run high in some of these games, and my stick got a little loose there,’’ he said after the game. “I was playing hard. Sometimes that happens.’’
Effort isn’t the issue. Toews played like a man possessed. Unfortunately, he played like a man possessed by Jamal Mayers’ scoring ability. He was all over the place, hustling and forechecking, but when it came to goals, nothing. Toews knows it’s a team game, but he also knows that stars are expected to produce in big games. He is not. He has no goals in nine postseason games. His 23 regular-season goals tied for fifth in the league.
After the game, Toews offered a pretty damn simple insight into his level of frustration by tossing off the, "I'm not going to talk about that" line, as the Free Press's George Sipple noted...
“I’m not going to say anything about the officiating,” Toews said. “Obviously, I disagree with the calls, but it’s in the heat of the moment. They see what they see. I’ve gotta be careful of my stick. That doesn’t help my team, but I still think we played hard through it, found a way to stay in the game, killed off two big penalties.”
But then he did just that, as the Chicago Daily Herald's Tim Sassone noted...
"Obviously, I'm disappointed by a few of the calls, but it was in the heat of the moment," Toews said. "It doesn't help our team. I still think we played hard and found a way to stay in the game. We played our tails off and did a lot of good things. We just couldn't find the back of the net."
Someone asked Toews if he felt he became unglued.
"I wouldn't take it that far," Toews said. "Emotions run high in these games and my stick got a little loose there. I was playing hard and sometimes that happens. You can point the finger at whatever you want. We're getting shots; we're getting chances. We hit a bunch of posts again tonight. They're just not going in."
And coach Quenneville was happy to suggest that his player was innocent the vast majority of the time:
"I thought Tazer, he worked," Quenneville said. "A couple penalties there, the first two, you could argue about. We couldn't get him to the bench; he had six minutes in a row there. You lose a little momentum there, but he's a battler. Johnny had some chances, he had some looks."
As such, the Chicago Tribune's Hamilton wonders where the Hawks can really go from here, especially given the goaltender they're facing...
Outside of Kane, no Hawk has scored since the final minute of Game 1. Playoff hockey calls for the Hawks needing to create more traffic because Howard's view was as good as the season ticket holder's behind the glass.
Howard set the tone in the first period, denying Toews on a 2-on-1. Midway through the third, when Bolland had an open chance to tie, Howard came through again. The Hawks had chances. Either Howard or the defense in front of him denied all 28 shots.
"JIM-MY! JIM-MY!'' the crowd at The Joe chanted.
The better Howard got, the more the Hawks' frustration grew. Nobody expressed it like Toews. It isn't so much the Wings are in Toews' face constantly as in his head, thanks mostly to Henrik Zetterberg. Toews went to the penalty box three times in a 5:34 span of the second period. Captain Serious seldom has looked less stable on the ice.
He came close to changing the subject — and the game — in the third period until Valtteri Filppula made a nice play to poke the puck away after Toews had broken free. It was that kind of night. It has been that kind of series.
And even the Chicago Daily Herald's Barry Rozner's utterly annoyed by the predicament the Hawks have placed themselves in:
Of course, anything is possible, and the psychology of a short series being what it is, simply winning one game can turn a series around quickly, but watching the Hawks frustrated the way they are against Detroit, it's difficult right now to imagine them winning three straight games.
And if the Hawks do lose this series, it will be a long summer for captain Jonathan Toews, who has 1 assist in this series after having just 2 assists against Minnesota.
On top of that, the Red Wings — the softest team in the league not named Chicago — have annoyed, distracted and pounded Toews and the rest of the Hawks' skill players, a tactic that shouldn't have surprised the Hawks but obviously did.
It helps that the worst power play in the league continues to destroy the Hawks' momentum every time they have something going, and the Wings are smart to take penalties every time the Hawks have a good scoring chance.
So the Hawks can complain all they want about the refs, the dirty play or the bad luck hitting posts, but if you can't score on the power play, you can't win a beer league — let alone the Stanley Cup.
Rozner probably enjoyed watching Bryan Bickell attempt to beat the snot out of Justin Abdelkader while he lay at the bottom of a pile of linesman, and he's probably certain that Andrew Shaw and the rest of the Hawks' players who only show courage after the whistle, chirping, slashing, hacking, whacking and snowing Howard with linesmen nearby, or, preferrably, linesmen between them and Red Wings players.
Outside of both Detroit and Chicago, the Hockey News, Sportsline's Adam Gretz and even Yahoo Sports' Greg "Puck Daddy" Wyshynski believe that the combination of the Hawks becoming unglued from their captain on out and the Wings stifling Chicago's offense portend bad news for the Hawks' supposedly assured Cup run, and the fact that it isn't Howard stopping the Hawks by himself helps the Wings' cause significantly, as SI's Allan Muir suggests:
Though he was reserved about Howard, Babcock was quick to heap praise on the PK. “Our penalty kill has been outstanding. It started the worst in the NHL, finished 12th and then got better. Tonight, I thought it was huge for us.”
The Red Wings killed off three Chicago power plays tonight, and have limited the Hawks to just one goal in the series with the man advantage, and that was back in Game 1. The unit was at its best when Kindl was whistled for a hook with just 4:45 left in the game. The Hawks failed to even attempt a shot under intense pressure from Detroit’s checkers. That’s huge, alright.
The Globe and Mail's David Shoalts cast a particularly sympathetic eye toward Toews...
Toews was merely angry at 5:20 of the second period when he was called for hooking Red Wings forward Drew Miller. The trouble was, Miller fooled the referee by pulling the old chicken-wing move by trapping Toews’ stick with his arm.
A few minutes later, Toews exploded when he was called for high-sticking on Justin Abdelkader. But the replays showed Toews was the victim of a mistaken call, as he lifted Abdelkader’s stick. Abdelkader was actually struck by his own stick, as he lost his grip on it when Toews lifted it, and the butt of his own stick flew up and struck Abdelkader on the mouth.
The disposition of Toews and the rest of the Blackhawks was not helped when Red Wings defenceman Jakub Kindl finished off a nifty three-way passing play by ripping a slapshot past goaltender Corey Crawford for a power play goal at 10:03 of the second period.
Things took a turn for the worse 51 seconds later when Toews was called again for high-sticking. He was in such a state in the penalty box that Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook skated over to try and calm him down. But this time it was a legitimate call.
The Toronto Sun's Rob Longley also argued Toews' case on the Abdelkader high stick, and pointed out that the Hawks' puck puck is lacking...
Earlier in the week, Babcock talked about benefitting from "wide goal posts." The 'Hawks hit three posts in Game 3 and had two more in Game 4. Meanwhile, Kindl's goal hit a "thin post," bouncing the puck off the inside of the post and past 'Hawks goalie Corey Crawford. "Everyone's a little pissed off," Crawford said. "(We hit) the post and they get one off the post and in. That pretty much sums it up for the last couple of nights for us."
It wasn't as if the 'Hawks weren't getting chances early, they just lacked finish in a 14-shot first period that could have seen them open up a comfortable lead. The 'Hawks had at least four good scoring opportunities and either misfired or were denied by Howard.
But deservedly or undeservedly--and it should be noted that neither Shoalts nor Longley believe that Howard's playing anything other than a wee bit better than Crawford--Toews' penalties changed the course of the game, as the Vancouver Sun's Cam Cole noted:
A guy who had just 11 penalties in the 48-game regular season took three minors in a span of 5:34 — the second of which, undeserved, resulted in a slick Detroit power play and a screened shot from the top of the left-wing faceoff circle that sifted past several bodies and went in off the post behind Hawks’ goalie Corey Crawford, who never saw it.
“That was huge for all of us,” said Kindl. “We knew we had to pick it up on our power play. They’ve been playing so good as a team on the PK. This was the biggest game of my life so far and the biggest goal I’ve had.”
For the Red Wings, Toews sits pretty right where they've sent him....
“We’d like to keep him in the box,” said Detroit defenceman Jonathan Ericsson. “He’s not as good for them in the box.”
And while the Hawks insisted to USA Today's Kevin Allen that they'll turn the tide, as frustrated as they might be...
"(Detroit) has played well defensively," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "But it just seems that he has built that momentum up by himself.'
The Blackhawks, who started the season 21-0-3, seem stunned, although not totally defeated, by the turn of events.
"We've got to find a way to sustain some momentum and get some pucks to the net," said Patrick Sharp, who was stopped by Howard on a breakaway. 'And we have to raise our intensity level. We've got to outwork their four guys and right now we're not doing that and not coming up with a whole lot on the power play.'
The Red Wings are really enjoying really pissing the Blackhawks off:
"I think we've been able to do some good things," Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "Disrupt them up ice and make it hard for them. 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. Millsie (Drew Miller) getting back in the lineup's been huge for us."
Just as importantly, the Wings insisted two things to the Edmonton Sun's Derek Van Diest: 1. Jimmy Howard's saved their butts, and they need to play better, and 2. The Hawks are to be respected and to beware and be wary of going forward:
“We wanted to come home and play two good games and I think we did that,” said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg. “We’re looking forward to the next game in Chicago. The fourth one is always the toughest one to get and we have to keep playing well. I thought Howie (Howard) played awesome tonight, without him we wouldn’t have won the game.”
“The series is not over yet,” said Jakub Kindl, who scored the opening goal of the contest midway through the second period. “We’re happy with the two games we played here, but we know they’re not going to give up, they’re a great team. We know we have a hard game to play against them in their building, their building is going to be pumping. The series is definitely not over and we’re going to try and play the same way we did in the last two games here, be on our toes, be tighter in the neutral zone.”
The Wings have no problem admitting that they're getting some puck luck, as Zetterberg told NHL.com's Corey Masisak...
"I think we knew that if we played the way we did in the last two weeks of the season and the way we did in the Anaheim series [in the first round] that we would have a chance," Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "We need everyone. We need players to play good and it starts with the goaltending, and when he plays the whole team plays good. Still, it has been close games. ... We've had a little luck on our side but we've just got to keep playing."
And the team's goaltender agreed with his captain:
"We knew they were going to play desperate hockey," Howard said. "They're going to play even more desperate on Saturday night. We're going to have to match it. We can't rest on our laurels here. We played good the last three games, we're going to have to ratchet it up even more Saturday night. The hardest win of the series is to get that fourth one. It's going to be another battle Saturday night."
There is, however, a basic bottom line, as Jonathan Ericsson told the Associated Press's Larry Lage:
"The pressure is on them," Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said.
Yes, it is. And, no one in the Windy City will want to extend the series more than Toews.
"We've got to find a way to force a Game 6," he said.
We'll shift perspectives from those of the Blackhawks to those of the Wings via ESPN's Craig Custance, who noted that the most important most important person in the rink was not one Ndamukong Suh, who rode the Zamboni and watched the game with several Detroit Lions teammates, but someone who made a beeline for Jimmy Howard during his post-game comments (and it goes without saying that the rest of Custance's column is worth your time):
Right down the middle, a path among the media opened up and Gordie Howe stepped forward. A reporter’s question was stopped mid-sentence, and Howard leaned forward to shake the hand of the greatest Red Wing who ever lived.
Howard managed to greet the 85-year-old Howe, who was congratulating him on his outstanding game against the Blackhawks.
“Mr. Hockey,” Howard whispered. “How are you? Nice to see you.”
Then he smiled, answered a few more questions, and reflected on what just happened.
“It’s great to have that history around here, and have guys that are still fully invested and fully interested in us,” Howard said. “For us, it is about going out there and carrying on the tradition.”
And what did Howard say afterward? Well, the player who told the media that he's been an underdog all his life, growing up in a small town, being told that he'd never make it (I was waiting to hear him say that he had a train to catch), offered the following regarding the expectations foisted upon him, as noted by the Chicago Tribune's Hamilton:
"For me it's about going out and performing not only for these guys in the dressing room," Howard said, "but for the guys like (general manager Ken Holland) who had a lot of faith in me, to give me the ball and run with it four years ago and to stick with me. It's about proving myself to the guys in here and to the organization."
Howard unashamedly puffed out his chest regarding his performance, as noted by MLive's Ansar Khan (who also penned a quote-less recap):
“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.''
Howard has been big in net, square to the shooter and soft – he's not allowing many rebounds.
“Just getting out to the top of the crease and establishing myself,'' Howard said. “Jim Bedard and I talk every day about getting to the top of the crease, being big, hands up and playing and having fun.''
He is calm under pressure and, as he put it, living in the moment. He enjoyed a special moment after the game. While standing on a riser in the dressing room during his post-game media scrum, Howard was greeted by hockey legend Gordie Howe. Howard credited his teammates for making his job easier.
“We're doing a great job of getting above them, cutting them off, not letting them come with speed and we're taking care of the puck,'' Howard said. “We're getting pucks out at our blue line and getting them deep. It's slowing them down a little bit.''
The small-town boy quote is real, as noted by Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner:
“I’ve been an underdog all my life,” Howard said after he shut out the Chicago Blackhawks, 2-0, in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals Thursday. “Coming from a small town, people always said, 'You’ll never have an opportunity; you’ll never have a chance to do that (play in the NHL)'" For me, I just relish it. I kinda like playing that (underdog) role.”
“I always had faith in myself, always believed in myself that I can go out there and play extremely well in the playoffs," he 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.' I think it's a lot of hard work paying off. It doesn't have anything to do with the contract talks. I just learned from my mistakes in the past and pressed forward, and continued to work and get better every day.''
As the Windsor Star's Bob Duff noted, Wings coach Mike Babcock was...recitent...to give his goaltender credit...
“Howie’s been real solid for us, he’s been in a groove for a while and we need that to be successful,” Babcock said. “We pay him to do that. We expect him to do that.”
But, perhaps like Jonathan Toews to some extent, he lost his, "I don't care about our goaltending" bluster-y nerve:
“From the time I’ve been here to now, we need better goaltending than we ever did and he’s provided it for us,” Babcock said of Howard. “He’s strong in there and competitive in there and composed in there.”
Babcock downplayed Howard’s contribution, correctly pointing out that the Wings are doing an excellent job of boxing out the Chicago attackers and keeping them from getting any second-chance opportunities.
“I thought he made an unreal save on that two-on-one,” Babcock said, “but we’re battling real hard and we’re boxing out real hard.”
Babcock continued regarding other topics, as Michigan Hockey's Michael Caples noted...
“If you would ask me two months ago, I would be shocked,” coach Mike Babcock said about his team’s chances of upsetting their Original Six rival. “We started playing better and better. Once we got through the Anaheim series, you go in thinking you have an opportunity. Our big thing was to prolong the series, prolong the series and maybe the pressure amps up on them and in the end you get through it. 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 and our penalty kill has been outstanding.”
“You’ll have to ask [Chicago coach Joel Quenneville] that,” coach Mike Babcock said when asked if the Blackhawks’ players were rattled. “I’m not monitoring their players, just our own. We’re doing everything we can to keep our own emotions under control, you’re at home, the crowd’s getting all fired up and you’re starting to get fired up yourself, and next thing you know you’re not in the right spot, so we were too busy worrying about our own focus, rather than worrying about theirs.”
And Niklas Kronwall summarized the Wings' takes on their goaltender's worth:
“I don’t know if you can ask much more from Howie than what he’s done for us ever since he got here,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “He’s played tremendous and this season alone, last season he was an All-Star, this season he would have been an All-Star, that’s how good he’s been for us. If you’re not appreciating what he’s doing right now, I don’t think 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 he will be for many, many years.”
The Free Press's Evil Drew Sharp of all people took most direct note of the Wings' effusive praise for their goaltender...
"We’re not surprised that he’s playing at such a high level,” said Jakub Kindl, who netted the only goal the Wings would need Thursday night. “We knew this all season long that Howie was our best player.”
As tall as the Wings have stood in this unlikely series of twists, nobody has stood taller than the goalie many in this town have embraced skeptically for no other reason than because he’s the Red Wings’ goaltender. That’s what people do here.
But the unthinkable has happened now, with the Wings’ standing one win away from advancing to the Western Conference finals. Howard is more trusted in this town at this moment than Justin Verlander is.
“Without him playing the way he did,” Henrik Zetterberg said, “we don’t win. We knew they were going to come after us hard because it was a very important game for them. Howie played great. But he’s played like that all season for us.”
Jakub Kindl offered a somewhat understated remark about breaking the Hawks' penalty-killing unit to the Detroit News's Matt Charboneau...
It was bound to happen sooner or later — the Blackhawks simply had to give up a power-play goal. At least, it sure seemed like it would have to happen at some point. But through eight playoff games, the Blackhawks were 29-for-29. They made it 30-for-30 midway through the second period of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals on Thursday against the Red Wings.
It ended when Jakub Kindl's shot from the point found its way past goaltender Corey Crawford at 10 minutes 3 seconds of the second period — with one second left on the power play.
"That was huge for all of us," Kindl said. "We knew we had to pick it up on our power play. They've been playing so good as a team on the PK. That was a huge goal for us."
Before stating his feeling a little more plainly to the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan:
"Biggest goal of my life so far," said Kindl, the Red Wings 2005 first-round pick, who has emerged as the type of skilled defenseman the organization had always envisioned.
On what turned out to be the winning goal, Kindl fired a shot from the point that screened goalie Corey Crawford never got a clear look at.
"There's not a lot of time out there so when I got it, I hesitated a half-second," said Kindl, who was set up on the point by defensive partner Carlo Colaiacovo. "When the defenseman went down to one knee, I went short side (shot to the net). There was a great screen by Abby (Justin Abdelkader) and the goalie couldn't see."
Kindl led the Wings with 5 shots and a total of 8 attempts, and he admitted to the Free Press's Helene St. James that he and Carlo Colaiacovo were...A defensive pair that was work in progress...After Danny DeKeyser got hurt and Colaiacovo took DeKeyser's place:
“The first few games,” Kindl said, “I don’t want to say we looked lost out there, but obviously we didn’t play for so long with each other, plus Carlo had been out for such a long while. But as we go further and further, I think we look better and better and I feel like we are finally getting comfortable with each other.”
As Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji noted, after the Wings praised Kindl, they focused their post-game emphasis upon their own defensive play...
"I think well-deserved," Damien Brunner said of Kindl's goal. "We had some chances already last game, and it was kind of clicking. It was a nice shot from Kuba."
After going 1-for-3 on the power play against a tired Wings team in Game 1, the Blackhawks are 0-for-9 since.
"I think we've been able to do some good things, disrupt them up ice and make it hard for them," Wings 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. Millsie (Drew Miller) getting back in the lineup's been huge for us."
"I think we’ve gotten better," defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. "I don’t think they’re creating as much, and the puck seems to stay out on the boards and doesn’t come inside as much. If Howie (Jimmy Howard) gets a shot, he deflects it out into the corner."
Wings coach Mike Babcock credited assistant coach Bill Peters for the penalty kill's improvement.
"Bill Peters runs our penalty kill, and started the worst in the NHL and finished 12th," Babcock said. "He has done a great job with it . . . It has gotten better and better and better, and (Thursday night) I thought it was huge for us."
And the Wings gushed about Henrik Zetterberg's ability to neutralize and agitate Toews while speaking with Wakiji...
"Unbelievable," Brunner said of Zetterberg's play. "He's making it hard on (Toews) and frustrating him as good as he can."
As would be expected of the Wings' humble captain Zetterberg, he's downplaying the effect he's had on Toews.
"It's a lot of emotions in playoffs," Zetterberg said. "He's a really good player. I didn't see the penalties, so I can't say if they were frustration penalties. You got to be aware of him. He created a lot of chances today. Howie (Jimmy Howard) really saved us."
Television replays showed Toews taking extra whacks with his stick at Zetterberg, with the referee in the middle of them, then again when the two were headed for their respective benches.
"He (Zetterberg) plays the game really hard, makes it hard on the other team's centermen," Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "He's been doing that all year for us. He's been outstanding."
As well as the team's ability to drive the entire Blackhawks' roster to distraction, as noted by DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose:
The Blackhawks have scored just two goals in the last three games, and the Red Wings can definitely sense the frustration emanating from the Chicago players, especially their 25-year-old leader.
“He had a few penalties today, but I don’t know,” said Ericsson, of Toews. “We’d like to keep him in the box. He’s not as good for them in the box.”
Something that’s certainly helped the Red Wings’ cause is that they have reacted to the Blackhawks’ tactics of trying to draw them into scuffles and skirmishes after the whistle.
“I'm sure that helps,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Anytime you're up, it's a lot easier to take a slash or a cross-check than if you're down. I think that just comes with it.”
And Bryan Bickell? They're on to him:
“We know Bickell and what type of player he is,” Ericsson said. “He likes to go to the body and not focus on the puck as much. Sometimes you have to take a hit by a big guy like him to make a play, and a lot of guys did that today. We just have to be aware of who is out there. We just play our system regardless of who’s out there.”
Bickell finished with four hits, including three in the first period on Valtteri Filppula, Ericsson and Zetterberg. However, the Red Wings, led by Justin Abdelkader (five), Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller and Ericsson (each with four) out-hit the ’Hawks, 30-22, in Game 4.
Going forward, the Wings know that things will only get tougher from here, as Kindl told the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...
“This was the biggest game of my life so far and the biggest goal I’ve had,” Kindl said. “The series is not over yet. We’re happy with those two games we’ve played here. But they’re a great team and they’re not going to give. It’s going to be tough going back to play in their building. We’re just going to try and play the same way we did last two games, play on our toes and play tight in our neutral zone.”
And while Zetterberg played the, "Keep calm and destroy the Hawks" card while speaking with the Free Press's Helene St. James...
“It’s nice to be 3-1,” captain Henrik Zetterberg. “We’re not there yet, but we’re happy with what we did today. We’ll refocus, and go play a good game in Chicago.”
St. James couldn't help but state the obvious:
So now it’s come to this: The Wings are one victory from their furthest foray into the playoffs since 2009. There is much to be said for being a team with no pressure, for being a team that’s purely a spoiler. But that’s what’s come at the Wings from the outside. Within their room, there’s been a confidence building since the last week of the regular season. Jonathan Ericsson was asked if the Wings believe they can take down the Blackhawks. His answer was absolute. “I say the same thing now: We never doubted it.”
It’s determination. It’s hard work. And it’s leading the Wings straight toward June.
In the "spirit of the thing" vein, the Detroit News's John Niyo wondered whether Toews and the Blackhawks could rebound with Zetterberg and the Wings hounding him...
"Z's doing a great job on Toews," said goaltender Jimmy Howard, who's doing a terrific job himself, obviously. "He's all over him out there. … And when Z's working as hard as he is, it really sends a message to the rest of the team that they better do their part."
Joel Quenneville tried to do his part Thursday, juggling his forward lines and catching the Wings a bit by surprise when he threw Bryan Bickell over the boards for the second shift of the game, followed by Toews and Patrick Kane. But that was about the only shift where the Wings didn't get the matchup they wanted up front.
As a result, Toews was sounding a bit bewildered after the game, even as he insisted otherwise.
"Eventually, something's got to give," he said. "We're too good a team. We've got too much talent. For as hard as we're working, something's got to go our way."
Maybe it will. But they're running out of time and answers in this series, just as Toews has run out of time and space.
The Detroit News's Gregg Krupa duly noted that the Wings were relentless in terms of their physical play, both at even strength and on the penalty-kill (including that late 3rd period power play in which the Wings held Chicago without a shot)...
The Blackhawks were 0-3 on the power play, and a goal on any one of them would have meant a 1-1 tie.
Howard is important, of course, but the scrappy play of Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller, Cory Emmerton, Joakim Andersson, Smith and the face-off wizardry of Datsyuk, who won 17 of 29 draws — some crucial on the penalty kill — is an underappreciated part of the Red Wings game.
And I'll leave the last word to the Oakland Press's Pat Caputo, who noted that Howard did have to "do it alone" at one point:
Howard has not always been this solid when it comes to angles and proper position. Each year, he anticipates the plays in front of him better. It’s definitely been a strength this playoff season.
One skill Howard has always possessed is an excellent butterfly. His save on Chicago’s Dave Bolland during the third period was an perfect example of it. It was a two-on-one and Bolland was in the slot. He did exactly what he should have, sliding the puck to the opposite end of the goal from where Howard was moving. Still, Howard got his pad down and made the save.
This a coming age for Jimmy Howard. The Red Wings as a whole, too.
Update: then again, the Free Press's Jeff Seidel engaged in a little salt-rubbing which seems appropriate at this stage:
Now, can we stop all that nonsense of saying that Howard has never stolen a playoff game? I don’t know if he stole this game. But he dominated it. He smothered it. He caught it. He snared it. And he won it.
With a little help from Jonathan Toews.
Once again, Red Wings fans would like to thank you!
Bonus Swedish: for the record, Henrik Zetterberg both tossed off a "the fourth win is the hardest" and expresed some sympathy for Toews' plight while admitting to Aftonbladet's Per Bjurman that he's having an absolute blast neutralizing Toews, and Niklas Kronwall told Expressen's Gunnar Nordstrom that Jimmy Howard played a "cruel" game in the net while Zetterberg did a wonderful job of getting under Toews' skin.
Blackhawks fans might argue that Zetterberg's been the beneficiary of as many, "Good non call" penalties as Eddie Olczyk lobbied toward everything Chicago did to Detroit that was illegal, immoral or just plain weird on Thursday night, but if Zetterberg, Howard, Kronwall and their teammates play a little less rope-a-dope-y on Saturday, we won't have to deal with Blackhawks fans for very much longer.
Shots 28-27 Chicago overall. Chicago out-shot Detroit 14-10 in the 1st, were out-shot 12-8 in the 2nd and out-shot Detroit 6-5 in the 3rd.
Detroit went 1-for-3 in 5:59 of PP time; Chicago went 0-for-3 in 6:00 of PP time.
Jimmy Howard stopped 28 of 28 shots; Corey Crawford stopped 25 of 26 as the Wings' last goal was scored into an empty net.
Kelly Hrudey picked the 3 stars, and he picked Corey Crawford, Jakub Kindl and Jimmy Howard.
The Wings' goals: Kindl (1) from Colaiacovo (1) and Franzen (2), PPG;
Cleary (3) from Filppula (4), empty-net.
Faceoffs 31-29 Detroit (Detroit won 52%);
Blocked shots 11-11;
Missed shots 10-6 Chicago (total attempts 49-44 Chicago; the Wings put 27 shots on the Hawks' net and another 17 wide or into Hawks players);
Hits 30-22 Detroit;
Giveaways an ugly 10-8 Detroit;
Takeaways 8-4 Detroit.
Individual stats, TMR style:
Faceoffs: Datsyuk went 17-and-12 (59%); Zetterberg went 3-and-9 (25%); Emmerton went 4-and-5 (44%); Andersson went 5-and-1 (83%); Filppula went 2-and-2 (50%).
Shots: Kindl led the Wings with 5 shots; Cleary, Zetterberg and Franzen had 3; Abdelkader, Nyquist, Brunner, Filppula and Kronwall had 2; Smith, Eaves and Miller had 1.
Blocked attempts: Kindl had 3 shots blocked by Blackhawks players; Colaiacovo and Ericsson had 2 attempts blocked; Cleary, Brunner, Kronwall and Andersson had 1 attempt blocked.
Missed shots: Abdelkader and Brunner missed the net 2 times; Zetterberg and Franzen missed the net 1 time.
Hits: Abdelkader led the Wings with 5 hits; Eaves, Miller and Ericsson had 4; Kindl and Datsyuk had 3; Emmerton had 2; Smith, Cleary, Quincey, Filppula and Franzen had 1.
Giveaways: Quincey, Zetterberg and Franzen had 2 giveaways; Cleary, Datsyuk, Kronwall and Howard had 1.
Takeaways: Datsyuk had 3 takeaways; Nyquist and Zetterberg had 2; Andersson had 1.
Blocked opponent shots: Miller and Kronwall blocked 2 shots; Smith, Kindl, Datsyuk, Emmerton, Ericsson and Franzen blocked 1.
Penalties taken: Abdelkader took a double minor; Kindl, Zetterberg and Kronwall took minor penalties.
Plus-minus: The Wings finished at a collective +5. Cleary, Zetterberg, Filppula, Ericsson and Kronwall finished at +1.
Points: Kindl and Cleary had goals; Colaiacovo, Filppula and Franzen had assists.
Ice time: Kronwall led the team with 23:25 played; Ericsson played 21:40; Datsyuk played 21:03;
Quincey played 20:22; Franzen played 19:08; Zetterberg played 18:42;
Smith played 18:17; Kindl played 1:10; Filppula played 17:36;
Abdelkader played 16:31; Cleary played 16:14; Colaiacovo played 16:10;
Miller played 13:47; Brunner played 11:19; Emmerton played 10:59;
Nyquist played 10:26; Andersson played 10:54; Eaves played 9:30.
Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note:
- Prior to the game, MLive's Ansar Khan noted that Henrik Zetterberg was winning the faceoff battle against Toews and DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose noted that Danny DeKeyser is not ruling out a playoff return;
- The Toledo Blade's Rachel Lenzi penned a superb recap, but it kinda covered stuff that I'd already quoted. Ditto for the Northwest Herald's Jeff Arnold's take on Toews' meltdown;
- The Lions' website covered Ndamukong Suh's trip to the Joe;
- For those of us who were on the "Buy Out Colaiacovo" train, myself included, "Coco" has played pretty damn well in the playoffs, and he offered this quip to the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan about his attempt to redeem his chances of staying with the Wings
"The people here live and die their hockey," said Colaiacovo, who signed a two-year, $5 million contract Sept. 14. "They're real passionate and the arena itself, you just walk into the arena and you get the feel and smell of tradition. It's awesome and great to be part of. I'm just happy with the way things are going."
- On the media on the media: the Free Press's Steve Schrader offered his notes on the game's coverage by NBC in his Octopus Garden, the Detroit News's Matt Charboneau named 3 stars from Thursday's game, and MLive's James Schmehl reports that Fox Sports Detroit's Ryan Field is leaving the Motor City to join Fox Sports' attempt to match ESPN, "Fox One";
- The Chicago Daily Herald's Tim Sassone took note of Babock's "maximize your potential" quip;
- And this late-night notebook from the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan included an honest-yet-amusing quip about the Wings' penalty-killing:
"It's gotten better and better and tonight it was huge for us," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of the penalty killing unit, crediting assistant Bill Peters, who handles the PK.
"We've gotten better," defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said of a unit that struggled early this season. "They're not getting as much and the puck seems to stay on the boards and doesn't come into Howie (goaltender Jimmy Howard) as much. If Howie does get a shot, he deflects it into the corner and that helps us."
The addition of forward Drew Miller, who returned to the lineup in Game 2 after missing more than a month because of a broken thumb, has also helped the penalty kill.
"We're working as a unit, and when Howie has to make the save he's been doing that," Miller said.
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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.