The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/27/13 at 10:33 AM ET
Updated 13x at 2:57 PM: The Detroit Red Wings face a near-must-win situation as they hope to eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks tonight (8 PM EDT, NBCSN/CBC/97.1 FM, post-game on FSD) and avoid a winner-take-all Game 7 situation on Wednesday evening.
If we are to believe what the Blackhawks' players and coach claimed on Sunday afternoon, the Blackhawks may have "their backs against the wall," but they are in fact the underdogs that no one believes in, and as such, it's the Red Wings with everything to lose tonight.
I don't buy that bullshit for a minute, nor do I buy the concept that the Hawks have "all the momentum" going into tonight's game, but I'm also the one suggesting that the Wings bring their knives to a gunfight.
In any case, Sportsline's Brian Stubits offered an outside take on what's at stake this evening...
The curse that came with the blessing of that tremendous start to the regular season for the Blackhawks -- an NHL-record 24 straight games with a point beginning the season -- was that it increased already high expectations. The start made it so that anything short of a Stanley Cup Final appearance was going to feel like a letdown, and really then the only way to truly make the season feel like a success is by winning the Cup.
While I don't believe the players are consciously thinking of that, they know they're a team capable of winning the Cup. That kind of pressure can weigh on a team in tight moments, too. Trying to fulfill those expectations and achieve their goal won't be that far out of mind for some of them, especially if things aren't going their way.
In Game 6, the stakes won't really be as high as a true winner-take-all Game 7, but it's going to feel pretty close to it for both teams.
And the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa eases us into the morning skate:
Changes? We don't need no stinkin' changes! Steady as she goes!
If I were to summarize what the Wings need to do tonight, I'd go with this wallpaper-sized image from CBS Detroit, in which Gustav Nyquist is surrounded by Blackhawks players sans a teammate supporting him or providing a passing outlet. The Wings need to move the puck better tonight and that requires players skating hard and gaining body position on their opponents instead of lazily standing on the outisde of puck battles and poking their sticks in instead of doing the hard and sometimes painful work that is pushing past and through one's opponent.
In the "Ice Forecast" department, we're expecting highs in the upper 60's today, but rain and thunderstorms will roll in overnight. As such, humidity will increase as the day goes along, and that tends to yield slightly sticky-snowy ice at the Joe.
Daniel Cleary's saying his usual "hello" to the Free Press's Helene St. James...
From the "Enemy Press"...
As a for-the-record quip, ESPN's Craig Custance penned an article about unrestricted free agent-to-be Bryan Bickell, with Bickell and Viktor Stalberg saying this about their ability to dent the Wings given that Detroit's tried to stifle the Hawks' top two lines:
"Obviously sometimes the big boys get the toughest matchup and you get caught behind there and sometimes you get a little easier matchup," Stalberg said. "I thought we did a good job of taking advantage of that all year long."
But Bickell's production during the playoffs suggests that he's capable of producing against tougher competition. He scored Give 5's first goal and he did it against Henrik Zetterberg's line and Detroit's top defensive pair of Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall. That was the matchup he saw for most of the night.
"I enjoyed playing against those guys," Bickell said on Sunday. "They're skilled. We just need to be physical against them."
Both players need to step up tonight.
The Wings' morning skate lasted for about half an hour--as is typical at this time of year--
Here comes the coach:
And, via RedWingsFeed, the Windsor Star's Bob Duff has already posted a video of Datsyuk's commentary:
Also from RedWingsFeed:
Sproul was named the OHL's defenseman of the year about a month ago, and on Sunday, he was named the CHL's defenseman of the year.
Update #0.5 (and I promise to embed fewer Tweets from now on!):
As the Free Press's Helene St. James also noted...With the Wings stating that "fun" might motivate them this evening as well as fear:
"We talk about it all the time,” coach Mike Babcock said after the morning skate. “Do you want to be tight and tentative, or do you want to be loose and driving? Which one sounds like fun to you? Let’s play. There’s six teams left in hockey. Play. Let’s have some fun. The better you play, the longer you get to play. If you don’t play good, you get to go home.”
The Wings squandered chance no. 1 to win the series by a performance Saturday at Chicago that went past loose and straight to lackadaisical.
“Our effort surprised me,” Babcock said. “I thought we’d be better than we were. We weren’t good. We’ve played well here, I don’t know why we wouldn’t be good today. We’re excited about the opportunity.”
The Blackhawks staved off elimination with a dominating 4-1 victory in Game 5, using their power play to great effect and getting the desired effect from assembling a super line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, a group that’ll reappear tonight. The Wings are sticking with what’s gotten them to this point, at least for the start of the game, believing that if they just play the way they did in Games 2 through 4, the series will end in six.
“It’s fun to play this time of year,” Valtteri Filppula said, “but obviously we hope that we don’t have to play after tonight any more against these guys.”
Update #7: The Windsor Star's Bob Duff filed a morning skate report...
“I think the worst thing guys could do tonight is put pressure on themselves,” said Detroit defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo, whose club owns a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven set and can wrap up the series with a win. “It’s a fun game to play in, it’s going to be an exciting time with the crowd behind us. This is the fun part about hockey, to play in games like this. Games that mean so much. Games that have that much on the line. Play confident, have fun and do what we do. If we play the way we can, we should feel good about what we can accomplish.”
The Wings were uncharacteristically tight in Game 5 and it cost them their first chance to close out the series.
“Our effort in Game 5 surprised me, to be honest with you,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought we’d be better than we were. We talk about it all the time. Do you want to be tight and tentative, or be loose and driving? Which one sounds like fun to you? Let’s play. There’s six teams left in hockey. Let’s have some fun. The better you play, the longer you get to play. If you don’t play good, you get to go home. We’ve played well here and I don’t know why we wouldn’t be good today. We’re excited about the opportunity.”
Detroit centre Pavel Datsyuk agreed with his coach, and expected his club to come out calm and collected.
“Why not?” Datsyuk asked. “We’re at home, in front of our fans. Of course we’re comfortable.”
You may read SI's Stu Hackel's take on tonight's game on your own, however.
Update #8: NHL.com's Tracey Myers posted a game-day preview...
ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers talked to both teams about the pressure they feel that they and their opponents are either facing or not facing tonight...
“You can’t think about pressure too much, but I think it is on them especially after having a chance to close out at home in our building, and it’s coming back here, they get another chance,” Kane said. “I’m sure they’re feeling a little bit of pressure. Hopefully we can use to that to our advantage and try to capitalize on them maybe making some mistakes.”
Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader thought there was a difference between playing with pressure and playing with desperation. He thought his team needed the latter.
“I think everyone realizes now how difficult [it is to close out a series,]” Abdelkader said, “Chicago played with its backs against the wall [Saturday] night. They played hard and with desperation. We have to play the same way.”
For the Blackhawks, they’re looking to duplicate the looseness they played with in Game 5. Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad said it was key to score first again.
“That’s something we want to do every game, especially against this team how well they’ve played defensively and how they play with the lead,” Saad said. “Especially in their building, their fans are loud. It’s going to be fun to be a part of, and we’re looking forward to it.”
And Fox Sports Detroit's Dave Dye offered the following quip from Justin Abdelkader in his "morning skate" blog entry:
Forward Justin Abdelkader said the Wings are “still the underdog.”
“These guys had a magical run all during the regular season,” Abdelkader said of the Blackhawks. “They’ve been the favorite all year, all playoffs. We’ve got a great opportunity up three games to two, at our home ice. We don’t want to go back there (to Chicago for Game 7).”
POWER-LESS PLAY: Detroit has just one goal in 19 power-play opportunities in the series. The only goal was the Game 4 game-winner.
“I think our power play can be way better,” Babcock said. “To me, their penalty kill has been harder than our power play has been. They’re winning more of these puck battles. As soon as we shoot and it gets to the wall, they win that battle every time. That shouldn’t be the case.”
HOME ICE DOMINATING: Home teams are now 48-20 in the playoffs, including 18-3 in the conference-semifinal round.
The Red Wings are 4-1 at Joe Louis Arena with 3-1 and 2-0 victories over the Blackhawks in Games 3 and 4.
And, from the Chicago Daily Herald's Tim Sassone...
Meanwhile, the Red Wings were confident at Monday's morning skate that they will close out the Hawks.
"They came out a lot harder than we did and were better throughout the whole game," Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. "We know we can play a lot better and we’ve showed that. The last game we didn’t come out at that level and they didn’t let us come up to that level, but we’ll show them tonight."
Update #9: Brendan Smith, bad idea, per MLive's Ansar Khan:
“They are getting away with a lot of those after-the-whistle cheap shots or whatever; maybe (referees) don't see it,'' Smith said. “I don't think it frustrates anybody in here. We want to hold our ground. They're trying to be pesty and whatnot. If you let them get under your skin then they've won. You see them hacking and slashing after the whistle. … You see guys like (Henrik) Zetterberg getting slashed after the whistle by (Jonathan) Toews. It doesn't affect him. He comes out even better. These guys have been around the league so long, we feed off that for sure.''
Detroit's Justin Abdelkader took a retaliatory penalty against Dave Bolland in Game 5, costing his club a power play.
“You’ve got to be careful; (referees) are looking to even things up,'' Abdelkader said. “They have guys on their team who try to bait you on penalties and you’ve got to be smart about it. Play on the edge, but don’t go over. We just got to play between the whistles and not worry about anything extracurricular stuff and stay away from the scrums. They'll try to get under you skin. Just got to be smart, can't get baited into penalties. It can be tough at times. Sometimes you just got to bite your lip.''
Bryan Bickell is one of the Blackhawks' most aggravating players.
“That’s part of my game, to make them sick of it,'' Bickell said. “If they know I’m going to finish my check, hopefully I can get them a little nervous with the puck, make them second guess, maybe get some turnovers. Just to wear them down is the most important part to stick with it.''
Bickell spoke to the Windsor Star's Bob Duff, and you can watch his video interview on your own.
Update #9.5: The Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc posted a clip of Marian Hossa speaking about the importance of Game 6.
Update #10: The Red Wings' Game Day Blog offers a historical note...
On This Day in Red Wings History...On May 27, 1995
Detroit eliminates San Jose, 6-2, and Paul Coffey moves past Denis Potvin for the all-time scoring leader among defensemen in the playoffs with his 165th point.
As well as Ken Kal's keys to the game...
Take Away Their Time and Space - Chicago had too much time to make plays in Game 5. Don't give them any room tonight.
Dictate the Play Immediately - Don't weather the storm, this time we have to be the storm. Get the puck deep and be on the attack from the get-go.
Play Hard and Physical but Stay Out Of The Box - Detroit has to keep their emotions in check. Play with an edge, compete hard, and keep the elbows and sticks down. Force them to cause turnovers and generate offense from it.
Western Conference Semifinals – Game 6
Blackhawks at Red Wings, 8 ET (Red Wings lead series, 3-2)
* Red Wings: 4-1 at home this postseason (won 4 straight since loss in Game 3 of Conf. Qtrs. vs Ducks)
* Red Wings: 2-18 (11.1 pct) on power play in 5 home games this season (5-26 [19.2 pct] on road)
* Jimmy Howard (DET): 4-0, 1.42 GAA, .957 save pct (6 GA on 138 SA in 256:01 played) over last 4 HOME games
* Blackhawks: have never won a best-of-7 series after trailing 3 games to 1 (0-11)
* Blackhawks: 1-3 on road this postseason (0-2 in this series)
* Blackhawks: lead postseason in penalty killing (35-36, 97.2 pct)
Update #12: Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers took note of both teams' game-day comments...
“We were just a little tentative (in Game 5). We didn’t dictate the game, and we had been doing that the last few games. They fed off that,” Brendan Smith said following today’s skates. “They’re going to be desperate. They have to win or they’re gong home. We just didn’t answer like we have in previous game. We have to play better tonight and use our fans to help us out and get the momentum that way.”
For the Blackhawks, it’s rinse and repeat Game 5 in every facet. But…
“Tonight’s going to be even tougher,” Patrick Kane said. “We’re on the road against a team that plays well here. For us, we have to try to seize the momentum we have (from Game 5) and take it over into Game 6. It was fun playing that Game 5. That’s how we need to play. We had close to 50 shots, every line was rolling and we got some power-play goals. Hopefully we can get momentum tonight.”
It’s another potential elimination game for the Blackhawks. If they play like they did in their first one the other night, they’ll force another one on Wednesday.
“We talked in the morning, had a meeting ahead of practice little visit at the end of it. Our (attitude) was in the right place but it’s going to be a hard game tonight,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You don’t have to say too much right now anyway, but I like the focus.”
And DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose duly noted that the Wings want to "stay loose," but staying loose doesn't mean that the team will stop paying attention to game-winning details:
The Wings didn’t play very well Saturday in Game 5. The Blackhawks dominated from the opening faceoff and disrupted the Wings’ game plan. The Red Wings must return to what worked best between Game 2 and Game 4 of the series.
“I think it’s getting the puck out of our zone, battles along the boards, and you have to pinch down and take the body,” forward Drew Miller said. “We have to find a way to get the puck out. I think the offensive zone time, we didn’t have enough of it last game, so we have to find ways to get second and third chances instead of one-and-done.”
The Wings could definitely benefit from getting another solid game out of third-liners Joakim Andersson, Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist. The trio has accounted for six playoff goals, including three against the Blackhawks.
“That third line is supposed to win you the series. That’s what depth is all about,” Babcock said. “That’s what happened for Chicago and Anaheim in the regular season. Their third lines were better than everyone else’s. You get mismatches and you end up with your top group playing against somebody that’s not capable of playing against them. But because your third line’s good, the coach can play anybody against anybody.”
Setting the tone early in Game 6 can likely go a long way in deciding the outcome of tonight’s contest, Nyquist said.
“We have to come out hard and come out desperate. It’s a big game for us,” he said. “We’re playing at home and you know that they have to win to extend their season. We have a big game coming up, so it’s going to be a tight one, but we’re going to come out hard and get a couple of hits in and get the crowd going.”
Update #13: Per the Detroit News's Ted Kulan:
Gustav Nyquist knew about the Red Wings' octopus throwing tradition at Joe Louis Arena even back in Sweden.
"The octopus would come out when you scored here," Nyquist said. "I saw it on television. I thought it was pretty cool. Always a lot of fun, and it gets the crowd going."
Some Blackhawks have complained about the tradition, and defenseman Duncan Keith has even suggested the Red Wings should get a penalty. But Nyquist sees it as an opportunity to excite fans, just as the national anthem at United Center, where fans roar throughout the anthem.
"It works both ways," Nyquist said. "The crowd in Chicago during the anthem gets pretty rowdy and here it's the octopus. Every place has its own little thing. I like ours."
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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.