The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/27/13 at 02:30 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings don't necessarily have to win Game 6 tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks (8 PM EDT, NBCSN/CBC/97.1 FM, post-game on Fox Sports Detroit), but between dropping Game 5 in rather dreadful fashion and the fact that the Wings taught the Anaheim Ducks a stiff lesson about the fact that a "winner-take-all Game 7" situation is dangerous (never mind the fact that it would take place on Wednesday, a day after the Sharks and Kings settle their series), this game is as close to a must-win for a team still in command of its series as a Game 6 can get...
In no small part because the Chicago Blackhawks insist that they've got all the momentum and none of the pressure on their shoulders going into tonight's game, and because I believe that the Hawks believe a statement issued by CBS Chicago's Adam Hoge after Game 5:
An ugly win may have accomplished the short term goal of getting back to Detroit Monday, but the Blackhawks did much more than that Saturday night. They snatched back the momentum and reestablished themselves as the better team in this series.
After Duncan Keith snickered about his questioning of Al Sobotka's octopus-handling in Game 4 (you may read NHL.com's Brian Hedger's article on your own) and he and Bryan Bickell suggested (jokingly?) that the Wings should be penalized when octopi hit the ice (per MLive's Ansar Khan), the team 99% of the hockey world insisted would win this series brashly declared that they are now the underdogs who no one believes in, as the Edmonton Sun's Derek Van Diest noted:
“We played great (Saturday) night, and pressure’s on them to eliminate us,” said Blackhawks centre Andrew Shaw, prior to departing for Detroit. “They have their backs against the wall and we’re pushing back, so that makes us a dangerous team. Everyone thinks Detroit’s going to win the series. We have to push back, and we did a heck of a job at that last night.”
The Blackhawks were able to avoid elimination Saturday by pulling out a 4-1 victory in perhaps their best effort of the series. They scored a pair of power-play goals to invigorate a special teams unit that had been struggling.
“We moved the puck well, got shots and traffic and everyone was converging on the net,” said Shaw, who scored a power-play goal in the second period and added another in the third. “We hadn’t been in there in a while and they were getting tired and we just kept putting pucks at the net, kept (Jimmy) Howard deep in his net and it worked for us.”
Going back to Detroit, the Blackhawks are hoping to maintain the momentum gained in the victory. They realize the pressure now shifts to the Red Wings, who have one crack to win the series at home before the scene shifts back to Chicago for a decisive seventh game.
“I think we’re more confident now than we were before,” said Blackhawks winger Bryan Bickell. “To get that game at home and push it to Game 6 was important for us. But we need to have the same mindset as we did last game. It’s still do or die for us.”
“We have to have the same mentality going into this game,” said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. “Let’s have a purpose and don’t change much. We had two tough losses (at Joe Louis) in which we probably played the way we wanted to play, two really good road games. If you create those kind of chances on the road you find a way to win at least one. We have to earn our breaks and not change too much with how we played last time in there.”
We're going to switch things up and get videos out of the way early this time around, though the preponderance of auto-play videos mean that you're going to get more links than embedded video.
The Chicago Tribune posted clips of Shaw and Bickell's travel day comments, the Chicago Sun-Times posted clips of Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Hawks coach Joel Quenneville's comments, Comcast Sportsnet Chicago posted clips of Bickell, Quenneville and even Wings coach Mike Babcock's off-day comments, TSN posted a combined off-day report, a 2:09 clip of the Hawks' comments and the a Wings off-day report which includes comments from Babcock and Niklas Kronwall, and Fox 2's Sportsworks included a panel discussion in which Bob Wojnowski and Jamie Samuelssen weighed in on the series for over 5 minutes...
Via RedWingsFeed, if you wish to watch Bickell speak to ESPN Chicago...
Or Brent Seabrook speaking to the press...
But WXYZ did file an off-day report in which Babcock, Justin Abdelkader and Henrik Zetterberg make appearances...
The Detroit Free Press's George Sipple took note of comments made by Justin Abdelkader and Henrik Zetterberg...
And the Windsor Star's Bob Duff posted a 3:46 clip of Abdelkader speaking with the media:
Heading back to text, the Northwest Herald's Tom Musick bought into the Hawks' "all the pressure is on the Wings" line...
Forget the fact that the Hawks had the best team in the NHL during the regular season, posting a 24-game point streak and clinching the Presidents’ Trophy with 77 points in 48 games. Forget the fact that approximately 37 Hawks players and coaches have been named as finalists for league awards, including Quenneville as a finalist for the NHL’s top coach. Forget all of that because the Wings, once with a 3-1 edge, are the ones with the most to lose.
“The pressure is on them to eliminate us,” Hawks forward Andrew Shaw said. “They kind of have our backs against the wall, and we’re pushing back. It makes us a dangerous team.”
Well, that, along with talented core players and depth players who showed their skills in Game 5.
“I think we’re going to have the same mentality we did going into [Game 5],” Quenneville said. “Let’s be ready to play. Let’s have some energy. Let’s get off to a great start. Let’s be physical. Let’s have a purpose and don’t change much.”
And as far as ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers is concerned, this Western Conference Semifinal STARTS tonight, with the Wings having no momentum and the Hawks having no real momentum as the series re-sets with everything even(?):
“I don’t think too much about it,” Duncan Keith said Sunday before leaving for Detroit. “We felt like we had most of the momentum much of last game, it’s up to us to recapture that momentum early on in the game and go from there.”
As well as the Hawks played on Saturday night, there is nothing in that game that says they’ve figured something out about the Red Wings. They were simply due for some breaks. That is if they brought the same effort and intensity they had in Game 4 or even Game 3. They worked hard and finally were rewarded on the power play and five-on-five. And to believe Detroit was going to win four in a row against the Hawks was something most people didn’t think could happen -- and it didn’t.
“We’re a little more confident than we were,” Bryan Bickell said. “But we need the same mindset as last game. It’s still do or die for us. … That last game, we kind of got back to where we needed to be.”
There is one X factor. His name is Andrew Shaw. For all we know he’ll be a non-factor, or even worse, he’ll revert back to his penalty-filled ways. But if he has found the right level of play, he’s the one guy who could carry over his Game 5 success for the rest of the series. He learned where that line he could creep up to was -- as long as he doesn’t go over it.
“Just have to be calm and be physical and go to the net, and good things will come of it,” Shaw said.
It sounds like he has figured things out, but he has to prove it one or two more times. Naturally, there are other factors that could determine the outcome, like an off night for a goaltender or a penalty-filled game for one team or the other. But based on pure momentum, there is no edge other than the game being played in Detroit.
“Sure if we win the next game they’re going to have a little bit of pressure that they didn’t close it out and we’re going back to our building,” Keith said. “You can look at it a bunch of ways. At the end of the day we’re trying to win, so are they.”
"We know we just have to go in there and win one game," Keith said Sunday. "We're not looking at it like we have to win two games, we're looking at it like we have to win one and that starts (Monday night).
"They're trying to close us out, we're trying to win a hockey game and tie up the series," he added. "I don't really look at it any more than that."
The fact the Hawks staved off elimination with their 4-1 win in Game 5 on Saturday night was one thing, but the way they went about it was another. The Hawks dominated the Wings in all facets to clobber a team that had won three in a row to take control of the series.
"Through those three games we lost in a row, it wasn't too promising on the momentum side, but to get that win and get that confidence back and momentum on our side going into (Game 6) is going to be important," winger Bryan Bickell said. "We have to take it shift by shift, period by period and we just need to bring it like we did (Saturday night). That's our game," he added. "The 'D' corps to everybody (was) clicking and everybody was on the rush. We had control of the game. When we do that we're a hard team to beat. Confidence goes a long way in playoffs. We just need to build off it."
The Hawks are playing with a sense of desperation, not panic. They believe they have turned the tables and the Wings now are the team facing pressure knowing if they don't win at home, it's up for grabs.
"The pressure is on them to eliminate us," Hawks forward Andrew Shaw said. "They kind of have our backs against the wall and we're pushing back. That makes us a dangerous team."
“I think we were just relaxed,” Bryan Bickell said. “We had nothing to lose and we just went out and played hockey. Guys during the game just said ‘work hard for each other. Have fun.’ It worked for us.”
And again, the Hawks insist that there is no such thing as home-ice advantage for Detroit, as they told the Chicago Daily Herald's Tim Sassone:
"I don't think there's any difference other than the crowd's cheering for them," Keith said. "It's just like any other building. It's a fun place to play. Good atmosphere. They're a good team. They play hard, and we need to be ready like we were the last game."
"There are so many different ways to look at it. At the end of the day for me, we have to go in there and play our best game. It's nothing more than that. We could go in there and think we have the momentum and we don't show up to play, we're not going to win. We need to show up, have that do-or-die mentality with everybody going for it."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville tinkered with his forward lines and defense pairings in Game 5, and they worked. He put Keith and Brent Seabrook back together, and Seabrook responded with his best game of the playoffs. Quenneville also put Toews back with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, which he has been known to do in desperate times.
"I think we're going to have the same mentality we did going into (Saturday) night's game," Quenneville said. "Let's be ready to play. Let's have some energy. Let's get off to a great start. Let's be physical. Let's have a purpose and don't change much."
Quenneville did admit to the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus that he's going to have a harder time getting Toews away from Henrik Zetterberg's line at the Joe...
As the home team in Game 5, the Blackhawks had the luxury of making the last line change after whistles. That allowed coach Joel Quenneville to keep Jonathan Toews away from Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg, who has hounded the Hawks’ captain all series. Back at Joe Louis Arena for Game 6, the Hawks won’t have that advantage.
“It’s an ongoing challenge,” Quenneville said.
Quenneville matched his new-look second line, featuring Michal Handzus centering Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa — a line with a good mix of size, savvy and skill — against Zetterberg’s line. It’s a matchup the physical Bickell enjoyed, and one he hopes can continue even on the road.
“I hope so; I think our matchups were good for us,” Bickell said. “But they have the last change. I know Q is going to be trying to match it up. But, yeah, I enjoy playing against those guys. They’re skilled, and we just need to be physical against them.”
On an individual basis, the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc believes that Johan Franzen and Bryan Bickell serve as tonight's marquee match-up, but I'd argue that the Wings' defense--all six of 'em--need to match the dominant play of a reunited Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, which paid off in spades for the Hawks, as NHL.com's Brian Hedger noted:
He delivered a crushing hit on Detroit forward Damien Brunner to help set the tone of the game, made crisp passes to Blackhawks forwards for rushes up the ice and logged 23:20 over 31 shifts. He also launched seven of Chicago's 45 shots on goal and picked up his first playoff point with a secondary assist on Andrew Shaw's power-play marker in the second period.
"It was nice [to see]," said Keith, who collected a pair of assists. "He's a good teammate, a good guy and I've played with him for a long time. It's always nice to play with him, have that comfort and the fact you know where he's going to be. I thought he played good considering he was coming off not playing very much. It's tough to do that – not physically, but mentally – and he did a great job."
Quenneville told the Chicago Daily Herald's Sassone that he was very happy to see the "pissed off" Seabrook respond:
"You've got to commend Seabs," Quenneville said. "I think he was excited about the opportunity and prepared himself well. They have such a great rapport, him and Duncs, in all areas of their lives. I think that support on the other side helps him. I thought right off the bat he got some good hits, and it was good to see him bounce back."
Seabrook told the Chicago Tribune's Kuc that he was happy to play up to his standards and take on a familiar level of responsibility for the Hawks' win...
"I've always had a lot of responsibility and played in key situations and been against their team's top line and felt I did a good job over the years," the veteran added. "That was my job. (Jonathan) Toews scores goals and (Patrick) Kane makes passes and scores goals. I'm the shutdown guy, physical guy who made it tough on team's top players. That's the role I love and take pride in and when I come to the rink that's the role I want to play."
Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Myers quantified his Game 5 performance...
Seabrook played just over 23 minutes, his highest TOI since Game 1 against Minnesota, had two hits and tied for a team-high seven shots in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 victory over the Red Wings on Saturday. It was a strong performance from Seabrook, who was paired with his familiar partner Duncan Keith. Whether it was that reunion or Seabrook just finding his game again, it worked.
As did ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers...
Months later, Quenneville was looking again for something to change, and he found it again as Seabrook had one of his best games of the playoffs while contributing an assist, two hits, seven shots on goal and major minutes on the power play and penalty kill in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 win in Game 5 on Saturday. He finished with 23:20 of ice time, which was second only to Keith’s 23:48.
But there's also context to take into account. While Seabrook told the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash he's feeling very confident about his team's chances going into tonight's game...
‘‘We were confident with our game last night. we were happy with how we played,’’ Seabrook said. ‘‘And it’s something you’ve got to forget about and just get focused and ready to play [Monday] night. We’re going to go in there and try to play the same way. We had a good start to the game and were able to play like that and roll and we’re going to have to continue to try and harness that [Monday] night and play with that passion and that excitement and go out there.’’
And the Chicago Daily Herald's Mike Spellman noted that Keith and Seabrook re-ignited the Hawks' power play, which went 2-for-3 on Saturday (and you may read Spellman's Q and A with Hawks color commentator Troy Murray on your own):
Now that the Jonathan Toews' goal-scoring drought is over, can the problems on the power play be on the same track after the Hawks' scored twice on the man advantage Saturday?
"I don't know," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We've used a lot of different units and a lot of different strategies. We had some guys in position to shoot the puck. That's what we were doing. I think when you get those shots, it creates stuff, lots of chances off of a shot."
The Northwest Herald's Tom Musick noted that Corey Crawford played very well in Game 5, too:
Not forgotten: Corey Crawford also drew praise from his coach for playing well in Game 5, when he stopped 25 of 26 shots to win his sixth game of the playoffs.
“He’s been solid all playoffs,” Quenneville said. “ ‘Crow’ has been rock-solid for us. He’s made key saves at key times in games [and] gives us a chance to win.”
Crawford has a 1.66 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in the playoffs.
Shifting focus back to the Blackhawks as a team, only the Chicago Sun-Times' Lazerus questioned whether the Hawks' pulling of the underdog card will pay off:
What matters is whether the Hawks believe it. And can use it. Because whatever was going through their minds during a thoroughly dominant Game 5 performance — whatever sparked their stagnant offense, whatever triggered their more physical play, whatever woke up their dormant power play — worked. And if telling themselves they’re playing with house money at this point is what it takes, what does it matter if it’s true or not?
“I thought, going into the game, the approach was really good around the room,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “As far as pressure, no pressure. It was up to us to just play. We did a lot of good things, and that’s how we have to continue to play.’’
Of course, playing loose at home is one thing. Playing that way at Joe Louis Arena, where the funky boards and insolent posts — not to mention the Detroit forecheck — have been most unkind to the Hawks, is entirely different. The Hawks won twice in Detroit during the regular season, including a 7-1 laugher, but dropped Games 3 and 4 there, putting them in this predicament in the first place.
The Hawks made crisper passes in Game 5 than they did in the two games at the Joe. They freed up Jonathan Toews from Henrik Zetterberg by having the last line change. They stretched the Wings through the neutral zone to open up the offense. They even got a few favorable bounces and were clearly energized in the early going by a tense but raucous crowd.
“They got some favorable bounces with their old boards and the home ice, but we just have to have the same mind-set that we did coming into the last game,” Bickell said of playing in Detroit.
Leave it to wily veteran Duncan Keith to be the voice of reason, however. He dismissed the idea of being an underdog, dismissed the idea of having a psychological edge, dismissed the idea of having 20,000 screaming Red Wings fans (and a stray airborne octopus or two) having any real impact on the on-ice chess match.
“I don’t think there’s any difference other than the crowd’s cheering for them,” he said. “It’s just like any other building. Fun place to play. Good atmosphere.”
NHL.com's Hedger's game preview will only partially shift our focus from the Blackhawks' perspectives to those of the Red Wings...
Red Wings [team scope]: They know that if it’s required, winning a seventh game on the road is possible after beating the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center to close out their Western Conference Quarterfinal series. Still, the Red Wings would much prefer to end this series on Monday and make their next flight to one of two destinations in California for the start of the conference finals. There is no guarantee they could overcome the swell of momentum Chicago would have heading into a deciding game on its home ice – even with a hot goalie (Jimmy Howard), a couple of talented youngsters (Damien Brunner, Gustav Nyquist) and superstar forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
“It's way harder on your psyche when you play well and you get thrashed,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We weren't very good, period [in Game 5]. We skated better than in Game 1, but it was a lot like Game 1. They were good and we were watching."
Blackhawks [team scope]: They’re saying all the right things, talking about focusing only on Monday’s game and taking it one shift at a time, but the Blackhawks’ have to be secretly thrilled at the prospect of forcing a Game 7 at the United Center. That would not only shift almost all of the pressure toward the Red Wings, but also set up one of the crazier nights in team history at United Center. The cavernous building already rocks and rolls when fans are juiced up, but a Game 7 National Anthem against Detroit might bring the decibel levels as close as they could possibly get to the old Chicago Stadium that was located just across Madison Street. If that’s not further motivation to win Game 6, the Blackhawks should probably go see a doctor to have their pulses checked.
“The pressure is on them to eliminate us,” rookie center Andrew Shaw said, a day after potting two goals in Game 5. “They kind of have our backs against the wall and we’re pushing back and that makes us a dangerous team. Everyone thinks Detroit’s going to take the series, and the pressure is kind of off us. We’ve just got to go out there and push back, and we did a heck of a job of it last night.”
Because the Vancouver Sun's Cam Cole noted that both teams' coaches are engaging in a battle to manage their personnel in such a manner as to achieve the best results, and Quenneville's one-upped Mike Babcock in Games 4 and 5:
“The reality is, it’s a race to four,” said Babcock. “You’ve got to put teams away, they’re not going away. It’s not like they’ve got a holiday booked somewhere they gotta get to. They’re competing to stay in it. We thought we had done a pretty good job expressing that prior to the game, but obviously in our play it didn’t show.”
Moreover, Quenneville had the benefit of home ice, and hence the last line change, enabling Toews to escape Zetterberg to a great extent. As for putting Seabrook back with Keith ...
“The problem really wasn’t on the back end, it was production,” Quenneville said Sunday. “Reuniting those two, our overall pairs, may get more offence from them. But defensively we’ve been fine.”
It wasn’t intended, he said, to send a message. Only sort of.
“I think at this stage of the game it’s who deserves to play and who’s playing well. The better you play, the more you get,” he said. “Sometimes it’s matchups, sometimes you want to max out each individual. There are a lot of things that weigh in with ice time and how much, and usually it’s merit. It’s critical. Regular season’s the regular season. Playoffs are a different animal.”
And so, Monday it is Babcock’s turn. Will he put his forward lines in the blender? Demote Jonathan Ericsson to a lower rung on the defensive ladder because of his tanglefooted Game 5 performance, when he looked like a young Bambi taking his first steps? Or stay the course, which is the usual way of the Wings?
“You mean put different people in?” Babcock said, asked about potential changes for Game 6. “No chance.”
“When the game got going and they were playing better than us, they could play anybody against anybody,” he said. “It’s great that they played good, but it didn’t have anything to do with us. We didn’t do anything. I’m not trying to take anything away from Chicago. We got to play harder, more desperate, more organized, more detail-oriented. We weren’t a very good hockey team.”
NHL.com's Corey Masisak took note of the Wings' desire to "regain momentum" this evening...
"We would have liked to be better, but it's a work in progress," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said Sunday at Joe Louis Arena. "We've got a chance to make something happen, do better tomorrow. We have to learn from past experience and move on and we're in good shape."
"You've got to put teams away, they're not going away," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "It's not like they got a holiday booked somewhere that they've got to get to. They're competing to stay in it. I thought that was evident and it was a real good message for our team. We thought we had done a pretty good job expressing that prior to the game, but obviously in our play it didn't show."
For the members of this Red Wings team who have competed in every conceivable situation, Saturday's loss was more than just a lost opportunity. It was a challenge.
"In the first round, we had one bad one, one good one, one bad one, one good one, one bad one, and then we finishes off with two good ones. We've just got to find a way to come back and play good," Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "We know we can do it. We've just got to play the way we want to, within our structure. I think we’ve learned a lot this playoffs. We've been finding a way to come back from playing bad and have a good game."
"It's way harder on your psyche when you play well and you get thrashed," Babcock said. "We weren't very good -- period. We skated better than in Game 1, but it was a lot like Game 1. They were good and we were watching."
And the AP's Larry Lage's game preview took note of the fact that the Wings admitted that they'd bumped into and fell off their playoff learning curve:
"We'd like to take care of business," Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader said Sunday. "We've just got to play desperate."
Seventh-seeded Detroit leads the series 3-2, putting the Red Wings a win away from advancing to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009 to face the winner of the Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks matchup. The NHL's top-seeded Blackhawks are counting on staving off elimination in Joe Louis Arena and making Game 7 necessary on Wednesday night in the Windy City. With a 4-1 win Saturday night, the Blackhawks extended the series by at least another game.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock lamented that his team did nothing well in Game 5, saying the coaching staff and players wasted their first chance to advance against a talented and determined team.
"You got to put teams away, they're not going away," Babcock said. "It's not like they got a holiday booked somewhere they got to get to. They're competing to stay in it. I thought that was evident and it was a real good message for our team. We got to play harder, more desperate, more organized, more detail-oriented. We weren't a very good hockey team."
This is where I want to start the Red Wings' narrative...
The Red Wings will have the benefit of making the last change because they're at home and they'll have fans cheering for them, but Babcock said both of those facts are advantages only if the team is having success.
"When you play well in front of your home crowd, they got something to cheer about and they can help you along," he said. "When you don't play well, there's not much they can do for you."
Save this tidbit from USA Today's Kevin Allen:
The Blackhawks have lost eight consecutive playoff games in Detroit over the past 20 years.
There is no doubt that the Wings need to take away the Hawks' time and space and get back to playing stifling defensive hockey while also taking the puck back and employing a balanced puck possession game (via quicker transition passes out of their zone, speed through the neutral zone and sustained possession and control in the offensive zone) to back the Hawks off and finally start forechecking the Hawks.
There is no doubt that the Wings need to both remove the traffic and easy back-door-tap-ins from Jimmy Howard's doorstep and return to placing butts in front of Corey Crawford. That won't happen if Johan Franzen, Daniel Cleary and Justin Abdelkader step up their play, and in Abdelkader's case, stay out of the penalty box.
There is no doubt that Henrik Zetterberg's got to start winning faceoffs again--Michal Handzus has owned Z in the faceoff circle--and that Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Filppula, the Nyquist-Andersson-Brunner line, the aforementioned players and even the Miller-Emmerton-Eaves line must step up their offensive and defensive games.
All of the Wings' defenders, from Kronwall and Ericsson to Kindl (he was the only Wing who put pucks on net Saturday), Colaiacovo, Quincey and Smith have to play smarter and simpler in terms of getting pucks out of their own zone and helping the forwards retain possession and control in the offensive zone, and they need to stop chasing the puck and do a better job of moving Bickell, Shaw et. al. from Howard's sightlines.
EVERYBODY needs to skate harder, stop sticking their sticks into puck battles and gain body position instead, the Wings must play with more discipline both between and after whistles, they need to grind on the Hawks and they need to support each other, providing defensive and offensive passing outlets and working much harder to win one-on-one and group-on-group battles for the puck, all while skating as 5-man units instead of a couple of forwards cheating toward offense and defensemen skating so far apart that the Hawks can chip breakaway passes behind them. Sticks and skates must fill passing and shooting lanes and shots and passes can't be half-assed.
And Jimmy Howard has to shake off a bad game in which he was valiant but gave up goals in traffic and on rebounds, working harder to push people out of his field of vision (without taking penalties) and doing a better job of staying in position to stifle the Hawks' second and third chances.
But the Wings would like their crowd to help them push through the Hawks tonight, too, as they told DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose:
“When you play well in front of your home crowd, they got something to cheer about and they can help you along,” coach Mike Babcock said Sunday afternoon. “When you don't play well, there's not much they can do for you. We like to play at home, we're comfortable here. We're excited that they're excited to support us. We've done a real good job of getting our group excited again about the Red Wings because we're a much different group than we have been.”
Facing elimination before their home fans, the Blackhawks played with urgency that helped them extend the Western Conference semifinal series with a 4-1 victory at the United Center. Now it’s the Red Wings’ turn. The players feel the same urgency to finish the best-of-seven series before their home crowd, which traditionally is one of the loudest buildings in the league.
“A lot of guys have played deep into the playoffs when it gets really loud, but I will say that the loudness that it’s been … the first round of the playoffs,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We’re really looking forward to tomorrow and we know it’s going to be loud again. We want to play a good game for them.”
The Red Wings are 4-1 at home in the postseason. Since the start of April, they are 8-1-1 at home while outscoring their opponents 29-19.
Fans have always gotten behind the Red Wings at playoff time. However, success has led to complacency over the years, and The Joe hasn’t always been at its loudest over the last decade. In the last few years though it seems that the crowds at JLA have gotten younger and definitely more boisterous, especially at key moments of the game or when arena manager Al Sobokta picks up an octopus that’s been tossed from the stands, then gives the cephalopod a vigorous twirl over his head to incite the Wings’ faithful.
“Our fan base is incredible, has been for so many years,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “But I will say the atmosphere in the building here of late has been phenomenal, even throughout the year. It's been taken to another step it feels like.”
Even Wings GM Ken Holland weighed in on the importance of the Wings spectators' participation in giving the Wings home-ice advantage while speaking with MLive's Ansar Khan:
"The crowd is into it from the get-go,'' general manager Ken Holland said. “The last three minutes of Game 4 (vs. Chicago), the people were on their feet cheering us on. When we were a favorite it's a little different feeling because maybe they were nervous or tense. Now, because we're the underdog, it's a little different scenario and our crowd has been electric and passionate and energetic and very, very vocal.''
The Red Wings don't want to disappoint or risk Monday being the final home game. They must improve in virtually all areas after a 4-1 loss Saturday in Game 5.
“We got to play harder, more desperate, more organized, more detail-oriented,'' Babcock said. “We've just got to be harder to play against. We got to skate better, we've got to want the puck more, we got to execute better. They were quicker than us all over.''
Holland said the crowd has played a key role in helping the team make the playoffs and advance past the first round.
“Sometimes there's a little lull or a sag and the other team's pushing,'' Holland said. “When you hear your crowd cheering you on, that energy goes onto the bench and it only takes a shift or two and you can turn the momentum of a game. Our fans understand it's a different team, a younger team. As we've made the push down the stretch, I'm sure they've enjoyed watching the evolution of this team, and we got a lot of players who are probably going to be here for a number of years.''
The Wings received mostly good news regarding Kronwall given that Bryan Bickell tried to knock him into June in Game 5, with Kronwall insisting to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness that he'd bounce back on Monday...
“You get a little bumps and bruises along the way, this is just part of it,” Kronwall said. “You take some and you deliver some. That’s part of the game.”
Kronwall said he saw Bickell coming and tried to hold onto the puck before sending it to Henrik Zetterberg.
“A lot of times when you hit, you put yourself in a bad spot,” Kronwall said. “I got caught in a bit of a bad spot there.”
But Kronwall's been wearing a hard plastic protector on his top hand glove for the past 6 weeks or so, and MLive's Ansar Khan noted that Kronwall's right hand was wrapped in tape on Sunday afternoon:
Kronwall said on Sunday that he is fine and good to go for Game 6 Monday at Joe Louis Arena, despite having his right hand wrapped, which might have been like that for a while.
“You get a little bumps and bruises along the way,'' Kronwall said. “This is just part of it.''
He said you take some and you deliver some. It's part of the game.
“I saw him coming,'' Kronwall said. “I just tried to hold onto the puck for as long as I could before I gave it to (Henrik Zetterberg), so that guy couldn't jump Hank. A lot of times when you hit you put yourself in a bad spot. I got caught in a bit of a bad spot there.''
Said Zetterberg: "There will be physical hits in the playoffs. Kronner’s one guy that will play through that. I have no worries about him. He’s a fighter. I don’t think he feels that bad today. I’m sure there will be good hits again tomorrow.''
Another individual weighed in on his team's effort on Saturday while speaking to the Windsor Star's Bob Duff...
“We were tentative and kind of set back,” Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader said.
They can’t be like that again in Game 6, because then, the only setback facing the Wings will be playoff elimination. If would be foolhardy for them to think they could skate into the United Center after letting the Blackhawks get back up and expect to skate away with a Game 7 victory. That’s why for the Wings, they must approach the next game as if it were Game 7.
“I think we have to,” Abdelkader said. “We’re back home and we’ve played good here in the playoffs. We’ve just got to get back to playing the way we have for most of the playoffs.”
But Abdelkader also told Fox Sports Detroit's Art Regner that he's got to suck it up in the discipline department:
“This is the time of year where everyone is excited," he said. "Everyone is trying to do what they can to try and help their team. You’ve definitely got to keep your emotions in check. Refs are looking to even things up all the time and call penalties against guys for whatever reason, so you’ve got to keep your head and play between the whistles.”
“I’ve got to be smart about that (going after Dave Bolland after he took a shot at Pavel Datsyuk). He tries to bait guys into penalties. That’s how he plays. He tries to play on the edge.”
In terms of playing the match-up game, Babcock told MLive's Ansar Khan that he's not going to alter his lineup, and the Wings' captain offered a wise remark about the player-jarring lack of continuity that over-matching can present:
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was disappointed in his team's performance on Saturday, but it won't prompt him to make any lineup changes for Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals Monday at Joe Louis Arena.
“You mean put different people in?'' Babcock said. “No chance.''
Babcock made several lineup changes throughout the first round against the Anaheim Ducks, but only one against the Chicago Blackhawks, inserting Drew Miller for Todd Bertuzzi after Game 1. He likes his lineup. They just have to play much better than they did in their 4-1 loss in Game 5.
“I knew it during the game, but when I watched it here this morning and on the plane, we weren't very good,'' Babcock said. “They were much more competitive than us, much quicker than us, way more desperate. We were poor.''
Asked about the possibility of reuniting Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Babcock said, “We did that last night (later in the game) and it was no good. Was that just because the game was over? I don't know the answer to that. They've been really good together in the playoffs. We've had them apart and they've been really good. They're going to be really good no matter how we play them.''
Said Zetterberg: “It’s easier to control the match up when you have home ice. We’ll have it tomorrow and we’ll see what Coach wants to do. I think sometimes you can coach a little bit too much and try to match up too much, but I think also when you have a chance to have the last change, you should take advantage of it.''
Babcock also told the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa that relying on the last change as an equalizer tends to bite teams in the ass:
Back in Detroit tonight, Babcock is likely to want Toews covered by Zetterberg, one of the great two-way players in the game, whose defensive work is more evident in the arenas than on television, because much of it occurs off-camera.
But matching up can be overrated, especially when one team plays much better than the other.
"When the game got going and they were way better than us, they could play anybody against anybody," Babcock said. "The whole key to matchups is when you're playing real good and they're playing real good, you probably get what you want, either way. When you're not playing good and they're playing real good, they get to do whatever they want."
In "the spirit of the thing" vein, the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan offered 5 keys to the Wings winning tonight, including the following...
POWER UP: The Red Wings were 0-for-4 on the power play Saturday and are now 1-for-19 in the series. Chances to get on the scoreboard in the first half of Game 5 on the power play went nowhere.
If the Red Wings can get one early in Game 6, in a game where goals could be at a premium, it could go a long way toward winning and advancing.
HOWARD VS. CRAWFORD: The goaltending matchup is always a key, and now as we get into the most crucial games of the series, it's especially so. Corey Crawford was good when he had to be in Game 5, while Jimmy Howard stood tall as much as he could while facing 45 shots.
Howard doesn't have any problems facing that many shots. But it's likely best for the Red Wings to keep the Blackhawks under 45 shots on net in order to win Game 6.
Crawford still is leaving some juicy rebounds. The Red Wings just have to get to those spots on the ice.
The Detroit Free Press's Evil Drew Sharp takes the blustery cake with a column questioning whether the Wings have "the stuff of champions" (while still questioning whether Jimmy Howard can deliver for the Wings come playoff time):
Daniel Cleary perhaps phrased it best in the aftermath of Game 5: Pressure isn’t exclusively reserved for the team facing elimination. There’s equal pressure on the team looking for the knockout punch.
OK, it’s clichéd. But it’s nonetheless appropriate for Game 6. Even though the Wings don’t need it, they must have this game.
The Wings played Game 5 in Chicago Saturday night as though they were invited guests to a coronation — their own. They stood around, waiting for the sounding of the trumpets and the presentation of the royal adornments. And when they finally realized that nobody was giving them anything despite having won three straight games, it was too late.
It was yet another educational experience for the youngsters.
Everybody was patting them on the back after taking a 3-1 series lead on the top-seeded Blackhawks. The legions of doubters prior to this series were on their knees begging for forgiveness. But they have to learn that the moment you’re most comfortable is the time when you have to ramp up the intensity to its highest level.
Nothing is given, especially when you’re close enough to touch it. It must be taken with force.
And the Detroit News's John Niyo took a slightly less heavy-handed approach to wondering whether a younger, more inexperienced team has the resolve to not allow itself to be intimidated as well as out-worked and out-played into elimination:
Lower-seeded teams are 27-1 all-time in this round of the Stanley Cup playoffs when grabbing a 3-1 series lead. And the Wings have won the last 11 playoff series in which they've gone up 3-1, a streak that goes back all the way to 1991 — the first of their 22 consecutive postseason berths.
So history suggests they've still got this one locked up, even after Saturday night's clunker in Chicago. In fact, in those 11 previous 3-1 scenarios, the Wings were under .500 (5-6) in Game 5, with all sorts of forgettable flops — a 6-0 shutout loss to Patrick Roy in Colorado in 1997, Jamie Langenbrunner's 70-foot OT softie on Chris Osgood in '98, even the triple-OT loss to Pittsburgh in the '08 Cup Finals. But they were 6-0 in the Game 6s that followed, never allowing a series to get to a winner-take-all seventh game.
Point is, this series shift is nothing new. Except it is for some of the Wings who are relatively new to all this playoff pressure.
"It is a learning experience," Babcock said. "Anyone who has been in the league a long time knows how hard it is to close a team out. And anyone who hasn't probably is a little surprised."
And not surprisingly, some of the playoff rookies played like it Saturday.
"Well, they weren't very good last night," Babcock said, though he wasn't fond of the way some of his veterans played, either. "They've been good through the playoffs. Now is that (inexperience) part of it? Hindsight's great. It's a real good thing. Prior did I expect that? No. Did we all want the puck all the time? No. Why?"
Well, the coach left that last one unanswered, finishing instead with, "Let's get it fixed."
The Wings believe that they're going to rebound and respond tonight, but Babcock readily admitted to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness that better preparation and better execution must originate from the coaching staff...
“Don’t get me wrong, now that we’re here, this is our opportunity,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said Sunday. “Before Game 5, that was our opportunity and we dropped the ball. We didn’t have our best. We need to be better. We didn’t have enough guys on deck.”
The Wings had won three in a row in the series, outscoring Chicago 9-2 in the process, before suffering the defeat in the first close-out game of the series.
“As a coaching staff, we didn’t get the job done and the group of players didn’t get the job done,” Babcock said. “We weren’t good enough. We weren’t even close. Let’s get our minds right, much more so than our bodies right, and be prepared to execute and be desperate. We were tentative. I thought we were tight. I don’t know why.”
“When you’ve been through it a whole bunch, I think the reality is it’s a race to four,” said Babcock, who will go with the same lineup he has used since Game 2. “You’ve got to put teams away, they’re not going away. It’s not like they got a holiday booked somewhere they got to get to. They’re competing to stay in it. I thought that was evident and it was a real good message for our team. We thought we had done a pretty good job expressing that prior to the game, but obviously in our play it didn’t show. We talked about that and more so, we talked about what we have to do.
“It’s great that they played good, but it didn’t have anything to do with us,” Babcock continued. “We didn’t do anything. I’m not trying to take anything away from Chicago. We’ve got to play harder, more desperate, more organized, more detail-oriented. We weren’t a very good hockey team.”
But the Wings' players promised to back their coach up, as Zetterberg told the Detroit Free Press's George Sipple...
“We just gotta find a way to come back and play good,” Zetterberg said. “We know we can do it. We just gotta play the way we want to and play within a structure.”
And the Detroit News's ever-thorough Gregg Krupa, who noted comments made by Zetterberg, Kronwall (who suggests that the Wings must play desperate to give themselves an "honest chance" of winning) and Justin Abdelkader, all while tying said comments into the psychology of "resiliency":
"We know we've got to play a better game and we're prepared to do that," [Zetterberg] said. "And, you know, we went through everything here today, and we just got to go out and have a good start and away we go."
How does a team relax, with so much at stake — especially a young team relatively inexperienced in the playoffs, Zetterberg was asked.
"To play more loose, I think it starts when we talk to each other out there," he said. "And you want the puck all the time and do not turn your back against the guy, you front the guy. And most of the time when you execute for the first pass it makes it a lot easier."
Few of the Red Wings skated at all Sunday. There was a lot of work in the weights and exercise rooms and some extensive work with the soccer ball in the concourse outside the dressing room. Zetterberg, Nicklas Kronwall and Justin Abdelkader seemed loose talking to reporters.
"You know, we feel good. We feel confident," Zetterberg said. "We're not happy with the way we played the last game. But we played good before and we've just got to bounce back and have a good one tomorrow."
The process of bouncing back takes on a familiar pattern for the Red Wings, Zetterberg said.
"It starts with preparation before the game and warm-ups and the first couple of shifts," he said. "And if you get a good start, it helps. We just got to find a way here to come back and play good. And we know we can do it. But we just got to play the way we want to, play within the structure. If we do that, we're better. I think we learned a lot this playoffs. We've found a way to come back when we've played bad to have a good game, and tomorrow we're going to do that again."
I certainly hope so, because the Red Wings are playing a team whose firepower they simply cannot match...And when you're out-gunned, sometimes the best thing you can do is get as close to your opponent as possible...and knife them.
I used "knifing" for more than the reference to Cowboy Bebop's "Pierrot Le Fou" episode: at this point in the series, these teams hate each other, and the Wings need to utilize that dislike to their advantage. Knifing, per Merriam-Webster, can indicate the following...
to try to defeat by underhanded means
And the Wings have to do whatever's necessary to take out the most arrogant, self-important "underdogs" they've ever faced.
Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: The Detroit Free Press's George Sipple provides an update regarding the status of Danny DeKeyser...
Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser is wearing a plastic brace around his broken right thumb. He had a cast removed Wednesday. He said he isn’t ready for slap shots yet.
“I can kind of take some wrist shots,” DeKeyser said. “Can’t really wind up and take a slapper yet. Just want to be able to do that before I get out there."
If the Red Wings were to reach the Stanley Cup finals, DeKeyser said there’s a chance he could be available.
And Ryan Sproul spoke to the Sault Star's Peter Ruicci about being named the CHL's Defenseman of the Year--in addition to being named the Ontario Hockey League's defenseman of the year at the end of April:
“I really don't know what to say,” said the 20-year-old Mississauga, Ont., native, who was named the Canadian Hockey League's defenceman of the year for 2012-2013 on Saturday.
The award was one of several presented as part of the Memorial Cup festivities at the Remai Arts Centre in Saskatoon, Sask.
“There aren't really words to describe how excited I am and how honoured I am,” said Sproul, who became the first player in Hounds franchise history to win the award, initially presented following the 1987-88 season.
Asked how thrilled he is, Sproul said: “Extremely. This is absolutely the biggest honour of my junior career, by far.”
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