The Malik Report
Red Wings-Blackhawks Game 7 set-up: players will thoroughly enjoy tonight’s game. Fans? Not so much.
by George Malik on 05/29/13 at 02:35 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings will face off against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the teams' second-round series tonight (8 PM EDT, NBCSN/CBC/97.1 FM, with a post-game show on Fox Sports Detroit), and as I'm writing this, a slate of moderate-to-severe thunderstorms are lighting up the night and drenching Metro Detroit with rain.
They're rolling over Southeastern Michigan having originated in Chicago, and if we are to believe the betting odds, the experts and those who've deemed Michal Frolik's "historical" penalty shot call to be a brave and ballsy one, the mighty Blackhawks have regained their 2010 Stanley Cup Championship form, and on ice torn up by Tuesday's Rolling Stones and subject to an 83-to-85-degree day's worth of sticky, rainy weather outside the Madhouse on Madison, the Blackhawks will beat the odds and roll over the Wings like the storms are socking Southeastern Michigan, with the White Sox and Cubs in attendance, no less.
Hell, the Hawks' press had some giggles with Rolling Stones-themed questions and a hearty chuckle about the fact that the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News went with the same headline after Game 6--"Uh oh!"
I'm gonna be blunt here: I'm an angry and sniffly blogger this morning. I cannot deny that the Windsor Star's Bob Duff's suggestion that "Cinderella has lost her slipper" offered sound hockey analysis wrapped in a slightly cheesy metaphor, but as someone who's been immersed in the press's takes on the Wings and Hawks' performances over the past two mostly sleepless weeks (thus the sniffles) and the lack of updates to the off-day post (sorry), the biased Wings fan that lurks inside me can't help but feel that the Wings have gone from being praised as a rebuilding-on-the-fly team that isn't going away to something of a cute novelty that's taking an inevitable, playoff-ending fall against a team that's not just deeper and more talented, but is flat-out-out-classing Detroit.
That pisses me off. Thankfully, the coin flip that is Game 7 is one in which all the stats the NHL tossed toward us can be thrown out the window, and if "the better team" is out-worked and out-competed and even out-fluky-bounced over the course of 60-plus minutes of play, all the talent and skill in the world can wind up being worth jack shit.
And, for the record, I don't buy the concept that, "Game 7 is the pinnacle of professional sporting spectacle." It might be the most exciting "story" for those who don't have a rooting interest, but for most fans, it's utterly terrifying.
But this preview's about what the players had to say about tonight's game, not what I hope might happen, so before the Wings flew to Chicago in their team pumpkin, the Hawks told CBS Chicago's Adam Hoge that the high probability of bad ice won't bother them...
"Usually when you go to Joe Louis (Arena) and play, it’s probably one of the best ice surfaces in the league,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “I guess it’s tougher here for the guys to have the ice in top shape with so many different events here. You have the basketball and concerts and stuff so I understand it’s tough to keep the ice in great shape but it’s the same for both teams so can’t really complain about that.”
They won’t complain, but they are aware of it.
“I’ll be prepared,” goaltender Corey Crawford said. “Any sort of dump in or something I’ll be able to attack it on bounces. Just be prepared for those crazy bounces.”
They reiterated their company line to the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...
“It’s a busy building,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “Some nights are tough. That’s the way it is. It’s the same for both teams. We can’t really worry about that too much. If it’s chippy a little bit, we’ll just have to play a simple game. You can’t make too many pretty plays. It’s very similar in most buildings.”
And the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus believes that poor ice conditions will serve as an advantage for Chicago's best:
In fact, a lousy surface might even play in the Hawks’ favor. Just like the Red Wings are used to the quirky bounces off the aging boards at Joe Louis, the Hawks know how to play on the UC’s choppy ice.
“We’re kind of used to bad ice here,” Michael Frolik said. “The ice is not perfect here. Hopefully, we’ll be more used to it than them, and it’s going to be an advantage for us.”
The Hawks made sure to suggest that they also have an advantage in that they've been playing in Game 7 for the past two games, as they told NHL.com's Brian Hedger...
"I just thought we played two Game 7s, so we're looking forward to the real Game 7," Quenneville said when asked whether his personal emotions will be higher on the bench. "We've put ourselves in a good spot and I'm excited about it."...
The Red Wings have 13 players who've played in at least three winner-take-all playoff games; only Marian Hossa (6) and Michal Handzus (4) among the Blackhawks have experienced that many in their careers.
Is Quenneville concerned his team will fall flat on the biggest stage?
"No, you've got to commend the guys with their approach over the last couple games [for] their focus [and] preparation," he said. "You can feel that guys want to be out on the ice. They're comfortable out there. They want more and we've got a lot of options as well. I think we'll be definitely ready."
As they also told ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers...
“We’re excited about the way we’ve played in the last couple games,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We feel like we deserve to be where we are. We’ve got a great chance to go win this series in Game 7 [Wednesday] at home, so we’ll be excited about that, but we know that we’ve got a lot of work left to do if we want to do that.
“We know they’re going to play their best hockey. We are, as well. We know what they’re capable of. We know what they like to do. It’s all about our preparation. Again, we focus on the little things that the other team does -- their best players, we want to get on those guys the way we have in the last little while. But mostly, it’s about our preparation and how much we want it. That’s what it comes down to.”
Some of the Blackhawks have experienced what it’s like to play in a Game 7 before whether with the Blackhawks or with another team. Many of the current players took part in coming back from a 3-0 series deficit only to lose in overtime in Game 7 to the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 playoffs. That was Toews’ lone Game 7 experience.
“I don’t think there is another one, I’m pretty sure, so there’s only one memory and it was a tough one,” Toews said. “We want to change that.”
On individual bases, Corey Crawford knows that he's going to be one of the focal points of tonight's game, but he told the Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton that he's not sweating it...
"Preparation is the same," Crawford said. "It's another hockey game. Obviously it's a big hockey game, but it's still the same game. I like it. It's fun. It's fun to compete in these times and during these games. That's what it's all about."
It's about maintaining routine in the face of extraordinary circumstances, then rebounding if the circumstances are extraordinarily miserable. The whiff on the Red Wings' go-ahead goal in Game 6 evoked the back-to-back soft scores surrendered against the Coyotes last season. But Crawford collected himself as the Hawks collectively made up for it.
"Crow has been our best player in the playoffs so far," defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "Every now and then one of those goals is going to get in, and then it's up to us to help him out and make sure we get a couple goals in for him."
And he repeated his points of emphasis to ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers, who also spoke with Marty Turco about the last Game 7 situation Crawford faced (he lost Game 7 of the Hawks' 2011 first-round series vs. Vancouver):
"We look at it as more fun," Crawford said Tuesday. "We're excited about this game."
While it's safe to assume if Crawford could handle Game 7 as a rookie he should be able to handle it now. But there's something to be said about being new to the playoff scene and not knowing any better about the pressure that comes with it. That may have been the case in 2011.
"Corey was so new to it, he was enjoying it, but it was still nerve-racking," Turco said. "It was an anxious moment and tomorrow (Wednesday) night will probably echo those things again."
Systemically, the Hawks hope that their power play, which went 2-for-3 on Monday, will continue rolling, as Toews told the Chicago Daily Herald's Tim Sassone (if you wish to read the Chicago Daily Herald's Mike Spellman's Q and A with Hawks color commentator Troy Murray, you may do so on your own)...
After reaching a point where you almost wondered if the Hawks could decline a penalty instead of going on the power play, the worm has turned. Big time.
"We've seen the last few games that if we work our tails off on the power play things can happen for us," Jonathan Toews said. "It's going to give us energy, whether we score or not. It's going to give us energy for playing 5-on-5 and in the rest of the game."
And the Hawks also plan on using the last change to their advantage in terms of match-ups, and they'd like to crowd Jimmy Howard as well, as they told the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc and Brian Hamilton (Kuc believes that tonight's "spotlight" will shine upon the Quenneville-vs-Babcock battle):
What's my line? With the Hawks playing at home, coach Joel Quenneville will get the last line change. Look for Quenneville to keep center Jonathan Toews away from Zetterberg, who has done a fine job shutting down the Hawks captain.
During Game 6 on Monday in Detroit, Toews was taking the draw against Zetterberg and immediately skating off the ice to get a better defensive matchup.
"Over the course of the season, we didn't do a lot of matching," Quenneville said. "Maybe we did a little bit more in the Minnesota series. We have gotten more into a matching of lines this series. Whenever we play Detroit, our top two lines generally see a lot of each other. We'll see how things play out (in Game 7)."
Close encounter: It's no shock all four of the Hawks' Game 6 goals (one on a Frolik penalty shot) came from directly in front of Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. The Hawks are determined to take the puck to the crease to create scoring chances.
"The first few games we couldn't score," Frolik said. "(Game 6) was a good example of what we have to do, just go to the net and hang around there and look for rebounds and just fight."
Overall, the Hawks simply believe that their ability to rebound from three straight losses yields a team that won't be denied, as Toews told Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers...
“To look at the attitude we’ve had over the last couple of games to where we were a few days ago, it’s a huge credit to the guys for keeping their heads up and keeping positive,” Jonathan Toews said. “We felt like we worked hard but nothing went our way those first three or four games. It‘s easy to get down on yourself but we didn’t do that at all. We kept the good feeling knowing if we win we’ll survive. We feel good about where we are. We have the momentum, and we want to hang onto it for one more game.”
And Toews continued while speaking to the Chicago Daily Herald's Sassone:
"You've got to feel better about yourself coming off 2 wins," he said. "But at the same time, you have to keep your feet on the ground the same way we did when we were down 3-1 in the series. We're excited about the way we've played in the last couple games. We feel like we deserve to be where we are. We've got a great chance to go win this series in Game 7 at home, so we'll be excited about that, but we know that we've got a lot of work left to do if we want to do that."
Toews is banking on the United Center crowd to provide a big lift.
"It's going to be huge for us," he said. "We have to use our home crowd. It's very simple. We get a lot of energy off of it when we score goals and get big hits. Guys feed off of it. Our bench feeds off of it. For us, it's a huge advantage to have, and we're looking forward to having it."
Toews' teammates backed him up while speaking with the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash:
‘‘I’m not worried about if we have anything to lose or anything like that; I’m just worried about winning the game,’’ defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. ‘‘It’s all we’re thinking about in here. We’re just excited to play [Wednesday].’’
If anybody should be feeling the pressure, it’s goalie Corey Crawford, who recovered from allowing a soft goal in the second period of Game 6 on Monday to be one of the Hawks’ heroes. But Game 7s often are defining for goalies.
‘‘Do or die? It’s Game 7,’’ said Crawford, who is 6-2 in elimination games in his career. ‘‘I’m just looking to go out there and win a game. We’re going to look at it as more fun. We’re playing with confidence. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be exciting.’’
On paper, the Hawks appear to have everything on their side. The bad news is that they haven’t handled prosperity well. It wasn’t until they were 20 minutes from elimination that they had their most productive period of the series.
‘‘When we were down 3-1 [in the series], we sat in the room and just said we can believe in each other,’’ said winger Michael Frolik, whose goal on a penalty shot proved to be the difference in Game 6. ‘‘We said, ‘We’ve done this in the past. We can come back.’ I think that was a good mind-set to believe in each other. And here we are now in Game 7, and we believe even more that we can finish it off.’’
The momentum has clearly shifted back to the Hawks. But so has the pressure. After five days of talking about having nothing to lose and playing free and easy, the Hawks enter Game 7 again saddled with the burden of expectations, and the burden of proof — proof that they really are the best team in the NHL, proof that they really are built to win a Stanley Cup.
But the company line hasn’t shifted along with the momentum.
“It’s not about who has the pressure,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s just one game. You win, you go to the next round. You lose, you’re out. Personally, I love to play those type of games. That’s why the playoffs are special.”
Among the Hawks who’ll be on the ice on Wednesday, only Marian Hossa (six) and Michal Handzus (four) have been in more than one Game 7. Hossa is 1-5 in those games, Handzus 2-2. For the rest of the veterans, the 2011 Game 7 at Vancouver — an overtime loss after the Hawks erased a 3-0 series deficit — is their only Game 7 experience. Meanwhile, nine of the Red Wings expected to dress have played in at least four. And every one of them has a winning record in those games, including a first-round victory on the road at Anaheim.
No matter, the Hawks say. After all, this will be their third Game 7 in five days.
And the Chicago Tribune's Kuc suggests that this is nothing less than a fitting "end" to the Red Wings and Blackhawks' Central Division rivalry...
It will be the third time in their 87-year rivalry the Hawks and Wings meet in a Game 7 and the first since April 15, 1965, when the Hawks won 4-2 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit in a semifinal series.
After a roller-coaster series that has seen both teams seize momentum, it's arguable which faces the most pressure.
"There's pressure on both teams," Toews said. "Most of that pressure comes from within. You want to win for yourself (and) for the guys next to you.
"It was no breeze getting to this point. Even though it was a shortened season, every guy in this room, whether they play every night or the guys who sacrifice their playing time and get scratched, we have a lot of great individuals who have paid the price to get here. That's where the pressure comes from. We want to win for each other. That's what matters most."
As does the Chicago Sun-Times' Rick Telander:
Until the new order, it’s all about the Blackhawks’ resurgence from the edge of the abyss, a No. 1-seeded team hopefully realizing that seventh-seeded Hockeytown is for real. As always.
All those concerns about Detroit coach Mike Babcock lying in the weeds, about overconfidence in front of a deafening home crowd, about forechecking and dumb penalties and Corey Crawford letting in random weak shots and Jonathan Toews being forced to wear Henrik Zetterberg like a shawl — it all means nothing.
This is one and done. This almost never happens. This is great.
Oddly enough, Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Myers offers both some Hawks and Wings' takes on what tonight's game means:
“There’s something about playing a Game 7. You feel like every shift, every chance you get, there may be an opportunity to change the game in favor of your team,” Jonathan Toews said. “Whether it’s the first time for some of the guys in our room or not at all, everyone’s going to embrace that opportunity and we’re looking forward to it tomorrow.”
The Red Wings are feeling the same Game 7 enthusiasm.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “Starting from warm-ups, you know the crowd is going to be loud; it’s going to be a great atmosphere. That’s exactly what you want in a Game 7.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock agreed, as long as that fun outlook is mixed with the right amount of focus and determination.
“You have to be at the right level for you,” he told reporters upon the Wings’ arrival to Chicago today. “Loose is a great way to be, but you have to be intense about what you’re doing, too. There’s a fine line there. When players are talking about being loose, they’re not talking about being loose in a bar, they’re talking about being loose enough to execute, to do good things, to feel good about themselves. You don’t want to be all wound up, but you want to be amped enough to be at the best of your ability. That’s the challenge to walk along that fine line.”
We'll use multimedia as something of a bridge between the Hawks' and Wings' perspectives this time around.
The Chicago Sun-Times posted a clip of Hjalmarsson speaking to the media;
ESPN Chicago posted a clip of Scott Powers and Jesse Rogers' preview of the game, as well as a clip of Toews speaking to the media and a podcast and text-interview highlights of Barry Melrose telling ESPN 1000 that if Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg don't step up, the Hawks will prevail;
Comcast Sportsnet Chicago posted clips of Corey Crawford, Toews, Duncan Keith, Michael Frolik and Hjalmarsson speaking to the press, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville's comments, if you wish to watch CSN Sports Talk Live gush about the Hawks for seven minutes, enjoy, and I wish I could embed the clip of Wings coach Mike Babcock, Jimmy Howard, Niklas Kronwall and Henrik Zetterberg addressing the pressure the Wings will face tonight, but I've learned that you're not fans of auto-play clips with REALLY F'ING LOUD commercials, and neither am I;
Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi weighed in with a Game 7 preview;
TSN posted a 2:52 clip of Toews, Keith, Crawford and Frolik speaking to the media, TSN's panel of Aaron Ward, BobMcKenzie, James Duthie and Darren Pang pondered whether Jimmy Howard or Corey Crawford are going to perform better tonight--and McKenzie suggested that Zetterberg's a clutch performer--and they posted a 32-second clip of the Hawks suggesting that they've already played two Game 7's and won 'em;
Sportsnet posted a 1:51 clip of Jonathan Toews insisting that
NHL.com posted an off-day report narrated by Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers:
So what do the "out-of-towners" think about tonight's game, from both the Hawks and Red Wings' perspectives?
The New York Times' Joanne C. Gerstner loves the historical context of the match-up...
This is only the second time in Blackhawks history, which dates to the founding of the N.H.L. in 1926, that they have forced a Game 7 after trailing, 3-1. The first time was in 2011, when the Blackhawks recovered against the Vancouver Canucks, only to lose Game 7 in overtime, 2-1, at Vancouver. Wednesday’s Game 7 is also the first between the Blackhawks and the Red Wings since 1965, which Chicago won, 4-2, in Detroit.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 48 teams have recovered from 3-1 series deficits, and half went on to win Game 7.
But the Globe and Mail's David Shoalts is one of the many scribes who believes that Chicago will steamroll the Wings as he suggests that the Hawks have recaptured championship form...
In the six games played in this Western Conference semi-final, the home team has won four, so there is a glimmer of hope for Detroit. Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard can’t be blamed for trying to put the best face on it.
“They’re a good team, let’s get facts straight,” he said. “They weren’t going to go down quietly. It’s down to one game and we’ve already played one [Game 7] this year, and now we get a chance to play another. These Game 7s are fun. You definitely see what you’re made of. That place is going to be loud for Game 7. We’ll enjoy the national anthem and just get ready to play.”
If you say so, Jimmy. But about those facts … By blowing two chances to close out the Blackhawks, the Red Wings let the Chicago power play come back from the dead. In the first four games, it produced one goal; in the last two, it has three goals on eight opportunities.
Also back from the ether is Jonathan Toews. Zetterberg had the Blackhawks captain and resident superstar tied up and fuming in the first four games, holding him to a lone assist. He has a goal and two assists in the last two games and is once again one of the most dangerous players on the ice.
There are other, more unexpected problems for the Red Wings. Bryan Bickell has gone from someone who regularly is sent to the penalty box to the best power forward in the series. The Chicago winger is a regular presence in front of Howard’s net and has scored in each of the last two games.
And the Toronto Sun's Terry Koshan agrees with Shoalts' assessment:
The Wings have been a good story in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, earning a berth as the seventh seed in the Western Conference after winning their final four games of the regular season and then eliminating the No. 2 Anaheim Ducks.
But the Blackhawks smell Red Wings blood. It will be no surprise if the 2010 Cup champions are playing against the San Jose Sharks or Los Angeles Kings in the conference final in the coming days.
The Edmonton Sun's Derek Van Diest focused on the Hawks' perspectives from Tuesday afternoon's media availability, but the Vancouver Sun's Cam Cole focused on the battle between two stellar coaches,and boy, Mike Babcock was selling Metamucil to the Stones...
“I like the fact that it’s what competition is all about,” he said. “If you’re going to continue to play, you have to be successful in the game. You grow up as a kid dreaming about scoring a goal in Game 7. Obviously anytime you go to Game 7, it’s been a heck of a series, so we just feel that we’ve done enough good things and feel good about our game. We’re in the best league in the world and there’s six teams left. We must be doing something right and we’re having a lot of fun. Everyone else is at home watching and you want to play as long as you can.
“Would you like this series to be over and moving on? Absolutely. But saying that, what an opportunity. We played in Game 7 last series and that was a lot of fun, so why wouldn’t this be? “ Asked if his team was loose heading into the deciding game, Babcock said “you have to be at the right level for you. “Loose is a great way to be, but you have to be intense about what you’re doing, too. When players are talking about being loose, they’re not talking about being loose in a bar, they’re talking about being loose enough to execute. You don’t want to be all wound up, but you want to be amped enough to be at the best of your ability. That’s the challenge to walk along that fine line.”
He expects more production out of his big guns, he said, because that’s what big guns do.
“Pav (Datsyuk) had six shots on net, he was home free, he didn’t score, he didn’t get it up over the pad, but he’s due. The way I look at guys like that, when they haven’t scored in a bit, they’re due. Everyone talked about (Hawks’ Jonathan) Toews for a long time, it’s the same thing. When you’re due, you’re a good player and you work hard and determined, eventually you’re going to break out. To me, those guys are like money in the bank. Our third and fourth lines were good, they scored two goals last night and we’ll let the other guys join the party. If you’re not getting any shots on net, if you’re not getting any looks, then that’s a different story. But we had looks like night. You have to find a way to put it in the net. Close doesn’t get you anywhere at this time of year.”
And the Sporting News's Jesse Spector noted that Babcock's charges were buying in, but not before delivering more Babcockian philosophy:
"I think we've got to score more goals than the other team," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said on Tuesday at the Red Wings' hotel.
Babcock's team has done that once already in a Game 7 this year, beating the Ducks in Anaheim in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to set up a meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks that reaches its climax Wednesday night. This series has a different dynamic because Detroit went up 3-1 to start, and stood 20 minutes from closing out Chicago in Game 6 before the Blackhawks scored three goals. What does not change is the coach's general philosophy for a do-or-die game.
"I'm not a big momentum guy," Babcock said. "I just never have been. I believe you just play the game. ... You've got to be at the right level for you. Loose is a great way to be. But you've got to be intense about what you're doing, too, so there's a fine line there. I think when players are talking about being loose, I don't think they're talking about loose in a bar, I think they're talking about loose enough to execute, to do good things, to feel good about themselves. So, you don't want to be all wound up, but at the same time, you want to be amped up enough that you're at the best of your ability. That's the challenge, to walk that fine line.
"Each guy is totally different. That's the great thing about sport, is you're dealing with 23 different people, so that's 23 different ways. But as you go on in sport, as much as you have coaches, they're responsible for themselves and controlling their emotions. That's what the best of the best do. The other thing the best of the best do, is they rise to the occasion. Normally, that's not being special in those games. That's just doing what you normally do and allowing yourself to execute."
Do the Wings' players plan on embracing the moment and rising to the occasion? Yup:
For defenseman Niklas Kronwall, that means acknowledging that "when you're younger and playing on the street, these are the moments you look forward to, that you're in these situations, and we have to embrace this opportunity that we have in front of us." But, at the same time, he said, "I think everyone's different. I think you just try to go out there and keep doing what you do. I think if you try to go out there and do too much, you're overexcited, you're going to put yourself in a bad spot and make it tough for your teammates. Just go and continue to do what you do, and we'll be just fine."
That is the fine line that Babcock was talking about, and it was echoed in the words of goaltender Jimmy Howard: "I look at (Game 7s), they're a lot of fun. You lay everything out on the line, and that's the only thing you can ask from yourself. ... You don't get ahead of yourself. Don't try to accomplish everything in one shift or one save. It's going to be a grind out there tomorrow night, it's going to be a battle, and you've just got to stay within yourself. ... You just go out there and you play."
There's no doubt that Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk must lead their team tonight, but NHL.com's Corey Masisak noted that they've got a reputation for doing so when everything's on the line...
Zetterberg and Datsyuk have well-earned reputations as two of the NHL's top two-way forwards, but the Red Wings could use some offense from them in Game 7. Datsyuk had a highlight-worthy goal in Game 3 and made a nifty pass to set up a score in Game 6. Zetterberg had a dominant outing in Game 2, neutralizing Chicago's top center Jonathan Toews and collecting two assists. Zetterberg has one assist in the four games since.
Damien Brunner and Daniel Cleary and those on the Red Wings' fourth line have been providing goals, but the top guns have not been on target of late. They have been close. Zetterberg has 16 shots on goal in the past four games, including four each in Games 5 and 6. Datsyuk had six on net in Game 6.
Datsyuk set up two goals in Game 2 against the Ducks, helping the Red Wings earn a split in Anaheim. He had a three-point game and a highlight-reel snipe in Game 6 to help Detroit avoid elimination.
Zetterberg's performance in important contests in the past five weeks is nothing short of extraordinary. He had 10 points in the final four games of the regular season -- all Detroit victories -- as the Red Wings clinched a playoff berth for the 22nd consecutive season.
The Red Wings captain had five points, including three goals, in Games 6 and 7 against the Ducks to help rally his club to its first playoff series victory with "Z" wearing the "C."
Breaking things down, the Associated Press's game preview played up the Zetterberg-Datsyuk angle...
“The way I look at guys like that when they haven’t scored in a bit, they’re due,” Babcock said. “They’re bound to contribute.”
The Red Wings trailed 3-2 in the first round against Anaheim, and then took the last two games to advance. Datsyuk had a goal and two assists in Game 6 of that series, and Zetterberg collected three goals and two assists in the final two games against the Ducks.
“When you’re in this situation, you look back at what you’ve done before and kind of use the experience you’ve been through,” Zetterberg said. “I think it is nothing different for tomorrow. It is nice that we’ve been through it. It is going to be a great atmosphere here tomorrow and an exciting game. Two good teams are going to play a good game.”
USA Today's Kevin Allen tossed off a game break-down...
What the Red Wings need to do: 1. Less panic and more poise in the defensive zone. The Red Wings have made too many coverage mistakes in the past two games. 2. Keep the traffic clear in front of the Detroit net. Howard has been good in the series. He has stopped what he has seen in this series. 3. Be perfect on the penalty kill and be even better on the power play. This Game 7 might be decided on special teams.
What the Blackhawks need to do:1. Release the hounds. The Blackhawks need to start the night at full gallop to get the crowd into the game. 2. Own the third period. The Red Wings try to downplay their goal disparity in the third period, but the truth is they have been outscored badly in those final 20 minutes. The forecheck in the third period should be relentless. 3. Remember who's boss. The Blackhawks had the NHL's best record this season. They should play with a swagger.
Fun fact:The Blackhawks haven't lost a Game 7 at home since the Montreal Canadiens came from behind to beat them 4-3 in the 1971 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks led 2-0 at one point in that game, but the Montreal comeback was triggered by Jacques Lemaire scoring a goal against Tony Esposito on a shot from center ice.
NHL.com's Brian Hedger offered the standard game preview...
Red Wings [team scope]: If there's any lesson to be learned after watching this series unfold, it's probably not to overlook the underdog. Most thought the Blackhawks would roll to victory after comfortably winning Game 1, but the Red Wings reeled off three straight wins to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series heading back to Chicago for Game 5.
Now, after back-to-back wins by the Blackhawks, the assumption is that the home team is going to finish off the comeback to take the series. It would be wise, however, not to assume that will happen. The Red Wings still need just one win to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Blackhawks [team scope]: While it can't be assumed they will polish off their long-time nemesis, if there is such a thing as momentum in a playoff series, Chicago has it right now. In fact, the Blackhawks stole it right out of the Red Wings' hands with impressive victories in Game 5 at United Center and Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena (aka The Octopus’ Garden).
Chicago’s third and fourth lines have continued to shine, led by the secondary scoring of Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw. But there’s still a feeling that sooner or later the Blackhawks' top stars will come out. Goalie Corey Crawford let in a bad goal to give Detroit a 2-1 lead heading into the third period of Game 6, but he's been strong otherwise and Chicago will need that to continue, along with a strong defensive effort in front of the net.
Who's hot: Detroit forward Damien Brunner scored his team-high fifth goal of the playoffs on Monday, third in this series. … Bickell scored his fifth goal of the playoffs to put the Blackhawks ahead 3-2 early in the third period of Game 6, which was his second goal in as many games. Chicago forward Michael Frolik scored on a penalty shot in Game 6, which made him the only player in NHL history to score on two postseason penalty shots. He also did it in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks.
And NHL.com's Masisak offers a "tale of the tape" that ends as follows:
OVERALL: These teams were separated by 21 points in the regular-season standings, but the Red Wings have proven in this series that the improvement of their youth and the play of Howard have closed the gap. Is it enough to knock off a Stanley Cup favorite in its home barn in a win-or-golf season Game 7?
These franchises have met 15 times before in the postseason. This will be the last before the Stanley Cup Final under the current format, because the Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference next season. Twice before they've gone to a seventh game, both times in the mid-1960s.
On paper, the Blackhawks have more talent, more depth and what should be a boisterous crowd behind them at United Center. The Red Wings might have the better goalie, and as Babcock said Tuesday, his two star centers might be due.
Advantage: Red Wings
In terms of the "hometown press's" takes on the game to come, MLive's Ansar Khan and Fox Sports Detroit's Dave Dye offered historical contexts for this evening's tilt, the Free Press's Helene St. James duly noted that the Wings need to kick their offense into high gear...
Datsyuk isn’t the only guy due; given how much freedom Valtteri Filppula and Johan Franzen get thanks to playing, respectively, with Zetterberg and Datsyuk, both should have more production. Franzen is Detroit’s Marian Hossa, and Hossa blew a little wind out of Detroit’s sail with a power-play goal Monday night. That helped the Blackhawks to a 4-3 victory, and into tonight’s scenario.
That this series will finish with a Game 7 isn’t surprising given how competitive both squads are; it just looks a little worse for the Wings because it only has been a few days since they had a stranglehold on the Blackhawks.
Going back game by game, Zetterberg said that “if you look at it except for the first game in here, I think it has been close games. It is little things that decides which way it is going to go. The last two has kind of been going their way a little bit. We just have to change that.”
If anybody can change that, can shut down Toews and lead his team forward, it’s Zetterberg, and Datsyuk. They carried the Wings much of the regular season, and had big performances against Anaheim when most needed. They are Detroit’s perennial ace to play.
“They bring it every night and in games like these,” Niklas Kronwall said, “that’s when they shine the most. They seem to find that comfort zone and just go out there and produce and make things happen out of nowhere.”
MLive's Brendan Savage focused on the team's secondary scorers...
The Red Wings need their second-tier forwards to cash in, an exclusive group featuring Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula. Neither has had a significant impact in the playoffs. Franzen, unable to re-establish his dominant postseason form of 2008 and '09, has one goal and two assists in this series. Filppula, unable to snap out of an ill-timed season-long slump during his contract year, has one goal and one assist.
They combined for 10 shots on goal in the 4-3 loss in Game 6.
“Anybody who is a scorer, who is getting shots on net, is bound to score,'' Babcock said. “You have to find a way to put it in the net. Close doesn’t get you anywhere at this time of year.”
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall acknowledged his team needs its top players to deliver, but added, “At the end of the day this is a team game. We win together and we lose together. We all got to do our part of the job.''
The Detroit News's John Niyo suggested that Jimmy Howard's been steady despite the defensive gaffes committed in front of him, and as such, Niyo believes that Howard can be a difference-maker tonight...
Tuesday at the team hotel in Chicago, Howard insisted all that was yesterday's news, which it was. And he reminded everyone again to "get their facts straight" about this Blackhawks team.
"We knew it was going to be tough — they're a really good team and they showed it in the last two games," Howard said. "We just made a couple of mistakes that wound up in the back of our net. Some days they go in and some days they don't. … It's just one game."
And this is another, albeit a special one.
"Game sevens, you dream about winning these when you're growing up as a kid," Howard said. "We've already played one this year.'"
This will be the fourth Game 7 of Howard's four-year NHL career — all of them on the road — and he has won two of his first three (at Phoenix in 2010 and at Anaheim earlier this month) with a 2.02 GAA and .938 save percentage. But after watching his team play the last two games in this series, he knows he needs to be even better than that tonight.
And the News's Ted Kulfan offered "seven reasons for hope" for Wings fans, including the following:
5. United Center history The Red Wings have played well in Chicago. They dominated Game 2 and earned a convincing victory. They played well for about 30 minutes of Game 1.
Let's forget Game 5. And two games in Chicago during the regular season went to either overtime or a shootout (both ultimately Red Wings losses).
Most Red Wings players acknowledge United Center is actually one of the more enjoyable places to play in the league, what with the raucous crowd, the cheering during the national anthem and the atmosphere.
The Red Wings will be just as excited as the Blackhawks in Game 7.
The Wings' captain did indeed tell Kulfan that the United Center crowd will pump his team up:
The Red Wings are only guaranteed one visit per season at United Center beginning next year with their move to the East. The players acknowledged United Center is one of the tougher places to play, and one of the more enjoyable.
"It is a fun place to play. It is loud," Zetterberg said. "You feed off that. We know we won't be here as often after this year, so we really want to take advantage of it and enjoy it."
In "the spirit of the thing," especially given the disastrous games played by Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith on Monday, the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa wondered whether the Wings will be able to regain their composure...
Two huge goals because of small stuff, some of which the Wings could control and some they could not. Were the Red Wings in the right state of mind at the start of the third period Monday, or tense because of a one-goal lead 20 minutes from a trip to the Western Conference finals?
Trouble is, the line between tight and loose is fine, too.
"Loose is a great way to be, but you have to be intense about what you're doing, too," Babcock said Tuesday. "When players are talking about being loose, they're not talking about being loose in a bar. They're talking about being loose enough to execute, to do good things to feel good about themselves."
The Detroit News's Bob Wojnowski also wondered whether the team's less-experienced players will be able to stifle their mistakes...
The Red Wings have been making more mistakes, and had 12 giveaways in Game 6 to three for the Blackhawks. Third periods have been a tilt-a-whirl, and that's where youth hurts them. The Red Wings have been outscored 20-10 in third periods during the playoffs, a numbing disparity that may defy logic, but doesn't defy age.
"I thought we did tons of good things, and we made young mistakes in the third period and they ended up in our net," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "In the end, we didn't handle it, whether it was pressure or execution or whatever it was."
Whatever it is, if it happens again, the Red Wings season is over. It's been a fascinating ride, round and round, with expectations rising along the way. That means disappointment rises, too, if they waste a 3-1 series lead. From the start, I guessed Chicago would pull this out in seven games, but no one could've predicted the course it would take.
It's a delicate balance now. The young Red Wings players can't be afraid to make mistakes and commit turnovers, but the fact is, they can't afford to make mistakes and commit turnovers. The Red Wings need their steady hands and heady stars now. It's not an absolute truth because fluky things happen in hockey, but generally, the guys who know the way must show the way at the end.
And the Free Press's Evil Drew Sharp offered his usual amount of cross-sport metaphors while suggesting that "Doctor Babcock" and the Wings' season has boiled down to a roll of the dice:
The Wings blew a tremendous opportunity Monday night. Yes, they blew it.
There’s no couching it. Spare me the complaining about whether Carlo Colaiacovo’s slash of Michael Frolik in the third period warranted a penalty shot. That was one of those occasions when Jimmy Howard needed one of those “Are you freaking kidding me?” incredible stops that the playoff giants in net make. He didn’t make it.
The Wings relaxed at the start of the third period in Game 6. The Blackhawks’ jugular was in their grasp, but rather than squeezing it, the Wings’ massaged it back to full strength. They underestimated the Blackhawks’ will — same as Chicago underestimated the Wings’ resolve after it took a 1-0 lead in Game 2 with a 1-0 series advantage.
The Wings are left with no other alternative. It’s scary, but really there’s no better way for ending this long-time divisional rivalry. One game. One chance. It’ll probably come down to one freaky bounce, one agonizing mistake.
Otherwise, it becomes abundantly clear that while Wings fans are scared shitless between 8 and 10:45 PM EDT this evening, the Wings' players are banking on their veterans' experience in Game 7 situations, as they told the Windsor Star's Bob Duff (you may read Duff's warm fuzzies for Joel Quenneville and Bryan Bickell due to their Windsor connections on your own)...
Go down the list of players for the Red Wings and tabulate the Game 7 appearances and it adds up to a collective tally of 72, while Chicago boasts a combined total of 29 Game 7 experiences between the club’s entire roster. While 14 Red Wings have played in at least three Game 7s apiece, forwards Marian Hossa (six) and Michal Handzus are the only Blackhawks who’ve skated in a Game 7 more than twice during their NHL careers.
“Either you move on our you go home, and I think just being the part of something like that in the past only helps you,” Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall said.
Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, 2-1 in Game 7 contests, believes that the vast wealth of Game 7 competition could allow the Wings to get an early jump on the less-experienced Blackhawks.
“You don’t get as jittery and you don’t get as nervous,” Howard said. “I look at them as they’re a lot of fun. It’s down to the last game. You just lay everything out there on the line. That’s the only thing you can ask from yourself.”
The Wings just won a Game 7 on the road at Anaheim to take their opening-round set with the Ducks and this, the players figure, could prove a tremendous asset come game time against Chicago.
“I think it’s a lot of fun going and playing another Game 7,” Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “I think we’ve been there before. We know what we went through last time before that game and we’ve just got to go out and play the same way. Always when you’re in this situation you look back at what you’ve done before and use the experience you’ve been though. It’s nice that we’ve been through it. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. It’s going to be an exciting game.”
But the vast majority of the Wings' players suggested that they will do one thing that you and I cannot: they're going to have fun tonight. Possibly even Wang Chung tonight.
They said as much to the Free Press's St. James...
“When you’re younger,” Niklas Kronwall said, “and you play in the street outside your house, these are the moments you look forward to. You want to pretend that you’re in these situations. We have to embrace this opportunity.”
Kronwall is 3-2 in Game 7s. Jimmy Howard is 2-1, with a .938 save percentage. He can’t wait for another chance.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Howard said. “Starting from warm-ups you know the crowd is going to be loud. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. That’s exactly what you want in a Game 7. You can’t get ahead of yourself. You can’t try to accomplish everything on one shift or one save. It’s going to be a grind out there. It’s going to be a battle, and you have to stay within yourself.”
And DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose, who noted that the Wings need their special teams to deliver tonight...
Special teams have also played a factor in the series, and the Red Wings know if they’re going to stand a chance against the Blackhawks then they’ll have to win the specialty teams battles. The Wings’ power play as been pretty much non-existent in this series, collecting just one goal in 22 chances. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks have started to heat up, going 3-for-8 on the power play in the last two games.
“Specialty teams are always critical, and of course when it comes down to a Game 7 they’ll be even more important,” Kronwall said. “Hopefully we can get our power play kicking and at the same time we need to stay out of the box and when we do end up in a PK situation we have to make sure we do all of the little things right.”
And MLive's Brendan Savage...
"Obviously, anytime you go to Game 7 it's been a heck of a series, so we just feel that we've done enough good things, and feel good about our game," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "We got a lot of positive reinforcement from last night. At the end of the game it's still disappointing because you didn't execute in the end, but you still had tons of opportunities to do just that.We're excited about being here. Would you like to have the series over and moving on? Absolutely. In saying that, what an opportunity as we played in a Game 7 last series. It was a lot of fun, and why wouldn't this be?"
There's that word again – fun. Babcock said Game 7s are even fun for coaches even if his face won't show it Wednesday night.
"I think it's unbelievable," Babcock said. "It's as much fun as you're going to have. There are six teams left. So we're in the best league in the world and there are six teams left. You must be doing something right and it's a lot of fun. And everyone else is at home watching, so you want to play as long as you can.
"It's not February, I can tell you that. The longer you're in it the more excited you are to be in this and you understand how hard it is. You can have great teams and lose in the first round, so the reality of the situation is we have a great opportunity tomorrow. We're excited about it and we'll be prepared and ready to go. It should be a lot of fun."
“They could tell you that they just went through two Game 7s because they were elimination games,” Babcock said. “I just find that they’re all different and getting started on time is really important. That’s what our focus will be. We want to get off to a good start. Now if you don’t have it it’s not the end of the world. You have to play, but the reality is we’ve been through it. Each experience is just a lot of fun and you know it’s going to be fun. You relish the opportunity. Enjoy yourself.”
Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: Four things, noted but not quoted as I'm running out of space:
1. The Oakland Press's Pat Caputo penned a quote-less "spirit of the thing" column that I chose to omit;
2. Fox Sports Detroit's Dana Wakiji wants Wings fans to calm the hell down and stop pulling a Jonathan "Shitbox" Ericsson-style skewering of Brendan Smith despite his playoff struggles, because, well...There is no harsher learning environment for a rookie defenseman than playoff hockey, and Smith's struggles do not diminish his realistic potential to be a top-four, puck-moving defenseman that's more reliable than terrifying;
3. Ahead of the NHL's draft combine in Toronto, Wings director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell tells NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale that he believes that this year's draft should produce NHL players from throughout the first round, so the Wings feel very confident that they're going to find a superb prospect regardless of where they end up drafting;
4. And the Grand Rapids Griffins will resume their AHL Western Conference Final series with the Oklahoma City Barons tonight in OKC. The teams are tied 1-1, and they'll play three games in Oklahoma City (tonight, on Friday and Saturday) as the AHL employs a 2-3-2 playoff format.
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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.