The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/28/13 at 12:47 PM ET
At this point, it appears that neither the Red Wings nor the Blackhawks will practice today--the Wings and Hawks will be playing their third game over the course of five nights on Wednesday evening (8 PM EDT; NBCSN/CBC/97.1 FM, post-game on Fox Sports Detroit, and between the fact that there ain't much more that coaches can pound into their players' brains, there's simply not much point in practicing--and the Wings are planning on flying out to Chicago at 3 PM.
Moreover, at this point, we're probably not going to hear anything from either team that wasn't uttered to the press after last night's game, so there's a "casual Tuesday" feel to today's news cycle, though I'm sure that Game 7 hype will build this evening and will roar to life with afterburners lit on Wednesday.
And, for the record, the Hawks couldn't practice today if they'd wanted to do so:
Given the circumstances, the Free Press's Helene St. James offered a pre-Wings mediaavailability article pondering how the Wings found themselves in their present situation, and where they need to go from here to rebound from their 4-3 loss to Chicago in Game 6 and win tomorrow night:
What happened the last two games? The Wings lost by a combined score of 8-4, allowing the Blackhawks four goals each in Games 5 and 6, after holding them to two total in Games 2, 3 and 4. They had a lead in Game 6 but couldn't build on it. In fact, they got pushed back on their heels in the third period. In Game 5, it was 1-1 midway through the second period, then the Wings took stupid penalties and then stopped playing in the third period.
How did this happen? Look to the stars. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews took a lot of criticism early in the series because he wasn't producing and was taking penalties, but the last two games, he has a goal and two assists. Marian Hossa has a goal and two assists. Patrick Kane has been dangerous, as has Patrick Sharp. They've outperformed Detroit's top-six group and been the difference-makers.
What has been working for the Wings? Their third line continues to shine. Joakim Andersson put the Wings ahead, 2-1, midway through the second period Monday, scoring on a crazy knuckleball of a shot that Corey Crawford was able to laugh about later because Chicago won. Gustav Nyquist manages to be creative nearly every shift. And Damien Brunner continues to show a knack for scoring — he put the Wings within a goal by scoring in the last minute of Game 6. This line is a significant, significant asset.
What has been working against the Wings? Chicago's defensemen are problematic for opponents because all three pairs can skate and move the puck. The Wings have gotten too spread out, too engaged in an up-and-down footrace, rather than the grinding game Detroit needs to play to have success.
The Wings miss Danny DeKeyser's puck moving terribly. I'd argue that the Hawks forwards' play hasn't mattered as much as the fact that Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya, Nick Leddy and Michal Rozsival can move the puck almost as well as Duncan Keith can, while the Wings are leaning incredibly heavily on Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl to get the job done, with Carlo Colaiacovo having faded significantly after a strong early-series performance, Brendan Smith playing like the immensely talented but immensely mistake-prone rookie that he is and Kyle Quincey...Not being able or willing to bail out his "mentee's" mistakes.
Would the Wings be in a better situation of Justin Abdelkader, Johan Franzen and Danny Cleary were getting to the front of the net as Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Michal Handzus? No doubt, and the Wings' defense is partially responsible for that.
But the Wings haven't been able to forecheck in no small part because they're letting the Hawks' defensemen from their goal line to the Wings' blueline with the puck, pushing the forecheckers back just as the Wings do when they're playing puck possession hockey to a tee, and as such, the Wings have bizarrely chosen to get into a gunfight against a team that has a ridiculous amount of firepower instead of playing a tight-checking, player-shadowing game predicated upon efficient puck movement out of their own zone instead of those damn side-to-side passes and getting their offense going via forechecking and sustaining possession and control of the puck in the offensive zone. It starts and ends with the blueline for both teams, and the Hawks' blueline has performed better than Detroit's has.
Who has been the Wings' steadiest player: Their goaltender, Jimmy Howard. Howard has done everything possible to help his team advance. He has made tremendous stops when he has been put in vulnerable positions.
Who has been the Wings' most dangerous player? Brendan Smith. It should be noted that he's a 24-year-old defenseman who is in his first NHL playoffs, but his lack of coverage and his risky decisions with the puck at times make him more dangerous to the Wings than any Blackhawk.
If the Wings trusted Ian White at all, he'd be playing, but his, "I'm not asking for a trade yet, but..." comments, followed up by absolutely dreadful play when he was given the opportunity to redeem himself, planted his ass on the bench for good, and the Wings can't recall Brian Lashoff unless a pair of injuries strikes their blueline because they burned those discretionary recalls at the trade deadline.
Who has more pressure in Game 7? As Wings forward Daniel Cleary has said, "pressure is for tires." Well, pressure is for a lot of things, including win-or-go-home games. Sure, the Blackhawks carry the weight of being the winners of the Presidents Trophy; for them to lose would be disastrous, would require soul-searching of the deepest degree. But there is some pressure on the Wings, too. Sure, they can lose and their playoff run will still have been a success, but it'll be tarnished a tad by having had a 3-1 lead in the series. Give a team three chances to close, it should succeed.
The Detroit Red Wings went five seasons without playing in a seventh game in the Stanley Cup playoffs, from 2003-2008.
On Wednesday, they will play in their sixth Game 7 in the past five seasons when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks in the deciding game of their Western Conference semifinal series (8 p.m., NBC Sports Network, CBC).
This will be their fourth consecutive Game 7 on the road. They have two of the previous three -- beating Anaheim 3-2 this year and Phoenix 6-1 in 2010, both in the first round, and losing to San Jose 3-2 in 2011 in the second round.
The Red Wings' best players have stepped in these deciding games. Henrik Zetterberg leads the way with eight points (two goals, six assists) in five games. Pavel Datsyuk has four goals and one assist in six games.
Valtteri Filppula also has delivered, with a goal and five assists in five games.
Goaltending Jimmy Howard also has been strong in these clutch situations, going 2-1, with a 2.01 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.
This will be coach Mike Babcock's sixth Game 7. He is 3-2 with the Red Wings and 0-1 with Anaheim.
Hard stats follow.
ChicagoBlackhawks.com's Brad Boron countered with Hawks Game 7 stats...
> In their history, the Blackhawks have played in 10 series that went to a decisive seventh game; the team is 5-5 in those games, most recently falling 2-1 in overtime to the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on April 26, 2011.
> Of those 10 matchups, Chicago has hosted a total of six Game 7s, going 4-2 all-time. The Blackhawks have not lost a Game 7 at home since the infamous 1971 Stanley Cup Final against Montreal, where the Blackhawks gave up a two-goal lead, eventually losing the title on a goal by Henri Richard in the third period.
> Since the 1971 Cup Final, the Blackhawks have hosted three Game 7s, winning all three: 5-2 over Minnesota (1990 Division Semifinals), 8-2 over St. Louis (1990 Division Final) and 5-2 over Toronto (1995 Conference Quarterfinals).
> The Blackhawks and Red Wings have met in two Game 7s previously, splitting the meetings. Detroit took Game 7 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Semifinals, 4-2, while Chicago took Game 7 of the Semifinals the next year by an identical score. Each team's win took place on their rival's home ice.
> Were the Blackhawks to advance in this season's playoffs, it would reverse a significant trend in team history. Coming into this series, Chicago was 1-19 all-time when losing three of the first five games in a playoff series and 0-11 when losing three of the first four games, a position that they found themselves in during this series. The only time Chicago came back from the former deficit was in the 1965 series against Detroit, when the team lost its first two meetings on the road, but won four of the next five games to advance.
> Whatever the outcome, it's likely the game will be decided in 60 minutes if history is any indicator; of the 10 previous Game 7s the Blackhawks have played in, only one has gone into overtime, the 2011 series against Vancouver, when Jonathan Toews scored to tie the game with less than 2 minutes remaining in regulation.
> Most importantly, if they can secure a victory, the Blackhawks would be the 25th NHL team ever to come back from a 3-1 Stanley Cup Playoffs series deficit to win. The last team to complete the feat was the 2011 Tampa Bay Lightning over Pittsburgh in the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
And the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan went St. James' route in a slightly different fashion, offering 7 reasons why Wings fans can "have hope," including the following:
1. They've done this before: If you remember, the Red Wings trailed 3-2 in the first-round series to Anaheim.
After winning Game 6 in overtime at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings traveled to Anaheim and won Game 7, rather impressively, 3-2. So they know what it takes to win on the road in a Game 7.
2. Zetterberg and Datsyuk: In the final two games against Anaheim, with the season on the line, Zetterberg had five points, including three goals. He had a goal and assist in Game 7. Datsyuk had six shots on net Game 7, after earning three points in a Game 6 overtime win.
These two players tend to play their best when games matter the absolute most.
3. Filppula and Franzen can't be silent forever: Johan Franzen has a goal and two assists in this series, and Valtteri Filppula one goal and one assist.
The two players who seem to frustrate Red Wings fans the most have one more opportunity in this series to break through and make a statement. The two were particularly silent in Game 6. They'll likely have to break through and make some sort of impact if the Red Wings are to have a chance,
With Filppula and Franzen struggling, Abdelkader and Cleary having been neutralized and the third line playing less consistently--and only Kronwall, Ericsson and Kindl providing offense from the blueline, save the occasional, "I made up for the goal I was responsible for!" contribution by Brendan Smith, the Wings really, really, really need Datsyuk and Zetterberg to step up in a big way.
7. Lots of pressure still on the Blackhawks: No doubt there's pressure on the Red Wings, who have lost a 3-1 series lead.
But Chicago still has a lot on its shoulders. They earned the Presidents' Trophy for the best regular season record, and are the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Few people really felt they would have to play a Game 7 against the Red Wings. To lose this game, and ultimately the series, would make for a long, disappointing summer in Chicago.
FYI, part 1:
(And ESPN's Cross Checks blog offers more stats; Duff happens to be Detroit/Windsor's resident representative of the ELIAS Sports Bureau stats crew);
FYI, parts 2 and 3:
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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.