The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/22/13 at 03:22 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings may have earned Eric Duhatschek's rising from the (mostly) dead "like a vampire" (squid) desgination after their 3-1 win over Chicago on Monday night, but even after an off-day's worth of comments and columns (and my goodness, do days when players don't practice yield a preponderance of pondering), but I believe that Grantland's Katie Baker summarizes the out-of-towners' takes on what may or may not be the "national team's" 2 games-to-1 deficit against the underdog Red Wings:
Unlike the other two teams that trail playoff series 2-1 at the moment, the Blackhawks have the disadvantage of playing Game 4 on the road. But this also means that, should they manage to even up the series, they'll have home ice in the pivotal Games 5 and 7. As surprised (and humbled!) as I've been by the performance of the Red Wings, I still give the Blackhawks the benefit of the doubt after their regular season, and think they have the best chance to ultimately advance.
Now I'll readily admit that, as you probably know by now if you read my in-game ranting on Twitter, the Red Wings in the playoffs = professionalism sometimes goes out the window (this does not translate to in-rink behavior unless my ass has paid for a ticket, however), so you're going to have to pardon me when I say this:
The Blackhawks' team line on Tuesday involved playing with controled aggression and in fact "getting angry," in fact praising the skullduggery they perpetrated against the Wings at the end of Monday night's game as inspirational.
Now I get the whole, "You have to hate your opponent" concept. In the playoffs, anger is most certainly a primary motivation, and you realy do have to want to beat your opponents' heads into the ice to out-compete them, but to suggest that Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw's sucker-punches after the whistle and in scrums, and Captain Pork Chop's after-scrum hacks, whacks and Corey Perry-style chirping are a blueprint for success strikes this Red Wings fan as...
Exactly what the Wings want to hear, and an utterly asinine way to motivate oneself and, in Joel Quenneville's case, one's team. If you can't find hatred for the Detroit Red Wings over the normal course of the rivalry, you're an idiot, and if the Blackhawks want to volunteer themselves as volunteers on the idiot's brigade, by Gordie, enjoy yourselves, morons.
Regardless, as NHL.com's Brian Hedger noted, the Hawks think that they're on to a great idea:
"I don't think it was frustration," veteran Chicago defenseman Michal Rozsival said. "I think it was just more showing that, you know, we are not going to [just] take everything and we are going to be battling. It wasn't frustration. It was just more showing that we are there and we are going to be there and we are going to be fighting."
The sequence he was asked about happened near the end of the game, when Bickell cross-checked Cleary hard in the back three times during a scramble in front of the net. Cleary took exception, more words were exchanged, and Bickell headed to the penalty box for the remaining few seconds of the game.
Afterward, in an on NBC Sports Network, Cleary was asked about the confrontation with Bickell. His face nearly was as red as his jersey, but he calmly explained it's all part of playoff hockey, also saying he and Bickell probably "wouldn't be exchanging Christmas cards anytime soon."
Cleary got worked up earlier in the game when Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook gave him a shove while he charged to the net, sending him face-first into the crossbar. Duncan Keith then pushed over the net toward the fallen Cleary and shoved it at him.
This started as a decades-old rivalry series based on mutual respect and skill, but quickly has become one about grit, toughness and inflicting pain. It's similar to other Stanley Cup Playoff series that have transpired recently, but it also merits the question: Is an angry bunch of Blackhawks good or bad for their chances to win?
Yes, and Hawks coach Joel Quenneville thinks that it's a brilliant idea:
"Absolutely," he said, when asked if playing angry now would be good for his team. "I thought we got the juices at the level that are going to be necessary going forward. I thought going into the game, they got our attention in Game 2 and [Game 3] was the way we had to compete. Some bounces didn't go our way, but certainly that's what's going to be necessary going forward."
Now Quenneville put a caveat on his statement, as Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers noted...
"Just playing like that doesn’t give us the green light to take unnecessary or undisciplined penalties,” Quenneville said. “There’s always a discipline that goes behind everything we talk about. It’s playing with a purpose, but discipline is No. 1.”
That discipline’s been tested, and the Blackhawks have dealt with – and killed off -- the penalties. Still, there’s no need to play with fire.
“It’s always a fine line, not to get penalties and play on the edge,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We’ve had a really good PK so far, but they have a lot of skilled players who can make a difference in the game if we give them too many power plays. It’s a fine line. But you’ve got to play tough. If you play harder on their top guys, that would be good.”
The Blackhawks have reasons to be, and play, mad. Now they have to use that emotion, dance that fine line with it, and get even -- game-wise -- with the Wings.
“You throw around terms like must win; every game in the playoffs is a must win,” Patrick Sharp said. “You can spin it however you want: being down 2-1 in their building, obviously Game 4 is really big.”
But he also told the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Lazerus that tossing Bickell, Shaw and the rest of the moron brigade over the boards during the game's final shifts was very purposefully done:
“Do what you gotta do,” was all Quenneville said when asked about the strategic personnel decisions he made in those last 71 seconds.
The Hawks lost. But with Thursday night’s Game 4 a virtual must-win for the Hawks, down 2-1 in the Western Conference semifinals, they believe a message was sent.
“I don’t think it was frustration,” defenseman Michal Rozsival said. “I think it’s just more showing that we are going to be there, take everything and battle. We are there, and [are] going to be there and we are going to be fighting.”
Game 2 was a debacle for the Hawks, who were outplayed from start to finish. Game 3 was different. To a man, the Hawks were pleased with the effort and competitiveness they showed in the 3-1 loss. They controlled the puck better and for longer stretches, they outshot the Wings 40-30, and they had plenty of chances — Viktor Stalberg alone had an apparent goal disallowed and rang one off the crossbar. But after being the NHL’s dominant team all season, the Hawks’ current predicament hasn’t led to frustration, disappointment, or panic. Instead, well, it’s sort of ticked them off.
Quenneville's stars backed their coach's suggestion...
“We need to be a little more on the edge,” Hossa said. “Like in the last game, I thought we had great intensity, lots of energy. But you don’t want to go over the board and take bad penalties, because you know they’ve got really good players on the power play. You have to be smart about it.”
Smart, yet angry. Controlled, but aggressive. Restrained, but disruptive. That’s the message the Hawks believe they’ve sent, even in defeat. That’s the style they believe will reawaken their team game, reignite their offense and restore their dominance. It had better. Because another loss on Thursday, and anger, defiance and confidence might finally yield to genuine, justifiable, outright panic.
“You throw around terms like must-win and all that — I think every game in the playoffs is a must-win,” Sharp said. “You can spin it however you want, but every game is huge. You want to win every time you take the ice. Being down 2-1 in their building, obviously that Game 4 is really big.”
With those kinds of comments in tow, one does wonder whether Daniel Carcillo will be reinserted into the lineup for Game 4--Carcillo told the Chicago Daily Herald's Mike Spellman that he's not particularly offended about being scratched--and as the Chicago Daily Herald's Spellman noted, the Hawks probably will continue to shuffle their lines...
If you noticed a little spark during Monday's game when coach Joel Quenneville moved Patrick Sharp to the top line alongside Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews and dropped rookie Brandon Saad to the second line, you weren't alone.
"I thought we created something there," Hossa said. "Sharpie's one of the top scorers in the league. Try to get him the puck, find each other. Keep it simple. Shoot it and go to the net. Having him there, little things changed. And having Saader on the other line, something changed, too."
Sharp admitted he enjoyed his time with Hossa and Toews.
"Yeah," he said. "But that's up to Joel. He's got a good feel for the team, especially the forwards, mixing and matching. I'll play wherever he puts me, and I trust he knows the right combinations."
In no small part because the Hawks' offense hasn't been able to break through. The Hawks told ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers that they're not in panic mode by any stretch of the imagination...
"I don't think anyone is panicking," Hossa said. "We're facing an extremely good team. They're playing the best hockey [of their] season, I believe. We still have a lot of confidence going into Game 4. Just play our game."
A number of Blackhawks do know what it's like be down 2-1 in a series and fight back. In 2010, the Blackhawks trailed the Nashville Predators 2-1 in their conference quarterfinal series before rallying to win the series 4-2.
Sharp believes he and some of the team's veterans could utilize that experience, but he didn't want to draw too many comparisons.
"You want to take your past experiences as an individual player, as a team, but I'm not really worried about 2010," Sharp said. "This team has been together for almost two full seasons now, and we've been through a lot of different situations and responded well. I've got confidence in our group that we can find a way to get things done."
But they also know that their offensive machine has gone south, again, per Powers:
The Blackhawks ranked second in the league with 149 goals for (3.10 goals per game) and weren't shut out during the regular season. Their offensive ways continued in the first round of the playoffs as they averaged 3.4 goals in five games against the Minnesota Wild.
But after opening the Western Conference semifinal series with a four-goal output against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1, the Blackhawks' production has been slowed to a trickle in the past two games. They scored just once in Game 2 and again in Game 3 -- both resulting in losses -- and they were held to a total of two goals in a two-game span for the first time all season. The Blackhawks acknowledged their slump on Tuesday, but they said they haven't lost faith in their ability to score.
"We'd like to score goals, no question about it," said Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp, who has scored a team-high six playoff goals this season. "I don't think there's any worry or panic in our locker room. We've created a few chances. Plenty of opportunities out there, a couple of posts. Goals are going to come when you least expect them, but we're working for them and creating offensively."
The Blackhawks didn't manufacture a lot of chances in Game 2 with just 20 shots on goal in a 4-1 loss. In Game 3, they improved on the quantity of their shots with 40 in Monday's 3-1 loss, but they still weren't pleased with the quality of them. They're now looking to get more shots closer to the net.
"They're extremely great defensively," Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa said. "They're playing well in their zone, neutral zone, and we have to find a way to get inside."
NHL.com's Corey Masisak penned a "warm fuzzies" column about Marian Hossa and his time in Detroit (and Chicago), and the Vancouver Sun's Cam Cole tossed a bit of napalm onto the, "Why did Hossa choose Chicago" fire by offering this strange set of remarks...
Money has always been a factor in Hossa’s free agent choices — he’s in the fourth year of a 12-year, $62.8-million contract with Chicago that pays him $7.9 million for each of the first seven seasons — but it’s no accident he’s ended up on good teams. He didn’t pick Florida or Columbus in his travels.
“There are some similarities,” he said. “You always have a really good (one-two) punch, like in Pittsburgh (he was traded by Atlanta) you had Malkin-Crosby, in Detroit you had Zetterberg-Datsyuk and here you got Kane and Toews, so there’s some similarities, and also the young talent.”
But he said it wasn’t about cherry-picking the best team.
“My agent (Rich Winter) has been involved in hockey a long time and we talk and he sees all the numbers, and knows what teams can afford this type of players,” Hossa said, “and you see the list of teams and also there’s different styles, right? And they have to want you. If they don’t want you, there’s no choice. I was lucky where I was in great teams, great organizations.”
But Hossa and his teammates mostly focused on the Red Wings in terms of how they need to go about battling through Detroit's defense, as noted by the Chicago Sun-Times' Lazerus...
"It seems like they are playing well in front of the net,” Michal Rozsival said. “They’re boxing out our forwards. They [force] a lot of shots from the outside. They’re blocking shots in front of the net. They are doing a good job and they are getting the bounces right now.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville shook things up in Game 3 to generate some offense, putting Sharp on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and moving Brandon Saad to the second line with Dave Bolland and Patrick Kane. Both Sharp and Saad seemed to have some extra hop in their step in their new roles, and Quenneville said those combinations could stay together, or the lines could be shaken up even further.
Toews and Saad have combined for no goals and three assists through eight playoff games.
Getting the power play on track would be a good start. The Hawks are just 3-of-22 in the postseason, ahead of only the Rangers among the eight teams still playing. But more than anything, the Hawks just want to play their style of hockey again, rather than dumping and chasing around a tenacious Red Wings defense.
“They do an extremely great job in the neutral zone,” Marian Hossa said. “We have to find a way to get a first pass from our zone to the players with the speed. We have to get open for our D, and find the puck they give us. We’ve been a puck-control team the whole season and right now it seems like we’re just trying to fire the puck away from our zone. We have to go back to our game.”
Added Sharp: “You’d like to score goals, no question about it. [But] I don’t think there’s any worry or panic in our locker room. We created a few chances, there were plenty of opportunities out there, we hit a couple of posts. The goals are going to come when you least expect them.”
And they got downright complimentary toward the Wings' defensive play while speaking with the Windsor Star's Bob Duff...
“I don’t really know too much about how their team is built and inside their locker room, but I know watching them over the years that they always have a strong team,” Chicago forward Patrick Sharp said. “It doesn’t matter who’s on the ice, what the numbers are on the back, it seems like they play the same way every time I’ve played against the Wings, which has been a lot over the past eight seasons.
“It’s always the same kind of game. They make you skate hard, they make you work hard to get to the net and it’s always a tough game. I know they had their struggles in the regular season, but they’re playing well now. It doesn’t surprise me at all.”
One area where the Wings are taking it to the Blackhawks is on the forecheck, limiting the time and space of the Chicago defence and inhibiting their ability to make a quick, accurate first pass out of their own zone.
“We are a puck control team the whole season, and right now it seems like we just try to fire pucks away from our zone,” Hossa said. “We have to go back to our game, even if we have to pick up the puck in our zone and skate with it and make the space, make the distance from the defender.”
Though the Hawks admitted to the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash that their own defensive play has not been error-free:
To his credit, defenseman Brent Seabrook owned up to his mistake without even being asked.
‘‘They scored a nice goal; I got burned,’’ Seabrook said when asked what made the difference in the Blackhawks’ 3-1 loss Monday to the Detroit Red Wings in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal. ‘‘I’ve got to do better on that, and they started rolling after that.’’
Unfortunately for the Hawks, Seabrook isn’t alone. The Hawks’ defensemen seemingly have taken turns getting burned by the Red Wings. In Game 3, Nick Leddy and Seabrook were beaten by Gustav Nyquist, whose goal gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead. Seconds later, a turnover by Michal Rozsival led to a goal by Drew Miller that made it 2-0. In Game 2, a turnover by Niklas Hjalmarsson led to the tiebreaking goal in the Hawks’ 4-1 loss.
‘‘We have made some mistakes on ‘D,’ ’’ Rozsival said. ‘‘It’s about execution. It’s the little things — making the right play, the right decisions, getting the pucks out. A couple of times [in Game 3] we had an opportunity to clear the zone and make a good play and turned the puck over, and they scored on a couple of those. That’s definitely something we need to clear up.’’
Mostly, the Hawks want to "restore the roar" on their power play, as they told Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Myers:
The Blackhawks have a Jeckyll-and-Hyde syndrome working with their special teams right now. The penalty kill is tremendous, and is now a postseason league-best 29-for-29. But that power play has been a source of aggravation more than production, scoring just three times on 22 opportunities, including 0-for-8 on the road in the playoffs.
And in Game 3, when the Blackhawks could’ve used a goal on it again, it came up empty.
The Blackhawks have tried all sorts of different combinations throughout the regular season, and went to a star-studded top unit earlier in these playoffs. Yet here they are again, wondering what they’ve got to do to score on the man advantage. So what’s the problem?
“It starts with faceoffs,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You get the setup. We had one good power play there (in Game 3); offensive zone time was in place. But we still have to keep taking shots, off the rush or in zone. We have to be a threat to score, and traffic is what we’re looking for. We had better shots. Hopefully we get one.”
The Blackhawks have been hit and miss in getting traffic on Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard. Lately it’s been more miss, be it on the power play or even strength. But another problem right now is, even if the Blackhawks have a good movement and shots on a power play, like they did in their first one on Tuesday night, they don’t improve from there on their ensuing advantages.
It’s been a recurring theme for the Blackhawks the last two seasons: get the power play going. Pronto. The Red Wings are playing stifling defense right now, and getting anything on them at any point is going to be crucial. The Blackhawks are getting the chances. They have to start capitalizing on them.
The Northwest Herald's Tom Musick dissected the Hawks' faceoff woes:
"Our power play, it starts with faceoffs,” Quenneville said.
With that said, I went back and re-watched the Hawks’ 3-1 loss in Game 3. As the Hawks lined up for their first power-play attempt in a scoreless game in the first period, Toews lost the draw to Pavel Datsyuk, and the Wings cleared the puck down the ice. That burned off about 20 seconds, which is 16.7 percent of the duration of the man advantage.
Datsyuk won another draw against second-line center Dave Bolland during the same power play, and the Wings cleared the puck once again to burn more time off of the clock. Tick, tick, tick.
Where does all of the time go? Well, in hockey, it goes down the ice. Now, the Hawks must prevent their record-setting season from going down the drain.
“We’d like to get some more chances, more shots on net, create some more,” Sharp said. “But I’ve got faith – not only in our whole group – but the guys who are on the power play that we’ll find a way to get it done.”
In the bluster and Sturm-und-Drang department, ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers called out four Blackhawks, and here are the three players (the other is Joel Quenneville) he named...
Dave Bolland: There are basically two ways to assess a player's performance: by watching if he's a positive influence on the ice and his statistics. Bolland is passing neither test right now. Inserted into the lineup after the first round, he's been disappointing so far. He has zero points and is minus-2 in the first three games while accumulating 10 minutes in penalties. His role is a little different in this postseason than in the past but when asked to play shutdown defense or more of an offensive role -- as he was in Game 3 -- Bolland has come up short. His game is to annoy but it's only worked on the referees so far. The Hawks need more from him.
Brent Seabrook: He's been a minus player in each of the first three games of the series although he does have 10 shots on goal. But that minus-4 isn't going to cut it. The move by Gustav Nyquist to open the scoring in Game 3 was a good one but Seabrook is paid to kill that play any way possible. He's played less than 20 minutes in each game of the series so far after averaging 22 during the regular season. He and his partner, Nick Leddy, have struggled but we expect more from Seabrook, the Olympic champion and former Stanley Cup winner.
Corey Crawford: Crawford hasn't played downright bad but he can step it up too. Simply stated, he's been outplayed by his counterpart, Jimmy Howard. Howard made a good save on Brandon Saad when he cut across the middle in Game 3, not unlike the move Nyquist made. But Nyquist scored on his. Pavel Datsyuk had great placement on goal No. 3 on Monday but that's because Crawford went down early giving Datsyuk the upper half of the net. It's hard to constitute any goal as a softy but to say a few have been save-able would be an understatement.
And the Globe and Mail's David Shoalts quite wisely noted that the Blackhawks' depth players haven't aided Chicago's cause...
In the three games against the Red Wings, the Blackhawks’ third and fourth lines produced a grand total of two points. The Red Wings’ bottom six forwards accounted for nine points in the same period. On defence, Chicago’s third pairing of Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival had a dreadful night on Monday.
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville has not been happy with everyone on those two lines for some time. He benched third-line winger Viktor Stalberg, who played 47 of 48 regular-season games, for the first two games of the Detroit series in favour of Daniel Carcillo.
When Stalberg replaced Carcillo for Monday’s game, he was the one who scored the disallowed goal early in the third period because linemate Andrew Shaw was in the goal crease. Quenneville, who said it was a bad call, pointed to that as the turning point against his team because it would have tied the score 2-2.
In any event, Stalberg, Shaw, Michal Handzus, Bryan Bickell, Michael Frolik, Marcus Kruger and perhaps Carcillo if he is put back in there, all need to be better on Thursday. Not by a lot, since this is still a close series, but by enough to make a difference if Toews and the other stars still can’t get going.
The buck does stop with Captain Pork Chop, and Captain Pork Chop did admit to the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc that he's "squeezing his stick" a bit too much:
After posting 23 goals and 25 assists in 47 regular-season games to finish second on the Hawks in scoring, Toews has been limited to three assists in eight postseason games and just one in the second round. In the Wings' consecutive victories to seize a 2-1 series lead, Toews has been blanked.
"I'm not going to let it get the best of me," Toews said. "I know I'm doing some good things. I'm helping my linemates get chances and I've been smart defensively and doing all those little things. I'm very confident it's going to come. I'm going to stay with it and keep on working. As a team we're facing a little adversity, and so am I on a personal basis."
No one has bigger expectations for Toews than Toews himself, and the Winnipeg native acknowledged "there's maybe a little added pressure given the situation."
"Right now, I'm not letting it build up too much in my own mind," he said. "Sometimes you start squeezing the stick, and the rest of your game kind of goes downhill. I'm not letting that happen, but I know sooner or later something has to give. Hopefully I'll be able to find a way to contribute in a big way."
To do that, Toews will have to find a way to solve the defensive puzzle the Wings have thrown at him, including having Henrik Zetterberg play a physical style that has not allowed much open ice.
"(Zetterberg is) doing a lot of the little things to take myself and my linemates off our game," Toews said. "He's a smart player that way. You just have to go out there and play with energy every single shift and be as tough as you can to play against. Eventually, when you chip away, something is going to happen for you. Someone is going to make a mistake on the other team. You just hope for those breaks. You … try to keep the puck as much as you can. The more you have it, the more opportunities you're going to get to score, and eventually something has to go in."
However, and pleasantly surprisingly, a column entitled: Jonathan Toews: Jonathan Toews Must Lead the Way in fact involves the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh calling out the entire team and suggesting that the Hawks need to reassert themselves collectively as well as individually:
The most surprising aspect of this series has been the striking contrast in demeanors of both teams under pressure. The seventh-seeded Wings responded to their Game 1 loss with the confidence and poise of a group used to operating in a winning environment under coach Mike Babcock while the Hawks have behaved lately like a team experiencing its first postseason. That's on coach Joel Quenneville. The Hawks followed a lack of intensity in Game 2 with an embarrassing loss of composure in the third period of Game 3; neither trait one would expect from the supposed best team in hockey.
The Hawks better start acting like it again before it's golf season and stop complaining about referees or committing dumb penalties undisciplined teams commit. They have until Thursday night back at The Joe to get in the proper frame of mind before their biggest playoff game since Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.
For the Hawks to panic now would be as irrational as Andrew Shaw hopping over the boards to look for trouble like an over-served frat boy at a bar. The best-of-seven format allows teams to recover from letdowns. But if the Hawks lose Game 4, it seems hard to fathom they could regroup in time to win three straight against a peaking Red Wings team. And if a team talented enough to win the Presidents' Trophy gets eliminated in the second round by a seventh seed, the Blackhawks' season will go down as a colossal disappointment and changes will loom. If the walls of the Hawks dressing room could talk, they would say: "It's time."
Optimists spent Tuesday pointing out that the Hawks recovered from a 2-1 series deficit against the Predators in the 2010 playoffs and won the Cup. That memory comforts Hawks fans more than last year's example when the Hawks fell behind the Coyotes 2-1 and ultimately succumbed in six games. Thursday's game will help determine what history this Hawks team repeats.
Everybody can agree they picked a bad time to put together their worst eight-game stretch this season. If the struggles continue, it will revive the question whether a fast, skilled, finesse team like the Hawks built for regular-season consistency can achieve success during the playoffs that reward physicality. The Hawks need to find more ways to score dirty goals offensively and punish defensively. They can't get away with being one-dimensional in the postseason. They need to re-energize a power play without juice.
The Hawks are optimistic about their chances in Game 4, as Niklas Hjalmarsson told the Chicago Daily Herald's Tim Sassone...
"I think we battled really hard," defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. "There was nothing wrong on our effort. It's just we had a lot of chances that we could've scored a couple goals on, but (Howard) played well in their net there. We all know the importance of the next game there in Joe Louis, so we're all focused on that task and looking forward to it."
And while the Detroit News's Matt Charboneau wondered aloud whether the Hawks might swap out Corey Crawford for Ray Emery, Quenneville assured the Chicago Tribune's Hamilton that he's sticking with Crawford...
Goal stand: It continues to sound as if Quenneville is nowhere near considering a goaltender change. Asked to assess Corey Crawford's play this series, the Hawks coach responded only: "He's been fine."
So the bluster-vs-bluster battle of the day comes from the Chicago Daily Herald's Mike Imrem, who suggests that "the experts" have significantly overestimated the Blackhawks' worth...
Wait, from Chicago? Somebody from Chicago said that the Hawks are overrated? Okay...
I hate to keep pounding on this point, but all those points the Blackhawks compiled the first month of the season were due at least in part to them coming out of the NHL lockout pretty much intact from the previous season. After that the abbreviated schedule was a scrimmage, with the Hawks trying to maintain the foundation they established and opponents trying to become worthy challengers.
So, now, who's to say the Red Wings haven't evolved into a team as good and deep and cohesive and gritty and overall dangerous as the Hawks? For the sake of filling that big black hole that is cyberspace, news agencies compile power rankings in various leagues. They are written in digital pencil and adjusted from week to week because No. 1 this week could be No. 4 next week.
So tell me this: If there is movement during the regular season, why can't the best team entering the playoffs no longer be the best team a week later?
An injury can change everything. A great player like Jonathan Toews can plunge into a great slump and become a great disappointment. Referees' calls can go against a team like the Hawks instead of going in their favor. Close games that were victories can become losses because the breaks evened out.
So it's etched in the ice that the Blackhawks will rally to beat Detroit this week and go on to win the Stanley Cup because they're the NHL's best team?
And the Detroit Free Press's Evil Drew Sharp (who will be holding a web chat at 11 AM this morning) replied with the sort of column you'd generally expect from Chicago, suggesting that the President's Trophy is something of a curse in the salary cap era:
It’s often not the better team that advances but the better battle-tested.
“It takes something like this to slap you in the face, so to speak, to really understand what adversity is and how tough the playoffs can be,” said Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who’s experiencing collective and personal adversity in this series — he still hasn’t produced a point. “A lot of guys in this room have been in tough positions before in the playoffs and that hasn’t stopped us.”
The Presidents’ Trophy only adds another target on the top seed’s back Is that really necessary?
The Wings certainly can appreciate the Blackhawks’ frustration. They have faced hungrier teams in early playoff rounds that weren’t intimidated by their regular-season hardware. Teams that needed to win late-season games just to qualify for the playoffs. The Wings got too cute with the puck and didn’t fight hard enough for it.
And like Chicago, they cried about the officiating permitting the clutching, grabbing and bruising that slowed their high-powered regular-season offense, “unfairly” balancing a matchup between the top overall seed vs. a No. 7 or No. 8 seed.
But the Stanley Cup playoffs reward adversity — and the overcoming of those trials — more so than any other professional sport. It’s why they’re special. It’s why there’s no longer any benefit to getting through a regular season clean and easy. It’s the drama that drives these lower seeds into believing that they can beat the top seed in the only season that matters in hockey.
The Red Wings neither practiced nor spoke to the media at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, so most of the Wings press's coverage involves quips made after Monday night's game.
The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness also addressed the Hawks' takes on their faceoff battles, Thursday's must-win status and the Hawks' desire to play "edgy" hockey, with Wings coach Mike Babcock offering a simple response...
“It’s playoff hockey,” Babcock said. “So it’s going to be battles out there and you don’t want to lose any of those battles. It’s going to be tough to play and I think we’re just going to have to keep doing the same things.”
But the Red Wings really are just focusing on their tasks at hand and, as the Windsor Star's Bob Duff noted, continuing to grow-on-the-fly...
“I think the whole team has gotten a lot better,” Ericsson said. “Everyone has sort of taken another step here in the playoffs. We felt that we were close with them. We just have to stay the course and play our game.”
Henrik Zetterberg, in his first year as captain, has tended to a ship that’s listed at times, but seems to be on course at the moment toward a special destination.
“We’re learning as we go,” Zetterberg said. “Every game is a great experience for this group. They’re smart kids. They’re playing their first playoffs here, but they really do the little things right and they’re getting rewarded for it. It’s nice to see.”
At the same time, the Wings understand that their lesson plan can change at a moment’s notice.
“As the year’s gone on we’ve gotten better,” Babcock said. “You’ve got to work hard enough and play good enough to earn some confidence in yourself, and I think our group has done that. Things are going in the right direction for us thus far in the series, but let’s be honest, we haven’t done anything yet.”
The Wings are embracing their tasks at hand against Chicago, as the Detroit News's Gregg Krupa (with guest stars Kelly Hrudey and Eddie Olczyk...And a sports psychologist? Woah, Krupa's thorough as hell as usual):
The Red Wings landed at Metropolitan Airport after upsetting the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and they were barely through celebrating when questions came about their next difficult task, the Chicago Blackhawks and their deep lineup.
"How much of a challenge is it going to be for you and the defense? Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, it doesn't end," Niklas Kronwall was asked.
"It doesn't," Kronwall admitted. "I mean, they've got four lines that can all roll and score. It's going to be a challenge for our group. But at the same time I think we've been coming together more and more and better and better over these last few games. So, it will be a challenge, but it will be fun."
Fun. They all talk about it, especially around the playoffs. Hockey players and coaches seem to think that the best thing they can do, strategically, is to "just go out and have fun."
What do they mean? A lot of things, based on interviews with current and former players, coaches and sports psychologists.
Some say it is about two crucial aspects of enhancing athletic performance: relaxing and remaining in the moment. Some say it is a way of slowing the pace of the playoffs. Others say it is a way of focusing. Others, still, say it reminds them the playoffs are the reward for accomplishments during the season.
Regardless, it seems these guys just want to have fun.
"The playoffs, it's do or die time," Red Wings forward Drew Miller said. "I think you work all season to get to this point, and you have your ups and downs, and you have your games or your times during the season when the grind gets to you, and this is kind of the light at the end of the tunnel. So you look forward it. It comes and you kind of get into that series and just make the most of it, and the time that you have in the playoffs, because a lot of people don't get to come to the playoffs that often."
So yeah, go and read the rest of Krupa's column...
Anyway, as the Toledo Blade's Rachel Lenzi noted, the Wings are also doing their best to insist that momentum will not transfer from Game 3 to Game 4...
“Let's be honest,” Babcock said. “We haven't done anything yet."
Less than a month ago, the Red Wings fought simply to qualify for the postseason. Now, they’re surging against a team that entered the postseason as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup, on account of a combination of veteran leadership and young players who are delivering in the playoffs, including captain Henrik Zetterberg (three goals, seven assists) and first-year center Damien Brunner (four goals, four assists).
“You’ve got to work hard enough and play hard enough, get some confidence in yourself and I think this group has done that,” Babcock said. “I’ve talked about the fact that we’re getting better even when we know we weren’t winning on a regular basis, and then we started to win."
Given that sentiment, Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard doesn’t believe the Blackhawks will roll over in Game 4.
“They’re going to come even harder on Thursday,” said Howard, who made 39 saves in Game 3. “They’re probably the best team in the NHL. We’re just going out there, sticking to our game plan, getting pucks deep, getting on their ‘D.’ We’re trying not to give them any freebies. They’re a team that lives off the transition and we’ve got to get above them.”
And the Wings are readily admitting that they've got a bit of a chip on their shoulder as the "underdogs," as MLive's Ansar Khan noted:
“A lot of people were picking us to get swept by them; it sort of put a chip on our shoulder that everyone's writing us off again here in the second round,'' Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “It's a little bit different playing the underdog role around here. I don't think people are quite used to it. I think that's why our fans are enjoying it so much.''
If the Blackhawks had a sense of invincibility after winning eight consecutive games against Detroit, including a dominant 4-1 victory in the series opener, it has vanished. The gritty, hard-working and resilient Red Wings have outscored Chicago 7-2 the past two games.
“I think we had a real positive vibe in the locker room,'' Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “We know we’ve been really close to Chicago many times during the regular season and we’re playing better now, so why wouldn’t we be able to beat them?''
Said Red Wings forward Patrick Eaves: “We know they’re a great team and we have to respect that, respect their skill. As long as we keep getting better on a nightly basis I think that’s all we can worry about.”
The Red Wings have responded to Chicago's physical play, and Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said “it's going to be more physical every game here on.''
What's contributing to the Wings' success in terms of individual or line-by-line bases?
Well, they've got a helluva goalie, as the AP's Larry Lage suggested in his Wings-Hawks off-day report...
[Corey] Crawford has been an impressive 82-40-18 the last three regular seasons, but a lackluster 10-11 in the playoffs. The Montreal native sounds as if he's ready to bounce back to help the team respond well enough to avoid their first three-game losing streak since the 2011-12 season.
"We haven't had a lot of adversity this year," Crawford said. "We just have to dig deep and battle."
The Red Wings, meanwhile, barely made the playoffs and they leaned on Howard a lot because their team was challenged offensively because of injuries and the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom.
Howard had to play in 42 of 48 games during the lockout-shortened season because he didn't have a healthy, or capable, backup for much of the season. He was 21-13-7 and tied for the league lead with five shutouts, leading to him getting a $31.8 million, six-year contract to keep him off the market as a free agent this summer.
Like Crawford, Howard has been really good during the regular season -- for four seasons as a No. 1 goalie -- and average in the playoffs with a .500 record going into Game 4. In a town where the goalie is in the spotlight, win or lose, Zetterberg said Howard has the perfect temperament for the job.
"Nothing really bothers him," Zetterberg said. "If he lets in a goal, he just flushes it and moves on."
Their "third line" has been downright dominant and their fourth line wasn't far behind on Monday, as the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan noted...
"That's big," [Gustav] Nyquist said of the contributions from the two bottom lines. "It's big to win each line (head-to-head), but we just want to bring some energy to the team and grind them (the Blackhawks) down low, win our battles, and gain momentum for our top guys."
The Nyquist-Joakim Andersson-Damien Brunner third line bothered Anaheim and Chicago during the playoffs with its speed and offensive capability.
The return of [Drew] Miller (broken bone, hand) to the fourth line in this series has stabilized and strengthened the line and penalty killing. And his line, which includes Cory Emmerton and Patrick Eaves, can grind opponents and has the ability to surprise with offense.
"In the playoffs, you need contributions from everyone," Miller said. "Those were big goals (in Game 3), and it gives the big boys (on the top lines) some breathing room."
Said Eaves: "We need all four lines in the playoffs. Everyone has a deep team at this point in the playoffs. We have to keep getting better as a group."
And Drew Miller? As the Macomb Daily's Pleiness notes, he may be something of a secret weapon:
“He does all the little things right, blocking shots, getting in on the forecheck, penalty kill and just working hard,” Howard said. “That (penalty kill) was huge. I think (Miller) blocked about five shots on the penalty kill. He’s such a key player for us. He does his job so well.”
Miller played 3:15 during an extended penalty-killing sequence, and oh look, he was good!
Once Smith was released from the box, he joined the play giving the Wings three defenseman on the ice and two forwards. It took another 1:15 until Detroit could finally get a clear long enough to get a change.
“They had some good chances,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “(Chicago) held onto the puck for a long time there. We stayed composed and Howie was there when we needed him.”
The Wings killed off all four of the Blackhawks’ power plays in Game 3.
“The biggest improvement we’ve seen with him in the lineup is our penalty kill,” Carlo Colaiacovo said. “(That) shift there in the second period I think he blocked five shots in a row. It was huge for that line to get a goal as well. Millsie is a guy who skates real well, blocks shots, plays with that edge, finishes checks and he’s been really key to us since he’s been back.”
The kill was huge and it may have been the spark the Wings’ offense needed as Gustav Nyquist scored just under four minutes later and it was followed up 31 seconds later by a goal from Miller.
“And (Miller) got rewarded with a goal, it just shows you that hard work pays off,” Howard said.
So all of that's great and stuff, but what do the Red Wings need to do going forward?
Well, the Free Press's Helene St. James plain old lets us know where things stand...
What happened in Game 3? See, this was the night the Blackhawks were supposed to be the responders, the way the Wings were the responders in Game 2. They did try. Jimmy Howard just wouldn’t relent. He made 15 saves in the first period Monday, and then in the second period, the Wings got goals from their third and fourth lines. Then that Pavel Datsyuk guy mopped up in the third period, scoring an insurance goal after Patrick Kane had made it 2-1.
What’s going on with these Wings? They keep finding ways to win. It was one thing to do it against the Ducks — many in hockey picked that as a first-round upset. But the Wings did it even after losing defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who Babcock didn’t stop talking about in the month DeKeyser played before suffering a broken right thumb.
If the Norris Trophy was handed out based on best one-month performance in the NHL, DeKeyser would no doubt have been a finalist. Anyway, the Wings dispatched the Ducks, closing them out on the road. And now they’re hammering away at the Blackhawks.
OK, the series is only three games old. But it was impressive to see the Wings win Game 3, because the Blackhawks very clearly were determined to bounce back from their poor showing Saturday.
Where can this playoff run end? It’s intriguing to wonder. There is zero pressure on the Wings — about as much pressure as there is on a baby to do more than eat and sleep. It evaporated after this “Work in Progress” team progressed into the playoffs, ensuring the 21-season streak grew to 22. That was a “mission accomplished” banner moment. Then they went ahead and upset the second-seeded Ducks. Bonus.
Now? Now the Wings are just plucking feathers from everyone’s cap.
And, as I suggested way back at the beginning of this Hindenburg, if the Hawks want to play angry, the Wings need to embrace that concept by continuing to piss the Blackhawks off while holding their own tempers in check.
The Detroit News's John Niyo suggests as much while playing the Evil Drew Sharp instigator's role, suggesting that the Andrew Shaw call was "more egregious" than the Franzen one, that Jimmy Howard's goalposts have been worth $5 million a season, picking on Mike Babcock for not putting the Nyquist-Andersson-Brunner line (boy, does the Wings' kid line ever "NAB" goals) and hoping that this series goes seven games:
"We couldn't seem to get a call," Stalberg said after Game 3, when the Red Wings forecheck was really good and their good fortune even better, perhaps. "In every scrum, they were picking our guys off the ice. It was frustrating, that aspect, but we've got to fight through that adversity."
Tuesday, Stalberg's teammates were back home in Chicago refuting any talk of being frustrated. Who, us?
"It was more just showing that we are there and we are going to be there and we are going to be fighting," defenseman Michal Rozsival said.
Quenneville, 7-22 against Detroit in the playoffs, shrugged and said, "Do what you gotta do," when asked about his team trying to send a message at the end of Game 3. But watching them do what they did the last two games, it's hard not to see what Ericsson saw. He suggested the Blackhawks' last-minute meltdown on a muggy night in downtown Detroit "absolutely" was "a good indication" the Red Wings were in the Blackhawks' heads, giving them much more than a puncher's chance as underdogs in this series.
"If we can get them frustrated, that's almost 1-0 for us right away," Ericsson said. "So that's what we want to do."
You don't always get what you want in hockey. But the team that manages to rise above is the one that typically gets ahead — and finishes there — in the playoffs. Right now, that's where the Red Wings think they're headed.
"But I think this series is a long way from over," Toews said, as determined as ever despite his own personal scoring drought. "And they know that, too."
Frankly, I hope they're both right.
In the end, attempts to stay objective go by the wayside for me during the playoffs, and if I may put things bluntly and subjectively, I do believe that the Wings have started to inflict what Reg Dunlop from Slap Shot would call "the mind *#$%@&" on the Blackhawks' players and coach, and I hope they keep pressing it, because while there is no doubt that the Red Wings have bent and bent repeatedly under the Hawks' pressure...
It's Chicago that's starting to show very evident examples of stress fractures, and if the Wings are able to keep their poise while forcing the Blackhawks to abandon theirs, I don't think anything the Hawks do on Thursday can truly allow them to recapture this series, winning the game included.
The Wings have gone on the road and stuffed their opponents in games 5, 6 and 7 before, and they can do it again. The Hawks are deeper, more dangerous and probably "better" than the Ducks, but better doesn't matter very much come playoff time.
In the multimedia department:
A) From Chicago: I posted the Hawks' off-day pressers in the off-day post, but the Chicago Tribune's correspondents also talked about "controversial calls," off-day chatter and other stuff in what ended up being a twelve-minute conversation;
Comcast Sportsnet Chicago, whose videos I will NEVER EMBED AGAIN because they're auto-play like the Tribune and Sun-Times, offers Quenneville's presser, player commentary, comments from Hawks fans (who hated the Shaw call) and a charming nearly-nine-minutes' worth of Chicago sports columnists discussing the state of the Blackhawks on CSN's "Hawks Talk."
Oh, and they offered puzzlement about those strange octopuses/octopi...AND OH MY GORD THEY ARE SO INSISTENT THAT PASSIVE INTERFERENCE IS THE RED WINGS' KEY TO VICTORY. Why did I listen to this while writing this entry? Why?
B) From Detroit, sort of: as many of you pointed out, Detroit Red Wings team photographer Dan Mannes' work was featured on the Sporting News's website, and some of our California-based Wings fans appear in Mannes' Wings-Ducks pictures;
The Detroit News's David Guralnick also caught the unintended victim of an octopus-flinging incident;
C) From Grand Rapids: WBBL's Huge Show spoke to...
1. Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers...
2. Wings broadcaster Ken Kal...
3. And Wings forward Justin Abdelkader:
The Abdelkader interview is 15 minutes long.
Also of Red Wings-related note: If you're interested, per 97.1 the Ticket, one of the members of the Ticket's non-official Wings team employees who is actually quite passionate about hockey will be hosting a pre-Game 4 viewing party at the Hockeytown Cafe on Thursday:
Join 97.1 The Ticket’s Jeff Riger for some Detroit Red Wings playoff hockey at the Official Red Wings Viewing Party at Hockeytown Cafe! Riger will be broadcasting live from 6:00-7:40 pm. Stop by when the Wings take on the Blackhawks from when the puck drops to the end of the game for all the hockey fun. All fans are invited to join the 97.1 The Ticket Street Team and Ticket Chicks for all the excitement of postseason hockey while enjoying food and drink specials and interactive games. So stop by for all the Red Wings action from the Detroit Red Wings and your station for sports …97.1 The Ticket.
We will look toward Riger, Ken Kal, Paul Woods, Pat Caputo and Dennis Fithian fondly and ignore the fact that a certain Flagship Station's afternoon talk crew spent their broadcast trying to convince fans that the Shaw no-goal call was much more "unfair" than Kane scoring after Franzen was cross-checked;
In the prospect department, "new guy" version, the Grand Rapids Griffins have advanced to the AHL's Western Conference Finals, and Griffinshockey.com's Kyle Kujawa profiled Teemu Pulkkinen in an article penned for Michigan Hockey;
And in the prospect department, "older guy" version, the Free Press's George Sipple profiled Jakub Kindl.
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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.