The Chicago Blackhawks admittedly played a terrible defensive game at home in losing the second game of their NHL playoff series to the Detroit Red Wings, blowing the home-ice advantage in the Western Conference semi-final.
Then again, even though the sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena will be in full cry in support of the Red Wings for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Thursday nights, the Blackhawks are facing the hostile atmosphere with equanimity. If the Red Wings can win their three home games in the series they will move on to the conference final but the Blackhawks have yet to lose a game this season at the Joe, going 2-0 in the regular season while sporting the NHL’s best road record at 18-4-2. In their last four seasons, the Blackhawks’ record in Detroit is 9-1-1.
There are lots of reasons the Blackhawks play well in Detroit, the players and coaches said after Monday’s game-day skate, from the quality of the ice to the long-time rivalry between the teams that will be reduced to a simmer next season when the Wings move to the Eastern Conference.
“It’s always an important game when you get to Detroit,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s a tough building; you have to play your best. One game here earlier this season was probably our best game, our most intense game [a 7-1 blowout of the Wings on Mar. 31].
“They’ve got lively boards and the ice is good.”
Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook says Joe Louis Arena, especially during the playoffs, is one of his favourite places to play.
“It’s exciting,” the native of Delta, B.C., said. “I know growing up, I’d watch the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs each year. Maybe the feeling of being here at Joe Louis, it’s always a fun game being part of the Blackhawks - Red Wing rivalry.”
Good ice, a rarity in the NHL come playoff time thanks to warm spring days and multi-purpose arenas (although the Joe is strictly hockey these days), is a boon to a quick-skating team like the Blackhawks. However, it was the Red Wings who out-skated the ‘Hawks in beating them 4-1 in Game 2 to tie the series 1-1.
The Red Wings served notice they would not be cannon fodder for the Blackhawks by overwhelming their defence and leaving goaltender Corey Crawford to fend for himself.
“The whole team defence was off,” Quenneville said. “They attacked us well and we didn’t do a good job in certain areas of the rink. We can be better in all areas defensively.”
Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane thinks a little help from the referees would be nice, although he put it more diplomatically than a few of his teammates, who were not happy with some calls so far in the series. The Red Wings had four power plays to the ‘Hawks’ two in their last game although neither team scored with the man-advantage.
“We hope to get a few calls go our way,” Kane said. “It seems throughout the playoffs, the regular season, we don’t draw many penalties. I think we can do a better job at that, getting ourselves on the power play.
“Instead of getting one or two or three power plays a game, maybe get four or five and cash in on a couple and get a good chance to win. That’s the key in other [NHL] games, teams are getting a lot of power plays and cashing in.”
The Blackhawks will make at least one lineup change for Monday’s game. Forward Viktor Stalberg, who was benched for the first two games of the series, will be back in the lineup. Daniel Carcillo is expected to be scratched in favour of Stalberg.