When it comes to selling the excitement that is playoff hockey, the NHL should wrap up Monday night’s game between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks and make sure every would-be fan sees it.
The game had almost too much of everything for the senses – speed, puck movement, the nastiness and emotion that can only come from two old rivals, great goaltending, several pucks that rang off goal posts and crossbars and a crucial disallowed goal, all to the roaring soundtrack of 20,066 frenzied patrons at Joe Louis Arena. And there is also an upset story in the making, as the Red Wings’ unheralded youngsters combined to produce a couple of crucial goals in a 3-1 win with a big assist from goaltender Jimmy Howard, who made 39 saves.
That gave the Wings a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semi-final over the Blackhawks, who were supposed to roll over the Motor City crew on their way to the conference final.
Oh, and there were all kinds of turning points, too, depending on your perspective.
The Red Wings pointed to surviving a Blackhawks power play that led to an offensive surge early in the second period plus a third-period goal by Pavel Datsyuk that restored their two-goal lead after Patrick Kane scored for the Blackhawks. Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville said it was having a goal disallowed shortly after Kane scored to cut Detroit’s lead to 2-1 when Andrew Shaw was ruled to be in Howard’s crease when the puck went in the net.
Quenneville said Shaw “didn’t touch the goalie,” so the call should never have been made. That turned the game around, he added, because the score could have been tied 2-2.
“We [could have] had two and the momentum and had everything going,” Quenneville said.
The Red Wings all paid thanks to Datsyuk for scoring at 6:46 of the third period, shortly after the Blackhawks goal was waved off. But what really helped was getting through that second-period Chicago power play.
Fifty-four seconds into the period, Detroit defenceman Brendan Smith took the first of two penalties he was assessed in the middle frame. The Blackhawks seized on the opportunity and hammered away at the Wings. After the penalty was over, they kept it up for another two minutes, keeping the puck in the Red Wings end and firing away. But all they came away with were two shots that actually hit the net, thanks equally to their poor aim and to the willingness of the Red Wings to throw their bodies in front of shots.
A few minutes later, the Wings’ bottom two lines stepped forward to outshine their counterparts on the Blackhawks and break the deadlock between the top two lines on each team.
Rookie forward Gustav Nyquist, another of those youngsters the Red Wings brought along this season, took off when the Wings won a faceoff in their own end and got behind Chicago defenceman Nick Leddy. He took a pass at full speed from fellow rookie Damien Brunner and blew past Leddy’s partner, Brent Seabrook. Nyquist then played Crawford like an old pro, showing great patience in holding the puck and then, when the goaltender committed himself, flipped it into the open side of the net at 7:49.
The Red Wings stunned the Blackhawks 31 seconds later when their fourth line scored to put them ahead 2-0. The victims this time were the ‘Hawks’ third defence pair of Michal Rozsival and Johnny Oduya, who did not have a second period to remember. Rozsival made a bad clearing attempt under pressure that landed on Cory Emmerton’s stick and Drew Miller finished the play with his first goal of the playoffs as the fans exploded and kept the volume up for most of the second period.
Howard said it was nice to see Miller get the goal because he played a big role in killing that penalty to Smith “where we were all dying.”
“[Miller] blocked about five shots on that penalty kill,” Howard said. “He’s such a key player for us. He does his job so well, getting the puck out along the boards, blocking shots on the [penalty kill] and he got rewarded with that goal tonight. It just shows how hard work pays off.”
Zetterberg said the Wings’ third and fourth lines “have been huge for us. It was nice to see that line and the Emmerton line get big goals.”
But the Blackhawks’ best players were not ready to surrender. They came back hard in the third period, just as they did in the first. Kane scored at 4:35, as the crowd roared its disapproval because Wings forward Johan Franze was lying at the other end of the ice after being driven into the boards by Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The Red Wings had an answer for that, too, when Viktor Stalberg’s goal for Chicago was disallowed. Two minutes later, one of their best players, Datsyuk, ripped a wrist shot behind Crawford to restore the two-goal lead.