If anyone who’s spent time around an NHL dressing room at playoff time listened to the following quotes, they would know exactly who blew a series lead big time to force a Game 7 with the other team holding all the feel-good cards.
“If I would’ve told Detroit and Michigan we would play in Chicago in Game 7, I think everybody would be excited about that,” Detroit Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said.
“Going into this series, if you would have said there’d be a Game 7, we’d be happy,” Wings centre Henrik Zetterberg said.
“Like we just said in here, if someone would have said we’ll go to seven games, I think anyone would have taken it,” Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall added. “We have another chance coming up here on Wednesday.”
Yes, the above items all came out of the NHL coaches’ manual, from the section: “What to do when you seriously screw up a chance to pull off an upset.”
The Red Wings had their feet on the neck of a team with superior talent, holding a 3-1 best-of-seven series lead, and after a hiccup in Game 5 still had a 2-1 lead in the third period of Game 6 Monday. Then, they let the Chicago Blackhawks off the mat with a series of defensive goofs in a 4-3 loss.
Now, in a spring where the home teams are winning most of the playoff games, it is the Red Wings who have to go back to the Madhouse on Madison. Now, it is they who have to try and quiet the Blackhawks faithful, whose baying from the start of the U.S. national anthem through the first good scoring chance has long set visiting teams back on their heels, even in regular-season games.
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.
It’s funny how fast one team’s edge can disappear in an NHL playoff series. Now, it’s the Chicago stars who are outplaying their Detroit counterparts, and ditto for the foot soldiers.
The team that cruised to first place overall in the regular season is back in form – a form that even looks a lot like the Chicago team that won the 2010 Stanley Cup.