Red Wings on the edge of upset glory after 2-0 win over Blackhawks
Detroit grabs 3-1 series lead by frustrating snake-bitten Presidents' Trophy crew from Chicago
Daniel Cleary of the Detroit Red Wings, right, celebrates his empty-net goal against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday with teammate Henrik Zetterberg. The underdog Red Wings took a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series with a solid 2-0 win at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Photograph by: Paul Sancya, The Associated Press
DETROIT -- When it’s going badly ...
The Chicago Blackhawks, desperately needing a bounce-back game against the Detroit Red Wings, ideally including a resurgence of the power play and a goal — any kind of goal — from captain Jonathan Toews, instead got nada. Zilch. Bupkes.
The hard-skating, opportunistic Wings choked the life out of the Presidents’ Trophy winners, frustrated Toews into three second-period minors — the second of which led to the winning/losing power-play goal by defenceman Jakub Kindl — and rendered the gifted Chicago shooters toothless in a 2-0 victory that left the Blackhawks down 3-1 in games.
Backstopped by another dazzling game in goal by Jimmy Howard, who blocked all 28 shots the Hawks threw at him for his second career playoff shutout, the Red Wings sent their 100th consecutive sellout crowd of 20,066 at Joe Louis Arena home in giddy anticipation of a stunning second-round upset.
Game 5 is Saturday in Chicago.
Dan Cleary scored into an empty net with 38 seconds left to seal the win for the Wings, who barely made the playoffs and are now poised to end the season of the NHL’s No. 1 regular-season team.
“If you would have asked me two months ago, I would be shocked,” said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. “We started playing better and better. Once we got through the Anaheim series, you go in thinking you have an opportunity. We’re competing at a high, high level.
“We’re not doing things right all the time, but we’re doing them hard all the time. There’s a lot to be said for effort and battling.”
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville played mix-’n-match with his lines and even relegated Brent Seabrook to his third defence pair trying to shake some magic from his struggling lineup, but the Hawks just kept squeezing their sticks to sawdust and ending every shift mouthing bad words on the bench.
In fairness, Howard was breaking their hearts. He parried all 14 Chicago shots in the first period to weather the mini-storm the Hawks mounted, smothering in-the-clear attempts by the snake-bitten Toews, Patrick Sharp and Michal Handzus, and making a trio of understated but vital right pad saves on screened shots.
His best save came on a third-period 2-on-1 when he sprawled to keep out a shot by David Bolland, perfectly set up by Michael Frolik.
“Howie played well. We pay him to do that. We expect him to do that,” said Babcock, purposefully downplaying his goalie’s stellar evening.
Toews, meanwhile, is in the midst of another one of his epic playoff droughts — he’s had goalless streaks of nine and 14 games in previous playoff seasons, and this one has now reached 10. He has scored just four times in his last 34 playoff starts, inexplicably bad numbers for an offensively-gifted player, captain and Olympic gold-medal winner.
But it was his personal meltdown in the second period that showed just how frustrated the Hawks have been by the Detroit checking game and Toews, in particular, by the work of Wings’ captain Henrik Zetterberg.
A guy who had just 11 penalties in the 48-game regular season took three minors in a span of 5:34 — the second of which, undeserved, resulted in a slick Detroit power play and a screened shot from the top of the left-wing faceoff circle that sifted past several bodies and went in off the post behind Hawks’ goalie Corey Crawford, who never saw it.
“That was huge for all of us,” said Kindl. “We knew we had to pick it up on our power play. They’ve been playing so good as a team on the PK. This was the biggest game of my life so far and the biggest goal I’ve had.”
“Everyone’s a little pissed off,” said Crawford. “I thought we played well again. It just seems like we can’t get bounces. Three off the post and they get one off the post and in. That pretty much sums it up for the last couple of nights for us.
“We’re getting chances, going to the net hard and doing a lot of good things. I just can’t explain it. It’s another thing if you’re not playing hard and you’re not battling. That’s not the case with our team right now.”
Toews was in the box for high-sticking Justin Abdelkader on the goal, but slow-motion replays showed that it was the butt of the Detroit forward’s own stick that hit him in the mouth after Toews jarred it out of his hands.
The Chicago centreman was furious, argued vociferously with referee Wes McCauley and, when he took yet another penalty for high sticking a couple of minutes later, had to be calmed down by Seabrook, who made a special trip to the hoosegow door to talk the captain off the ledge.
“We’d like to keep him in the box,” said Detroit defenceman Jonathan Ericsson. “He’s not as good for them in the box.”
“I’m not going to say anything about the officiating,” Toews said. “Obviously I disagree with the calls but it’s in the heat of the moment. They see what they see. I’ve gotta be careful of my stick. That doesn’t help my team, but I still think we played hard through it, found a way to stay in the game, killed off two big penalties.”
“I thought Toews worked. Those first two penalties you could argue about. But Jonny’s a battler, he had some looks, they just didn’t find a way to get one,” said Quenneville. “I think Toewser does a lot of things, whether it’s puck possession, how he kills penalties, how he’s in the faceoff circle, there’s a lot of things he does that help the team game.”
But in a series where goals have been so hard to come by, nothing would help the team more than if he scored.
The Blackhawks did battle, and did get their hands dirty. Big Brian Bickell, a few minutes after being apparently knocked silly on a hit in the offensive zone from which he reeled and staggered like a drunk, mugged Abdelkader after the Detroit forward charged the net looking for his own rebound.
But the Red Wings kept their heads while the Hawks were losing theirs, and even when Chicago got a late power-play chance on a Kindl hook that prevented Sharp from breaking in for a clean chance, Detroit didn’t allow a single shot on goal.
If they can sense the Hawks’ frustration, they’re not telling.
“You have to ask Joel that,” said Babcock. “I’m not monitoring their players.”
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