DETROIT – The Chicago Blackhawks began the year with a record-breaking start.
The NHL’s best team during the regular season will have to finish the season strong to avoid flopping out of the playoffs in the second round.
Jakub Kindl scored on a power play in the second period, Daniel Cleary had an empty-net goal and Jimmy Howard made 28 saves to help the Detroit Red Wings earn a 2-0 win Thursday night that puts the Blackhawks on the brink of elimination.
After losing Game 1, the seventh-seeded Red Wings have surged into control of the second round series by handing the Blackhawks their first three-game losing streak of the year.
Is Detroit coach Mike Babcock surprised that his team that barely made the playoffs is a win away from the Western Conference finals.
“If you would ask me two months ago, I would be shocked,” he acknowledged.
Game 5 is Saturday night in Chicago, where goaltender Corey Crawford is confident the team can win the first of three straight games.
“We’ve gone on streaks before,” Crawford said. “We just have to keep playing hard and it’s going to have to turn our way.”
Chicago’s chances will improve if captain Jonathan Toews can score and keep his cool.
He couldn’t do either in Game 4.
When Howard wasn’t using his glove or pads to deny Toews, Detroit’s skaters were rattling him with a physical presence that made him uncomfortable.
“Eventually, something’s got to give,” Toews said. “We’re too good a team. We’ve got too much talent.
“For as hard as we’re working, something’s got to go our way.”
Crawford did a solid job in his net, but he couldn’t kick his right leg out quick enough to stop Kindl’s shot on a power play midway through the second period and he was on the bench in favour of an extra skater when Cleary sealed the victory in the final minute.
“The pressure is on them,” Detroit defenceman Jonathan Ericsson said.
Yes, it is.
And, no one in the Windy City will want to extend the series more than Toews.
“We’ve got to find a way to force a Game 6,” he said.
The Blackhawks desperately need Toews to score and lead after he extended his goal drought in a composure-crumbling performance.
Toews was called for three penalties in the second—two for high-sticking—and could’ve gone to the box a fourth time in the period for slashing Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg while an official stood between them.
“Emotions run high in some of these games, and my stick got a little loose there,” he said. “I was playing hard. Sometimes that happens.”
The Red Wings took advantage of the second power play Toews gave them when Kindl sent a low shot to the near corner from the top of the left circle.
“We’d like to keep him in the box,” Ericsson said. “He’s not as good for them in the box.”
Chicago had killed its first 30 penalties of the playoffs and matched the 2001 St. Louis Blues’ feat of playing eight post-season games without giving up a power-play goal, the longest such streak since 1988.
The Blackhawks had a power play with 4:45 left in the game when Kindl was called for hooking, but they couldn’t tie the game.
Crawford made 25 saves and allowed one goal, after giving up seven goals in the previous two games.
Howard was just a little bit better, earning his first shutout of this post-season and the second of his career in the playoffs. He has helped the Red Wings win five of their last six games since trailing Anaheim 3-2 in the first round.
“He made a couple of big saves there,” said Chicago’s Patrick Sharp, who had five goals in five games against Minnesota and only one so far against Detroit. “We hit a few posts.”
Kindl scored his first goal of his first post-season to help the rapidly improving Red Wings pull within a win of their first trip to the Western Conference finals since 2009 when they got past Chicago and went on to lose Game 7 in a Stanley Cup finals rematch against Pittsburgh.
“Biggest goal of my life so far,” Kindl said.
Toews has gone 10 post-season games without a goal—dating to last year’s playoffs—in what is the longest scoring skid for a former Conn Smythe winner since Claude Lemieux went 20 games without a goal from 2000 through 2009, according to STATS.
Toews, who has three goals in his last 30 playoff games, broke a tie for his second longest streak without a goal in the post-season and trails his 14-game skid that spanned 2010 and 2011.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville insisted Toews, who he put on a line with Patrick Kane, is doing a lot of things and isn’t the only one struggling to score.
“We just have to find a way to get more about of everybody,” Quenneville said.
NOTES: Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, Chicago has lost in the first round twice and is a loss away from a second-round exit. …… Chicago hadn’t given up a power-play goal since April 22. … Detroit D Danny DeKeyser, who broke his right thumb in the first round and was ruled out for the playoffs, said he is holding out hope that he can come back if his teammates can advance.
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