CHICAGO – Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks got to watch all the action in the NHL playoffs while they waited for an opponent to emerge for the second round.
What they saw from the Detroit Red Wings looked very familiar.
“Just that same relaxed, patient experience that they’ve shown in the playoffs and makes them a tough team to beat,” Toews said. “They got some veteran guys who have won Stanley Cups. They understand what it takes to win during playoff time and that’s the reason they came out on top.”
Yup, Chicago’s next opponent is a very familiar one. Detroit’s 3-2 victory in Anaheim in Game 7 on Sunday night set up one last matchup between the “Original Six” teams in the Western Conference semifinals.
Under the NHL’s realignment plan, the Red Wings will move to the East next season, meaning they will not face the Blackhawks in the playoffs before the Stanley Cup. That adds another level of intrigue to a best-of-seven series that already features one of the NHL’s biggest rivalries in the tense setting of the second round of the post-season.
“I think it’s just fitting, final year of being in the Western Conference and we’re facing the Hawks here in the playoffs,” Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Detroit had to scramble to extend the longest active playoff streak in major professional sports to 22 straight seasons, winning the last four games of the regular season to secure the seventh spot in the West. Still, it’s the lowest playoff seed for the Red Wings since the NHL moved to the 1 vs. 8 conference format in 1993.
That hardly mattered in the first round against Anaheim.
The Red Wings and Ducks alternated wins for the first six games of the playoffs. Anaheim got its first chance to close it out on Friday night, but Henrik Zetterberg scored in overtime to lift Detroit to a 4-3 victory after it blew a two-goal lead with 3 1/2 minutes left in regulation.
Zetterberg then had a goal and an assist in the deciding game as the Red Wings emerged from a 3-2 series deficit for the first time they beat Colorado in the 2002 Western Conference finals. They went on to hoist the Stanley Cup.
“I think we believe in what we do,” Zetterberg said. “Of course it’s nice to win games and win games in the way we’ve done it, in overtime, those close games.
“That series is over now. It’s a new team and new challenges.”
Chicago has been quite the challenge of late. The Blackhawks have won seven in a row against the Red Wings dating to last season, including four games this year. But half of this year’s games went to a shootout and another was decided in overtime.
“When we played them during the year, there was maybe one game where it kind of got out of hand,” Chicago goalie Corey Crawford said. “But the other games were pretty tight games. We won a couple in shootouts.
“They’re a team that can skate with us and obviously they have a lot of skill. It’s going to be fun.”
The Red Wings caught a break when the NHL scheduled the first game of the series against the Blackhawks for Wednesday night, giving them an extra day to rest following the grueling series against Anaheim and the trip back across the country. There also could be another extra day before Game 2, since the United Center has to stay clear on Friday night for a possible Game 6 between the Bulls and Heat in the NBA playoffs.
But Chicago gets the extra rest as well, and it’s taking full advantage of its extended break since it beat Minnesota in five games in the first round. Center Michal Handzus missed practice Monday, but coach Joel Quenneville called it a maintenance day and said he expects him back on the ice on Tuesday. Center Dave Bolland and goalie Ray Emery will be available against Detroit after they missed the series against the Wild with lower body injuries.
“Certainly we’ve had a good history with them in the past and had some very intense games,” Quenneville said. “Had a couple of great games with them this year. It helps with our travel as well, but certainly we’re excited about getting into this round. We’re going to have our hands full with this team, but we’re excited about it.”
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Romulus, Mich., contributed to this report.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap