There may be 50,000 watts of goodwill coursing through the Chicago metropolitan area for the Blackhawks right now, but Game 5 is in Detroit and the Red Wings have their collective hands on the plug.
Heading into Joe Louis Arena with Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk questionable, the Wings still have the upper hand in an elimination game against the Hawks and the reason is depth.
Detroit has six players who have reached double-digit playoff point totals, including Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula. Two other forwards, Mikael Samuelsson and Jiri Hudler, are one point away from joining that club.
So who do you focus on if you’re defending against this team? Detroit’s weapons are now spread out over three lines and not even the grinders offer a respite. On the contrary, one of the zippiest skaters on the ice for the Wings is Darren Helm, who has once again proven his worth in the post-season by forcing the opposition to make plays well before it is prepared to do so and tiring out defensemen with his vigorous puck pursuit.
Basically what I’m saying here is there are no easy shifts when Detroit is on the ice. Chicago has all the youth in the world and the assumption going into the series was that the Hawks at least had the legs to give the Wings a go. But observe an average Patrick Kane shift in the first four games of the series and you’ll witness the portrait of a young man frustrated.
Kane has been foiled at every angle by Detroit’s tenacious forecheckers and the result is a mere one assist and no goals through four contests. Not only that, but the reigning Calder Trophy winner is a brutal minus-7 in the series.
Has Detroit broken Chicago’s spirit? It would appear so. Fuming at Niklas Kronwall’s Game 3 pasting of Martin Havlat, the Hawks came out mad in Game 4, but not surly enough. Toe-to-toe, the Wings are no match for the Hawks if things were to get ugly. Players such as Ben Eager, Duncan Keith and Dustin Byfuglien could have imposed their will (and fists) on any Red Wing outside of Brad Stuart and though you can’t goon Detroit out of a series, Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks proved how far you can push the Wings by making life uncomfortable for them.
Of course, the time for that strategy has likely passed, but it would behoove the Blackhawks to come out in Game 5 and create chaos. The first five minutes in The Joe is going to sound like a series of jumbo jets taking off while still inside the hangar and the young Hawks must withstand the surge.
If Cristobal Huet is between the pipes – a likely scenario at this point – that means not allowing any soft goals and perhaps a little head-standing.
The Hawks had Game 2 in Detroit in their talons, but couldn’t close the deal in overtime. Tonight they have no option: play flawless or go home. That means no turnovers, no odd-man rushes and unquestionably, no mercy.
THN Shootout: Hawks try to stay alive
Host Edward Fraser sits down with writers Ryan Dixon and Ryan Kennedy to discuss what the Hawks need to do to extend the series… the secondary scoring of the Detroit Red Wings… and the future of Cristobal Huet in Chicago.
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper | The THN.com Shootout will appear Monday to Friday throughout the playoffs.
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.