At the end of the second period in Game 4, Chicago played a perfect energy shift against Detroit, led by young Hawks Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg.
Problem was, the Red Wings were winning 5-1 at the time and Chicago was on its third-string goaltender, Corey Crawford.
Though the Wings took control of this game on the scoreboard in the second period (and would ultimately win 6-1), this pivotal contest was actually won in the first five minutes. Detroit was facing a rowdy Chicago crowd and would have to steal a game on the road without its top two players, defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and center Pavel Datsyuk.
To this end, the Red Wings played a fantastically boring first half of the first period. Buoyed by numerous momentum-killing offsides and icings, Detroit was able to take the raucous crowd out of the equation early on. The Wings were helped along the way by a bit of kismet when Chicago’s Brian Campbell cracked a pane of glass behind Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood on a Hawks power play, thus slowing down the game even further.
Not long after that, Wings star Marian Hossa broke out of his playoff slump with a shorthanded goal and Detroit was once again off to the races.
Some critics will deny Wings coach Mike Babcock his place among the top bench bosses in the game; after all, how good a coach do you have to be with the talent assembled in Detroit? But Game 4 proved Babcock’s effectiveness. He steered his team to greatness by plugging the substantial holes left in the lineup by the absence of Lidstrom and Datsyuk.
On any good team, players step up when their teammates need them and that was certainly the case for Detroit. Niklas Kronwall, who is now public enemy No. 1 in Chicago thanks to his (totally clean, shouldn’t have been a penalty let alone a misconduct…) hit on Martin Havlat in Game 3, was an early focal point of Hawks ire in Game 4, but didn’t let it deter him from picking up some slack left by his Swedish countryman on the blueline. Kronwall deflected away Chicago attackers in the same efficient manner as Lidstrom, while still playing his outstanding physical game. In fact, Kronwall nearly laid out Patrick Kane in the same style as Havlat in Game 4. Why Chicago’s skill players put their heads down when Kronwall is on the ice is a mystery to me.
Up front, Hossa did the work left by Datsyuk, playing excellent two-way hockey and putting up big offensive numbers. With the confidence of his stride, you would never guess how snake-bitten Hossa had been in recent days.
The Hawks were not as lucky in this regard. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who had played every minute in net for Chicago up until the third period of Game 3, was not available in Game 4 and the dormant Cristobal Huet was not up to the challenge. Granted, it’s hard to blame the French national for the loss considering his long layoff, but his handling of Detroit’s second goal (by Johan Franzen) was suspect.
Once the floodgates opened after that, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville went to Crawford, basically conceding the contest to Detroit. He went back to Huet in the third, which likely indicates Khabibulin will not be fit enough for the task in Game 5. On the Detroit side, the replacing of Osgood for the start of the third period with Ty Conklin was a little ominous for Wings fans. Replays seemed to show Osgood talking with the Detroit trainers at the end of the second and whether he will appear in Game 5 on Wednesday may become an intriguing subplot.
Either way, it was well-established in Game 4 that Detroit can hammer Chicago no matter who is out of the lineup for the Red and White Machine.
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 features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.