Darren Eliot
Monday May 18th, 2009

The young Chicago Blackhawks had the benefit of rest before the Western Conference Final. The veteran defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, went the distance in a bitter, hard fought seven-game series against the Anaheim Ducks. Given that scenario, the enthusiastic Blackhawks might have a chance to sneak out an opening game victory on the road, right?

Wrong. Oh, sure the Blackhawks had good energy early and the frantic pace led to more turnovers by the Red Wings than is customary. And yes, the Blackhawks scored first when Adam Burish poked the puck between the pads of an unsuspecting Chris Osgood on a routine forechecking foray. But Osgood held firm, making numerous quality saves until Dan Cleary knotted the game at one apiece with a wide-angle wrist shot that sailed past the glove hand of Nik Khabibulin.

Tied on the road after 20 minutes, yes, but the Blackhawks missed an opportunity to take control of the game. The Wings got better as the game went along and began dictating the pace of play in the second period. They took the lead on a Johan Franzen wraparound goal, putting the Red Wings in a comfortable place after two periods -- given that they've dominated third period scoring throughout the playoffs.

Now, even though the Red Wings were turning in an impressively professional effort given the short turnaround and emotional drain associated with the Duck dismissal, the Blackhawks were in the game. They weren't fluid, or all that consistent in their offensive output, but much of the 'Hawks hardships with the puck had to do with the outstanding effort by Wings' captain Nick Lidstrom on defense. He and partner Brian Rafalski neutralized the precocious pair of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Still, the Blackhawks drew even when Kris Versteeg tapped home a puck that pinballed in front of Osgood, leaving him no chance on the play. As is the champion's way, they didn't panic, or let the goal become a catalyst for the opposition. Quite the opposite. The Red Wings again answered swiftly with not one, but two goals, first by Mikael Samuelsson and then another by Cleary. Add an empty-netter and you get 5-2 (BOX| RECAP)

There will be those who say the game was closer than the score. I disagree. Given the circumstances, this was a very impressive win by the Red Wings -- a classic case of a champion understanding the situation and delivering despite vulnerabilities. Will the Blackhawks play better? Probably. The real disparity lies in the answer to the question whether or not the Red Wings will play better. Well, will they? Most definitely. That means the Blackhawks have to close the gap on many fronts.

All of which brings me back to the original take on this one: The Blackhawks missed an opportunity to jump the series in Game 1. When they look back on this series, they might recognize this game as significant in their learning process. Call it experience. The Red Wings won Game 1 because of it -- their ample supply and the Blackhawks lack of the same.

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