Darren Eliot
Thursday May 28th, 2009

I know this was an elimination game for the Chicago Blackhawks. I am fully aware that a win on home ice would put the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final to reprise last year's finale versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even though I knew what was at stake, I couldn't feel the tension at the beginning of Detroit's 2-1 (BOX | RECAP) overtime win over Chicago.

Maybe it had to do with the combined five regulars out of the lineup -- all since the series started. I mean, Ville Leino and Colin Fraser fit nicely in a mid-February match-up, but in a game that means possibly going home for one and punching a ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the other? A game of this magnitude without the likes of Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Nik Khabibulin and Martin Havlat had an incompleteness about it. It just didn't feel right.

One guy who got it right this time was goaltender Cristobal Huet. After a forgettable outing in Game 4 -- necessitated by Khabibulin's injury -- in his first start in five weeks, Huet was magnifique in the first period. He stopped all 21 shots the Red Wings fired in the opening stanza, as the Wings sought to overwhelm Huet and the 'Hawks early. To Huet's credit, it didn't happen due to his tremendous bounce-back resiliency.

Getting through the first seemed to embolden the Blackhawks and stun the Red Wings. The teams waltzed through the second, with the Blackhawks getting more quality looks at Chris Osgood, as the Wings got into a bit of penalty trouble. With the scoreboard still registering zeros into the third, that air of tension I expected from the outset became palpable. When Dan Cleary deflected home the first goal of the game, the energy level picked up on both sides, as if to register the reality as to what was at stake.

To their credit, the Blackhawks didn't back off. They actually bucked up. Defensemen jumped up. Wingers won battles. And then Patrick Kane used his outside speed to get a clear look on Osgood, tying the game with a rising backhand that found top net on the short side. From there, the young Blackhawks proceeded to get their best bids on Osgood, but the battle-tested veteran held firm, making several stellar pad saves in close.

As regulation time was running down, it was Huet's turn to dazzle. Marian Hossa slid a cross crease feed to Johan Franzen. Huet stopped the first bid and then amazingly, lifted his right pad -- skate pointing toward the ceiling -- to stop the rebound, as he lay prone on his stomach. With that Donkey Kong kick save, the game went to overtime -- the third time in the series that 60 minutes wasn't enough.

Ultimately, the Blackhawks late surge wasn't enough either. Their effort was impressive and Huet's performance heroic. But, the Wings wouldn't be denied. On the stick of Darren Helm, the Red Wings get to defend their title against the team they vanquished a year ago. They have more to accomplish. That was always the focus for this Red Wings' team.

And, maybe that's the point. The Red Wings approached this game as a necessary part of the process. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, could already count this season as a success, no matter the outcome. This one ended the way it felt at the beginning -- pre-ordained. In between, the action picked up and both teams did themselves proud.

Now, though, let the tension build in earnest.

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