By Darren Eliot
May 24, 2009

The only carryover from Game 3 to Game 4 was that the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings stiffened their resolve. They didn't like the major penalty call on Niklas Kronwall and they liked less the charge by Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell that the hit on Martin Havlat was gutless.

Detroit gave a clinic on what gut-check time is all about. Playing without veteran faceoff specialist Kris Draper, Hart nominee Pavel Datsyuk, and a surprise scratch, captain Nicklas Lidstrom -- only the best defenseman of his generation -- the Red Wings never lost their composure and competitiveness. They were outwardly abrasive in the early going, not shying away from post-whistle scrums, and actually initiating much of the pushing and shoving.

That edginess was merely a demonstrative form of Detroit's intent. As is the norm, execution led to the Red Wings' domination. Their passing was crisp and their shooting sharp. The tandem of Marian Hossa and Valtteri Filppula, in particular, took over offensively with Hossa scoring twice -- his first tallies of the series -- and Filppula netting his first of the playoffs. Hossa's second goal of the game came only 12 seconds after Jonathan Toews had gotten the Blackhawks on the board at 3-1.

That quick answer denied the Blackhawks any chance of building momentum for a comeback -- something they've routinely done throughout the playoffs. Instead, at 4-1 early in the second period, goaltender Cristobal Huet's day was done and the youthful 'Hawks proceeded to unravel by taking needless penalties. Rookie Corey Crawford had to endure a 5-on-3 power play and promptly saw the big board go to 5-1 on Henrik Zetterberg's goal. From there, the game took on an air of posturing, with both teams setting their sights on Game 5.

For Chicago, that meant trying to reestablish some good habits and bringing Huet back in goal. He hadn't started since April 11. Pressed into duty when Nikolai Khabibulin came out after two periods of Game 3, Huet struggled. With no guarantee that Khabibulin will be ready by Wednesday, getting Huet as many minutes as possible was the right thing to do.

The Red Wings scored on the power play, with Zetterberg netting the man-advantage marker. The goal was just a statistic builder, really. The real aim for the Red Wings in the third period was about playing smartly and efficiently, focusing solely on the action whistle-to-whistle, trying to avoid more injuries. That was ostensibly the reason why coach Mike Babcock decided to put Ty Conklin in goal -- to remove Chris Osgood from harm's way. It's still a curious move at playoff time, but maybe it's yet another sign of the champs' supreme confidence and understanding of what it takes to be successful.

With the series at 3-1, no one expects the Blackhawks to rally and win this thing. At least, though, in Game 5 they have another chance to put this dismally disjointed effort behind them. Still, they'll have to overcome the supremely disciplined defending Stanley Cup champions, who look poised for an opportunity to defend their title, no matter who is available to suit up and play.

You May Like