After being outclassed by Chicago in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Detroit Red Wings took the ice at the United Center on Saturday knowing they needed to turn in an improved performance. They did just that in beating the Blackhawks 4-1 to send the series to Detroit knotted at one game each.
Here are some thoughts and observations on Game 2:
• Patrick Kane may be a scoring machine, but the Chicago forward’s goal in the first period at 14:05 was only his first marker in this postseason. Kane has had a tough time, denting the twine just twice in the playoffs since his overtime Cup-winner in Game 6 against the Flyers in 2010 -- a span of 14 games without a postseason goal. In his previous 19 games, he's produced 15 assists, but just that one tally.
• The Wings continue to get solid efforts from younger, less proven players. Give Gustav Nyquist credit for taking a big hit from Chicago’s Bryan Bickell and getting the puck back to the point to defenseman Jakub Kindl on Detroit’s first goal. Kindl walked the blueline from right to left with great poise and threw a long shot at the net. Damien Brunner then deflected the it past Corey Crawford for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
• Chicago should be able to gain an advantage in physical play against Detroit, and who better to facilitate that than pugnacious Daniel Carcillo, who led everyone with seven hits in a mere 7:40 of play over 10 shifts? Of course, with the good also comes the bad. Carcillo took an entirely unnecessary cross-checking penalty in the second period when he gave two gratuitous pokes to Drew Miller well away from the play. Carcillo and Michal Handzus spent much of the last portion of the game at the end of the bench, as Hawks coach Joel Quenneville compressed his lineup in a an attempt to rally.
• Red Wings coach Mike Babcock didn’t care for his team’s checking effort in the opening-game loss. “Last game they skated us into the ice,” he told NBC’s Pierre McGuire from the bench during a stoppage in play. “Their top four guys had way too much fun with us last game. They’re great players. We’ve got to take their space away.” That was exactly what they did.
• Nothing beats speed, except, perhaps, smarts. On Detroit’s second goal, Henrik Zetterberg chased a puck down the left sideboards with Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson in pursuit. With the puck just in front of him, a diving Hjalmarsson dove to swipe it away. But instead of playing the puck ahead of him -- possibly too far to be able to retrieve it -- Zetterberg played Hjalmarsson’s stick instead, putting his own in between the puck and his foe’s, thereby preventing the swipe. Zetterberg then slid a pass to Brendan Smith, who scored the first goal of the playoffs by a Wings defenseman. Smith did not record a goal in 34 games during the regular season and had managed just one in 48 games during his short career.
• Even though Chicago had the advantage of the last change, Babcock was perfectly content to have Zetterberg out on the ice against Jonathan Toews. The Hawks’ captain had ample space to operate in Game 1, but Zetterberg was in his stomach for much of the afternoon. Given the home-ice advantage that Detroit will enjoy in Games 3 and 4, there is no reason to expect a change in policy from Babcock next week.
• The Wings used a play that has become a signature entry to extend their lead to 3-1: the stretch and tip. On the play, Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson took the puck at his own blue line, but actually backed up to allow Johan Franzen to circle through center ice. At just the right moment, Ericsson flung the long pass up ice to the Hawks’ blue line where Franzen picked it up, sped into the zone and beat Crawford over his left shoulder. In the time that Ericsson hesitated in making the pass, Hjalmarsson turned to his right towards the boards when he should have looked left, to the middle of the ice, where Franzen managed to slide free.
• Ah, fundamentals. Detroit’s fourth goal actually started with a face-off in its own end. After Zetterberg actually lost the draw to Dave Bolland, he chased the puck back to the point and poked it past Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, who pinched in too slowly to make a play. Nobody got in Zetterberg’s way -- granted, tougher to do with today’s interference rules, but still done all the time -- and nobody stayed in front of him. As he raced up the ice, Bolland got back into the play late and defenseman Nick Leddy tried a weak and late poke check at Detroit’s Valtteri Filppula, who sped towards the goal and flipped a backhand shot past Crawford. As a side note, Filppula was also five-for-five in the face-off dot.
• The forgiving schedule in the second round may have helped the Red Wings. Detroit survived a demanding seven-game series against Anaheim in the first round, while Chicago had a relatively easy time with the Minnesota Wild in five games. Since then, Detroit has enjoyed a pair of two-day breaks in between matches, before Games 1 and 2, giving the more tired Wings a chance to rest the legs of their veterans. Zetterberg and Datsyuk were accordingly effective in the second game. “It’s great we had that extra off day,” says Babcock. “It’s unbelievable how well that worked out for us.”