You aren’t going to hear any of them admit it in interviews, but the Chicago Blackhawks are frustrated.
How could they not be? They now trail 2-1 in their second round series with the Detroit Red Wings, a team that had to battle just to make the playoffs while they skated to the Presidents’ Trophy.
These are the same Red Wings, at least on paper, who they swept during four regular season meetings, including a 7-1 shellacking in Detroit. Now all of a sudden they’re headed into a Game 4 which, if not exactly a must win, is pretty darn close.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
And that’s without considering how the Blackhawks must feel about the way they lost Game 3, hitting the iron on three good scoring chances while watching Jimmy Howard stop almost everything that was on net. You already know they’re still steaming about the questionable goalie interference call on Andrew Shaw that wiped out an apparent game-tying goal.
With that in mind, the Red Wings have to be prepared for a Blackhawks team that is going to come out guns a-blazing on Thursday night. That means matching their speed and intensity, which were on display early in Game 3, as well as continuing to commit to the physical game. Chicago was out-hit 28-22 on Monday night but isn’t likely to allow that to happen again in a “backs against the wall” situation.
But based on the way every clock stoppage in the final two minutes turned into a scrum, the most important thing the Wings can do in Game 4 is to keep their cool. They can’t let the likes of Shaw and Bryan Bickell get to them, and with five-on-five play mostly going their way, they absolutely need to stay out of the penalty box.
Even with the return of Drew Miller giving the penalty killing unit a boost, the Blackhawks have looked much more dangerous with the man advantage so far. The best way to combat that is to avoid having the Chicago PP on the ice, which means playing smart and turning the other cheek if necessary.
Granted, the Wings don’t have too many guys known for taking retaliatory calls, but a few come to mind. Justin Abdelkader needs the edge to his game to be effective, but he can be goaded into penalties from time to time. Several members of the defense corps, including Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith, can be drawn into some extracurricular activities too, and it will be vital for Niklas Kronwall to lead that group by example.
That doesn’t mean getting pushed around. More than one hockey commentator thinks that part of Detroit’s success so far is due to playing a tougher game than Chicago expected and/or prefers to play. It just calls for keeping cool as much as possible, even as the intensity of the series gets ratcheted up another notch.
In other words, Game 4 isn’t the time to do anything stupid. All the pressure, and yes, frustration, has shifted to the Blackhawks over the last two games. The best way to keep it there is to play smart hockey, pay the agitators no mind, and hopefully send them back to the Windy City down 3-1 and even more perplexed about how it all went wrong.