Heading into Game 4 Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, it was mentioned by more than one media outlet that the Chicago Blackhawks had not lost three consecutive games in 2013. That meant that to seize control of their second round series and take a 3-1 lead, the Detroit Red Wings were going to have to take their rivals into unfamiliar territory.
Consider the series officially off the map and out of GPS contact. The Red Wings got big plays from suspects both usual (Jimmy Howard) and unusual (Jakub Kindl and Dan Cleary) as they put the top-seeded Blackhawks on the brink of elimination with a 2-0 victory.
Fittingly, Detroit took the lead by doing something else no one had seen in a while: scoring a power play goal against Chicago. The Blackhawks killed off 29 straight opposing power plays during these playoffs, including the first one in Game 4.
But with Hawks captain Jonathan Toews in the box serving his second of three consecutive minor penalties, the Wings finally got their breakthrough. Kindl fired a shot through a screen by Justin Abdelkader that beat Corey Crawford with just one second left in the man advantage at the 10:03 mark of the second period.
That it had made it to that point scoreless was due again in large part to Howard and Crawford. The teams combined for 24 shots in the first 20 minutes (14 by Chicago) but couldn’t solve two very locked-in goalies despite numerous turnovers. The Blackhawks did find the post on several occasions, and tenacious back-checking helped nullify chances for breakaways both ways.
The visitors got an excellent chance to find an equalizer with 4:45 left in regulation when Brandon Saad drew a hooking call on Kindl. Yet the Hawks have also been poor with the man advantage in the series (one goal in four games), and the Wings’ penalty killers held them without a shot.
Crawford headed to the bench with roughly 1:25 left, but Chicago couldn’t manage to sustain much pressure with the extra skater. After a stretch pass was deflected at the Detroit blue line, the much maligned Cleary put the game away, scoring the empty-netter with 39 seconds remaining.
No points from Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg turned out to be no problem for the Red Wings, who are now one win away from upending the two top seeds in the West. It’s tough to imagine where they’d be without Howard, looking every bit the part of a Conn Smythe candidate in making 28 saves. He made the routine saves without giving up rebounds, and his pad save on Dave Bolland on a two-on-one in the third period may have been the game-saver.
For Chicago, who entered the playoffs experiencing very little adversity during the regular season, Game 5 on Saturday night is shockingly a win or go home situation. For Detroit, it’s the first of three chances to turn conventional wisdom completely on its head.
The game was over when…
The power play finally bore fruit. Yes, it’s obvious since Kindl’s goal was the game-winner, but not only had the Red Wings not scored with the man advantage in the series, they hadn’t really even generated many great scoring chances. The goal came courtesy of a superb Abdelkader screen, something that has been a consistent theme in this round.
The unsung Red Wings hero was…
Valtteri Filppula, and for his defense, not for his offense. Though he did record an assist on Cleary’s goal, Filppula showed some real determination by hustling the whole game to get back and help out the D. That’s not usually what you expect from him, but it was absolutely necessary in such a tight, low-scoring affair.