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May 23, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings right wing Daniel Cleary (11) celebrates his goal against the Chicago Blackhawks in the third period in game four of the second round for the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

What Has Happened To This Red Wings Team?

Three months ago, we were watching the standings like hawks, wondering how bad it was going to get.

Two months ago, we were questioning whether our head coach and our general manager had lost their touch. Questionable lineups and healthy scratches made us doubt. Every. Single. Game.

One month ago, we were battling for one of the last playoff seeds in the western conference.

Three weeks ago, we were hoping to just win a handful of games against Anaheim.

A week and a half ago, we were hoping to just win one game against Chicago so we wouldn’t get swept.

Oh, how the times have changed.

Now, the Red Wings are one game away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009.  They have the Chicago Blackhawks in a very desperate corner, one they have not been in this entire season. Saturday’s Game Five in Chicago will be the ultimate test. It will not be a do-or-die for the Red Wings, but it will certainly prove how dedicated and focused they have become.

It seems that with every passing game in these playoffs, this underdog team gets better and better. It’s marvelous, really. Analysts have always talked about that “magic light switch” that teams can never find. The Red Wings found it in 2009 and made it to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. Now, they have found it again. This team in a transition year has put the top Cup contender team on the verge of elimination.

It’s hard not to let that go to our heads.

The question becomes: What has happened to this Red Wings team?

Oh, us fans of little faith. We kept our expectations low, happy to simply make the playoffs. Some of us believed we could beat Anaheim, having an awesome record against them in the regular season. But most of us – and 95% of analysts, too – counted the Red Wings out against the Blackhawks. The team won zero games against them in the regular season. They were well-rested after finishing the Minnesota Wild in just five games while the Red Wings struggled through seven games (more if you add in the overtimes).

No one guessed we would make it this far. No one thought Mike Babcock’s roster choices and line changeups would ever actually work, but man, we were wrong. And how happy we are to be wrong. For the first time this entire season, the Blackhawks have lost three games in a row. That’s a feat the Red Wings should be proud of.

With every game, this team works together better than ever. Players we hated three months ago (aka Justin Abdelkader) are core players now. Dan Cleary, while not doing much offensively, is being a pain in the Blackhawks’ side, buzzing around the ice and constantly pressuring for pucks. Niklas Kronwall has tightened his defensive play even more. And Jimmy Howard is proving that the price of his contract extension is worth every penny.

It’s not pretty playing. It’s not the old tape-to-tape, tic-tac-toe plays fans are used to seeing, not even close. It’s annoying hockey. It’s continually fighting for the puck, no matter if there are three Blackhawks going for it as well.  This roster frustrates its opponents; they got under Anaheim’s skin, and it’s easy to see just how much they have gotten to Chicago.

Going into Game Five in Chicago will be the real test. The Blackhawks will not just roll over and let the Red Wings win. They are not to be underestimated. Look for that team to be firing on all cylinders in Saturday night’s game. They won’t be going down without a fight, especially in their own building. The Red Wings are still making mistakes, and it’s a mix of both luck and coverage that have kept those mistakes from becoming to0 costly.

It’s been a long time since this team has been considered the little guy in a series matchup. But if they make it past Chicago, very few will still refer to them as the underdog. That Red Wings magic is still there.

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