Detroit Red Wings: One Down, a Long-time Rival to Go
(Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)
By Rhys Richards (@RREsq)
On Sunday night, the Detroit Red Wings officially exceeded the expectations of most by beating the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 to win their opening playoff series 4-3. The Detroit organization and its players will not admit that they have exceeded expectations or that they are done just yet, but the Red Wings should be proud of their effort given all of the changes and injuries the team endured to get to this point.
Head coach Mike Babcock should be credited with being one of the most important reasons the Red Wings advanced. He helped to keep the team on task in four overtime games, three of which were won by Detroit. He mixed and matched his lines well throughout the series, but his decision to split captain Henrik Zetterberg and alternate captain Datsyuk in Game 7 surprised the Ducks and ignited Detroit. That decision facilitated Zetterberg’s early goal that put Detroit up 1-0. Throughout the game, Anaheim continued to have problems matching up with the Red Wings’ top two lines.
Zetterberg and goaltender Jimmy Howard were superb throughout the series. Zetterberg contributed one assist in the first four games in the series but exploded for three goals and four assists in the final three games. Zetterberg scored the overtime winner in Game 6.
Howard turned aside 204 shots and posted a .911 save percentage and 2.74 save percentage.
Detroit’s forwards were very good despite losing regular Justin Abdelkader for two games due to suspension. Alternate captain Pavel Datsyuk played as expected contributing two goals and five assists. Veteran Dan Cleary and rookie Damien Brunner each scored twice and added three assists.
Valtteri Filppula tried his best to be the goat in the third period of Game 6 when he turned the puck over leading to one of the two goals the Ducks scored to push the game to overtime. In Game 7, Filppula made up for his transgression with a goal and an assist.
The aforementioned Abdelkader returned in Game 6 and helped to complete the top line. Abdelkader’s short-handed breakaway goal in Game 7 put Detroit up 2-1 and demonstrated a set of hands that Abdelkader does not always display.
Youngsters Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist were very effective on the team’s third line that was downright excellent at times when Brunner was included. While veterans Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson are not the players they used to be, their return had a calming influence on the team.
Before the season, the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and the departure of Brad Stuart caused many to question whether Detroit could even make the playoffs let alone advance past the first round. In the first round, however, the sometimes maligned, often unpredictable defensive corps rose to the occasion.
Youngster Dan DeKeyser proved that he was indeed prepared for the pro game. The late season addition from Western Michigan was excellent in the first two games against the Ducks before sustaining a thumb injury that required season ending surgery.
Enter fellow rookie Brian Lashoff. Lashoff filled his role well for three games before giving way to the slightly more offensive-minded Carlo Colaiacovo. While neither Lashoff or Colaiacovo are top pairing defenseman capable of changing a game, their rugged play on the back end certainly allowed the likes of alternate captain Niklas Kronwall, youngsters Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl, and two-time Red Wing Kyle Quincey to contribute more offensively.
Kronwall assisted in Game 6. Kindl contributed an assist in Games 1 and 7 and looked very comfortable on the second power play unit. Smith scored and added an assist in Game 4.
Meanwhile, the gigantic Swede Jonathan Ericsson was quietly very good. Ericsson contributed an assist in Game 6 and played more than 20 minutes in each of the final four games, including a heavy 26:10 in the deciding game.
The defense was inconsistent at times much like it was in the regular season. Those inconsistencies were no more apparent than in Game 3 when Detroit was shutout at home 4-0.
None of the Detroit defenseman were as good as Lidstrom would likely still be on an individual level, but the corps was very formidable as a group helping Howard shut down superstar forward Corey Perry. Perry did not score in the series.
Despite an excellent opening round series, Detroit will now face a familiar foe in the Chicago Blackhawks. The Red Wings did not beat the Blackhawks in the regular season. In January, Detroit lost 3-2 in overtime. In early March, Detroit lost 2-1 in a game that ended in a shootout. At the end of March, the Blackhawks completely undressed the Red Wings in a 7-1 shellacking. Finally, in April, Detroit again lost 3-2 in another shootout.
On paper, Detroit will be fighting an uphill battle against a better, deeper, younger Blackhawks team.
Chicago beat Minnesota handily in five games to advance to the second round. Superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane did not score in the series, but Patrick Sharp and former Wing Marian Hossa scored five and three goals, respectively, and tied for the team lead with six points in the series.
Chicago’s depth was on display against the Wild as 11 of 13 forwards contributed at least one point. Bryan Bickell scored three times, and Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger each contributed at times, the former with two goals in Game 2 and the latter with the series winner in Game 5.
Chicago is led on the back end by Duncan Keith, who posted five points and a plus-five versus Minnesota. Johnny Oduya was the only other Blackhawk defenseman to score or contribute more than a point in the series. Despite the lack of scoring, Chicago’s defense, including Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy, and Michal Rosival, kept Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu off the score sheet, held Zach Parise to a goal, and shut out the Wild power play in 17 chances.
In goal, Ray Emery sustained an injury making Corey Crawford the clear-cut number one goalie. Crawford allowed seven goals the entire series. Emery will likely dress at some point in the second round, but Crawford may not allow him to start.
Detroit has proven that it can play with Chicago. The forward corps matches up well against Chicago, who will be fully healthy with the return of Dave Bolland.
While Detroit’s defensive corps is more inconsistent than Chicago’s, but it turned in its best effort in Game 7 against Anaheim. If Kronwall and company can turn in that type of performance regularly and limit turnovers against the Blackhawks, Detroit can counter a better Chicago group.
This series may very well be decided in goal. If either Howard or Crawford falters, both of these teams are capable of taking advantage. Chicago is better suited to sustain an injury to the starter, but both starters are capable of outstanding, game changing play when healthy.
On special teams, Detroit’s power play was better in the first round scoring six times to Chicago’s 2-for-13 effort. The Red Wings struggled on the penalty kill early in its opening series against the Ducks but improved throughout the series. On the other hand, Chicago is not likely to duplicate its perfect penalty kill.
Mike Babcock was recently voted best coach in the NHL in a poll posted on NHL.com. Babcock deserved that accolade and may once again prove to be the catalyst that changes the dynamic of the series. Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville is very good at what he does. He answered his critics by helping the Blackhawks win their first playoff round in since winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. If Detroit has an advantage in any aspect of this series, Babcock is it.
Detroit has been in playoff mode for a month winning its last four regular season games to secure the seventh seed. Chicago’s unbelievable start to the shortened season helped the team secure the President’s Trophy and endure numerous late season injuries.
Interestingly, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup the last two times (2001-2002 and 2007-2008) a President’s Trophy winner was able to take home the most important hardware. In fact, of the 27 times the Trophy has been awarded, the team earning the most points in the regular season won the Stanley Cup a mere seven times.
Detroit may not be the team that ousts Chicago, but do not be surprised if the Blackhawks fail to buck the trend of President’s Trophy winners faltering down the stretch of the Cup run.
Rhys’s Prediction: Chicago in 7. This series will be a classic that stands as a testament to the great history between these two rivals before Detroit heads to the Eastern Conference next season. Detroit will surprise Chicago, but the Red Wings will ultimately come up short in their bid for a Western Conference Final berth. With Tuesday’s reports out of Chicago of teammates Daniel Carcillo and Jamal Meyers exchanging slashes and angry words at the end of practice, Detroit could prove to be the ultimate beneficiary of any team-wide ripple effects.
I called the 7-game win for Detroit in the first round. With my newfound confidence, here is my attempt at the other second round match-ups: Pittsburgh over Ottawa in 6, Boston over New York in 6, and Los Angeles in 7.
Statistics and other information obtained at www.nhl.com, http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl, and redwings.nhl.com.
Share your thoughts about the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings, and hockey in general with Rhys at Twitter: @RREsq. He can be reached via email at RhysJRichards@gmail.com. Join the many fans of The Hockey Guys on Facebook and Twitter @TheHockeyGuys