By Sidney Brown, WARR contributor
As the old saying goes, the cream will always rise to the top. That’s what eventually happened in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings, with the Hawks rallying and re-establishing control in the series.
A previously unlikely Game 7 will end this series after the Hawks’ three third period goals led them to a 4-3 win over Detroit on Monday. The Hawks worked early activity and an early power play to their advantage, as Marian Hossa scored his fifth goal of the playoffs just under four minutes into the first period. Detroit would seize momentum by the period’s end though as third-liner Patrick Eaves scored his first goal of the playoffs, tying the score at 1-1 for the first intermission.
The Red Wings continued to control the second period and took the lead as Detroit’s Joakim Andersson scored his first career playoff goal on a knuckle shot that flew past Hawks goalie Corey Crawford. The 2-1 Detroit lead carried into the second intermission and it looked like the Hawks were looking at the final 20 minutes of their season.
Fueled with desperation, Chicago rattled off goals from Michal Handzus and Bryan Bickell within the first six minutes of the third, taking a 3-2 lead for the Hawks, and a penalty shot goal from Michael Frolik gave insurance at the 9:43 mark. Red Wings rookie standout Damien Brunner scored within the game’s final minute, providing a little bit of suspense, but it was clear that Detroit had lost its cool and focus.
After playing solid for two periods, Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard looked more than human in allowing the three third-period goals and was just ineffective as the Hawks put multiple bodies in front of Howard, creating traffic in front of the net. Crawford stood tall after giving up the questionable goal to Andersson, he wound up with 35 saves and a .921% save percentage.
Now, it all comes down to Wednesday night in Chicago (7 pm central, NBC Sports Network) for all the marbles and a spot in the Western Conference Finals. In a first, my Game Puck for Game 6 goes to two players — Crawford with his 35 saves and Hawks winger Michael Frolik for scoring the game-securing goal in the third.
First, to Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville for keeping the same lineup in Game 6 that he did in Game 5. Keeping Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp on the first scoring line helped allow Toews to make two key assists that help keep their season alive. Also, give coach Quenneville credit for keeping defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith together on the top defensive pairing, they helped shut down Detroit’s top line enough to keep things within the Hawks’ reach.
Also, coach Q earned his 72nd career playoff victory, breaking a tie with Detroit head coach Mike Babcock for the most playoff wins among active coaches and moving alone into ninth on the NHL’s all time list, he’s six games behind 2003 Stanley Cup winner Pat Burns (78).
Second, to Frolik for becoming the first player in NHL history to score two goals on penalty shots in the playoffs.
Assorted Props: after winning eight of 12 face offs in Game 5, second line center Handzus scored the game-tying goal off a turnover. The Hawks penalty kill unit once again shut down Detroit on their man advantage (0-4). The Hawks power play came through one of five times Game 6, allowing the team to improve its record to 5-0 in the playoffs in games where they score with a man advantage.
First, to the Red Wings power play for going 0-3 with their man advantage.
Second, to the Red Wings’ penalty kill unit for giving up a power play goal and dropping their record to 2-6 during the playoffs when they give up a power play goal.
Third, to the Detroit fans for leaving the game early midway through the third period. Even though your team was trailing 4-2, as the old saying goes, “It ain’t over ’till it’s over!” If you’re a Hawks fan in this series you know that saying very well and its starting to pay off.
Finally, to NBC’s decision to televise Game 7 on Wednesday night on their cable channel instead of on their over the air channel. It’s now the summer broadcasting season — really, what do they have to show that’ll match a Chicago/Detroit Game 7? What ya got NBC, the best of Saturday Night Live, Chicago Fire, America’s Got Talent, a reunion episode of Friends or the world famous “TV Movie Of The Week?”…. c’mon man! NBC, get your priorities straight.
Game 5 for Red Wings/Hawks set a ratings record for most-watched playoff game outside of the Stanley Cup Finals in seven years. You may not want to show it nationwide but at least show it free in Chicago, what program could be more importance Wednesday than Red Wings/Hawks here?
Game 7 Rewind
This latest series between these two Original Six rivals has fast become a classic, it is deserving of ending with the two most exciting words in sports — “Game 7.”
The Hawks are hosting a Game 7 at the United Center for the first time since 1995, when they defeated another Original Six rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. As history has taught us in the NHL, just because you have home ice advantage for Game 7 doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed a victory. In this year’s playoffs alone, both the Washington Capitals (New York Rangers) and Anaheim Ducks (Red Wings) were eliminated at home in Game 7s, only Boston saved itself with its crazy come-from-behind win over Toronto, which was decided in overtime after the Bruins trailed 4-1 late in the third period.
Hawks fans can certainly be excited that their team has control over their destiny again but really nothing’s certain in a Game 7 but the opportunity to play it. Like in any game, the puck can bounce in a funny way or a bad turnover can occur at the worst possible time and with the naturally-ramped up intensity of the Game 7, such quick turns of momentum resonate in much bigger ways. For example, just two years ago, the Hawks loss to the Vancouver Canucks in overtime in their first round Game 7 was helped to its conclusion when then-Hawks defenseman Chris Campoli made a turnover, which led to the eventual game-winner by Canucks winger Alexandre Burrows.
These questions remain for Game 7 Wednesday — can the Hawks complete the epic comeback and finish off the Red Wings or will Detroit draw strength from their previous experience in a Game 7 against Anaheim? Which superstars will step up? Or will an unsung hero be needed?
Never have the Chicago Blackhawks won a series when trailing 3-1, but with everything on the line, I expect the Hawks to use the home crowd as fuel and set the tempo with more play like they’ve used to win the past two games. If they do that at least, and the things that they’ve done all year to be the top team in the NHL at most, there’s no reason why the Hawks shouldn’t win Wednesday.
My prediction: the Hawks will win a close game by the score of 3-2. What a perfect ending it would be to send the Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference next season with all eight of their tentacles tucked behind them.
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