By Sidney Brown, WARR contributor
What a perfect ending to a classic hockey playoff series, as the Chicago Blackhawks overcame a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in overtime to take their Western Conference semifinal series in seven games.
The ramped up, sold out crowd at the United Center witnessed a significant chapter in this historic rivalry — it marks the last time Detroit and Chicago will meet in the playoffs as Western Conference foes, with Detroit making its move to the East next season — and they would get their money’s worth. This Game 7 was a prime example of ideal playoff hockey with strong forechecking, strong defense played and and overall physically intense setting on top of obvious drama towards the end.
There’s nothing like overtime hockey in the playoffs, they are the things that Hollywood endings in the sport are made of, and in this one, Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, whose play has been in question throughout this series, saved the day. Seabrook’s game winning goal 3:35 into overtime was his first goal of the playoffs. Hopefully, the Hawks have learned their lesson in regards to maintaining series control and can carry this momentum into the Western Conference Finals against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings with their home ice advantage.
Game 1 of the Hawks and Kings will take place Saturday at 4 pm central time and Game 2 Sunday at 7 pm central at the United Center. Both games can been seen on the NBC Sports Network.
The Hawks scored Wednesday’s first goal via Patrick Sharp, his seventh of the playoffs, off a pretty pass from Marian Hossa a minute into the second period. As both teams traded scoring chances in regulation, each team’s goalies were outstanding respectfully, both Jimmy Howard and Corey Crawford made key saves to keep their teams within striking distance. As the saying goes, big time players play in big time games — the goalies heard that and so did Red Wings leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg, as he responded to Sharp’s score by scoring his fourth goal of the playoffs, tying the score at 1-1 26 seconds into the third period.
Late in regulation it appeared that Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson scored the potential go-ahead goal with under two minutes remaining, but off-setting penalties that occurred in front of the benches, Detroit’s Kyle Quincey and Chicago’s Brandon Saad were each called for roughing as a result of their scrum and referee Stephen Walkom stayed on that action as Hjalmarsson’s score developed and made the roughing call before the puck hit the net, the final result ended up with the goal disallowed.
With it all said and done, if this 3-1 comeback gives the Hawks the juice to win the Stanley Cup, then I’ll take it. This series clearly showed what the Hawks can do when really challenged. Looking back now and continuing for years to come, I believe, this series will go down as one of the best playoff series in its era.
First, to both goalies — Detroit’s Howard with his 33 saves off 35 shots (.943 save percentage) and Chicago’s Crawford — 26 saves on 27 shots (.963 save percentage). Listening to Chicago sports radio recently you get the feeling from some people that backup goalie Ray Emery should see action. I hope those fans really took in Crawford’s performance tonight and realize that he’s one of, if not the main reason, why the Hawks are going to the next round.
Second, to the Hawks’ penalty kill unit for shutting down Detroit’s man advantage once again (0-2).
Third, to Hawks winger Dave Boland, who was a key player in the 2010 Stanley Cup Championship and a non-factor in this year’s playoff until tonight. Boland delivered the key assist to Seabrook in overtime to clinch the series.
Last but not least, to the 22,103 spectators at the United Center, who brought the energy constantly from the National Anthem to the overtime game-winner. Great job and your enthusiasm will be needed for the next round against the defending Cup champion LA Kings. My Game Pucks for Game 7 go to Seabrook and Crawford.
First, to the Red Wings’ power play, who went 0-2. The power play was Detroit’s achilles heel throughout this series and it would cost them again in Game 7.
Second, to the Hawks power play for going 0-4. I’ll try to lay off this unit only because they won Wednesday’s game, but this unit will have their work cut out for them against the Kings.
Last but not least, to NBC along with the NHL, for scheduling Games 1 and 2 of the Kings and Hawks on back-to-back days — this Saturday and Sunday. To make matters worse, NBC is having Game 1 of the Boston/Pittsburgh series start at 7pm central time, okay in and of itself, but it forces Game 1 of Kings/Hawks to start in the middle of the afternoon on the NBC Sports Network, which must mean they don’t want anyone to watch the game for some reason. C’mon man, this makes no sense!
After surviving a grueling seven-game series with the Red Wings, the Hawks will have to ramp it up again against the LA Kings. The Kings are a physical team with some scorers, but they don’t have the skill to out-skate the Hawks. If Chicago wants to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, they must play with the confidence that allowed them to overcome Detroit in the last round and hopefully they can take advantage of the Kings having to escape a physical seven-game series of their own with the San Jose Sharks.
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