CHICAGO -- So we have a series.
That was in question after Game 1, in which the Chicago Blackhawks dominated the Detroit Red Wings in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal, just as they had in the regular season. But the only thing similar from that game to Game 2 was the final score, 4-1. This time the Red Wings dominated.
“We knew they were going to come back and play much better than Game 1, and obviously we didn’t quite match the effort,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said.
You might excuse the Hawks for feeling so good about themselves coming off that first game. Heading into it, coach Joel Quenneville openly worried about their long layoff after a quick five-game, opening-round win over the Minnesota Wild and about a lack of intensity the Hawks showed in that series. But Chicago answered those questions with a resounding Game 1 win Wednesday night -- even with the NHL giving the Wings an unexpected extra day off after their seven-game bout with the Anaheim Ducks.
As it turned out, that extra day wasn’t enough for Detroit. They couldn’t skate with the Hawks, who owned the final 40 minutes of Game 1. But in hindsight, it was fatigue -- not lack of talent or desire -- that doomed the Wings to such a poor performance. With two more days before Game 2, Detroit found itself again just as it did against the No. 2-seeded Ducks.
“It was great we had an off day,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It was unbelievable how that worked out for us. Now we’re freshened up. Series on.”
Yes, the series is on because the Wings are a better team than they were a month ago. Babcock said as much after the game. Are the Hawks? They were so good for so long this year it’s hard to tell if they have another level. At least we know they can be better than they played Saturday.
“I thought our game was way off as far as the pace that was needed,” Quenneville said. “We weren’t smart in some certain areas.”
He’s right. All of the Hawks’ top defensemen made mistakes and all finished minus-2. And after the Hawks’ top line, the rest of the team produced nine shots for the entire game. Nine. What does this all mean?
“We know exactly what we need to improve on, and we need to do it right away,” Toews said. “There is no time to waste in this series.”
And that means changes should be coming for the Hawks. For example:
Despite an assist on Patrick Kane's goal, Michal Handzus should not be centering the second line. He’s hurting -- not practicing since before the series began -- and he slows down the likes of Kane and Patrick Sharp.
Dave Bolland or Marcus Kruger should center that line. Bolland hasn’t been used exclusively on Pavel Datsyuk, so to take advantage of some of his skills, maybe he should move up. Or else give Kruger a chance to skate with Kane and Sharp. He can keep up.
Viktor Stalberg needs to show his head from the doghouse and return to the lineup. Quenneville can no longer justify sitting the speedy forward over the plodding Daniel Carcillo. The series got a little physical in Game 2, but not enough to warrant Carcillo dressing. He played just 7:40 on Saturday after 6:04 in Game 1. Stalberg can simply create scoring chances -- especially against Detroit’s third defensive pair -- that Carcillo cannot.
The Hawks need to make depth a part of the game. They have more than Detroit, but where has Bryan Bickell been? Andrew Shaw has seemingly spent more time in the penalty box than on the ice -- though he brought a good forecheck Saturday. They need more from those guys.
No one move will make the difference; it’s a cumulative effect. But now that the Wings have proved they can play with the Hawks, it’s time for the favorite to get serious. Speed and chaos -- as seen in Game 1 -- is called for, and the Hawks have been able to accomplish that at Joe Louis Arena lately as much as any team in the league. But Detroit has been decent enough in Chicago over the years too. They were again Saturday.
“They had the puck a lot tonight,” Kane said. “Took a page out of our game. I felt like we were chasing the puck all the time.”
That was Detroit’s game before it was the Hawks’. The Wings never stopped playing that way; they simply haven’t been as good at it over the past few years. Saturday showed they can still bring it, if their seven-game series win over the Ducks didn’t.
“They have the momentum right now. We need to get it back somehow,” Kane said.