It’s hard to describe the sound of a puck hitting a taped hockey stick blade, but when you hear the sound, you know exactly what it is: the sound of perfection.
The Detroit Red Wings have made an art form out of tape-to-tape passing, and they have put on a clinic against a young Chicago Blackhawks team that is getting its first taste of high-pressure and intensity playoff hockey.
Yes, the Hawks did beat the depleted Calgary Flames, and they knocked off one of the best goalies in the NHL in beating the Vancouver Canucks, but nothing could have prepared them for the onslaught that the Wings have hit them with.
Precision passing, a propensity for bending the rules of what constitutes interference, and a preternatural feel for when to drop back for defensive pressure and surge forward for offensive explosion are all part of the equation for this modern marvel that is the Red Wings.
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, rely on more of a speed game, hitting players on the outsides of the rink and relying on traffic in front of the net to cause chaos, and also on fast break opportunities to create quality scoring chances.
On defense, they play a man-to-man style, leaving the middle of the ice open for passes and occasionally getting burned, but for the most part they are good at preventing passes from getting to their targets.
In this series, it is pretty clear which style has been working. The Wings, with their five red jerseys in the middle of the ice, have allowed the Blackhawks try to play a perimeter game and have choked out a lot of shot attempts in the process. They have also perfected the art of sending guys to rush passers and have created several breakaway goals.
The Hawks also have not done themselves any favors, whether it is turning the puck over in a bad situation (Brian Campbell’s pass to nowhere in Game 2 immediately comes to mind), or committing foolish penalties in a lost game, as Kris Versteeg and Sammy Pahlsson did in Game 4.
From the outset, the series has played out exactly like most experts predicted it would. The young Hawks have been overwhelmed by the speed, skill, and poise of the battle-tested Red Wings in what has quickly become a blowout series for Detroit.
Even suffering injuries to several key players has not slowed down the Big Red Machine on ice. Pavel Datsyuk, Nicolas Lidstrom, and Kris Draper have all missed time in the series, but Detroit still has been firing on all cylinders, and it doesn’t look like hell or high water is going to slow them down.
Given all of these facts about this series, I would be inclined to agree that things look bleak for Chicago. They are being outplayed, they were embarrassed in their last game, and it’s looking like they’ll be stuck with Cristobal Huet in net for Game 5, even though he was yanked in the second period of Game 4 for poor play. Also, it looks like Martin Havlat may not play at all, or will see very limited time, because the concussion-like symptoms he was experiencing after being absolutely nailed by Nicolas Kromwall in Game 3.
If the Hawks have ANY shot at winning the series, there are three things that they absolutely need to do.
The first of these things is that they need to draw more penalties. While this is a really tough chore against a well-disciplined team like Detroit, it is possible if they attack them properly. If they can connect on some passes in the neutral zone, they could actually structure a sustained attack that could cause Detroit to take some defensive penalties to prevent good scoring chances. If this happens, then the Hawks can use their power play, which has been extremely effective in this postseason, and hopefully get some goals via that route.
The second goal the Hawks should have in mind when they take the ice is to stop Detroit from having free reign in the neutral zone. Guys like Marian Hossa absolutely killed the Hawks in Game 4 because Chicago was letting him have all sorts of open ice to get a full head of steam going toward the net.
This likely was caused by some exhaustion on the part of the Hawks, but this shouldn’t be an excuse in Game 5, when the Hawks will have had over two days off to recuperate. The Hawks also need to simply forecheck like they did in Games 2 and 3 of the series if they want to accomplish this goal. It was woefully lacking on Sunday, and it showed in the six goals that Detroit racked up.
The third and final goal the Hawks need to achieve to possibly win this series is to simply take things one game at a time. Looked at as a whole, it is a nearly impossible mountain to climb to defeat Detroit in three straight playoff games. When you break it down into each separate game, however, it seems a lot less far-fetched.
This series may appear to be for all intents and purposes over, and it most likely is. It is extremely difficult to beat Detroit in two straight games in the postseason, much less in three straight contests, but if the Hawks can play the style of hockey that got them to this point, at least they can make these games competitive and at least give themselves a chance. Getting this series back to Chicago would certainly be a good start.