Fresh off a remarkable late series rally against the Anaheim Ducks, the suddenly upstart Detroit Red Wings have shockingly moved on to the Western Conference Quarterfinals against their old rivals from Chicago.
The path to a Stanley Cup doesn’t get any easier for Detroit, as the Blackhawks are the number one seed in the west, and have played like it, ousting Minnesota in an easy five game series. The Red Wings played Chicago tough in every single game but one this year, and are full of confidence heading into the final playoff match up between the teams before Detroit moves east. Will the Red Wings secure another upset, or will Chicago skate away to the conference finals? Today, we’re letting you know.
Key To The Series:
Andrew Tomlinson: Physical play.
The Red Wings need to push the Hawks, specifically Corey Crawford around. It is no secret the Chicago netminder is the weakest link of what is a very good Western Conference team. That said, we all know how quick he can fall apart and it will be the job of the Red Wings’ big men to get in his crease, disrupt his focus and sure, why not run him over a few times. It worked for Boston against Ryan Miller.
Chris Burke: Turnovers.
Detroit’s only — ONLY — chance in this series is to play as it did for the first 55 minutes of Game 6 and the first 57 minutes of Game 7 vs. Anaheim. And by that I mean, forechecking hard enough to force some mistakes by Chicago and playing soundly enough on D to prevent any glorious chances. All of this starts with the Wings’ defense taking care of the puck. The Blackhawks are good enough to survive if they get a little sloppy. The Wings are not.
Max DeMara: Board battles.
If there was one area Detroit was incredibly exposed against Anaheim despite their victory, it was perimeter defense, especially along the boards and behind their own net leading to middle of the ice chances. Turnovers and careless play cost the Red Wings too many times to the tune of too many goals. Against the Blackhawks, the defense has to play much more responsibly in their own end and win the board battles. Chicago is a hungry team which forechecks well and doesn’t mind scoring ugly goals, so the pressure will be on the Red Wings’ defense and forwards to win the one on one contests.
Players To Watch:
Tomlinson: Justin Abdelkader/Brandon Saad.
Abdeklader was great for the Wings last series. He may have a little Brendan Shanahan in him with his physical play and nose for the net. If he can stay out of the press box, his physicality could really be a turning point for the Wings this series. On the other hand, Saad is an impressive young player who has killed the Wings all year and been a bright young star in the Windy City. Keeping him at bay will help the Wings avoid the pain of watching another young player take them to the woodshed like Etem did last round.
Burke: Detroit’s third line and Patrick Sharp.
It’s easy to forget, amidst all the Hossa/Toews/Kane hoopla, that the Blackhawks are an extremely deep team. No player from the rest of the group is as dangerous as Sharp, who does just about everything you could ask a player to do. The Wings more of a shot to counter that depth than most will give them credit for, but it starts with the third line producing. That Joakim Andersson/Damien Brunner/Gustav Nyquist grouping was great against Anaheim (other than the Game 5 OT goal), and it has to replicate that success here.
DeMara: Gustav Nyquist and Bryan Bickell
In these playoffs, Nyquist has been a breath of fresh air with speed and playmaking ability around the net. His fast skates and slick stick have looked great, especially when paired with Brunner and Andersson. Chicago might have a bit more trouble dealing with a Detroit team featuring a confident Nyqust. Bickell, on the other hand, is the stereotypical playoff player. A burly forward capable of scoring tough goals, the Red Wings will need to match his intensity and drive. Given their immense depth everywhere else, how well Bickell and his linemates play could determine how fast Chicago wins the series.
Rob Starrs: Dan Cleary/Valtteri Filppula and Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane
Cleary and Filppula are going to be the keys to the series. They both showed up for game seven with the lines being jumbled, and that seemed to break them both out of whatever funk they were in. If Filppula can find his scoring touch and Cleary can grind and make plays the Red Wings will be much tougher to deal with. It’s easy to say that Detroit needs to watch the top guys, but Kane and Toews will be crucial in this battle. It will be tough to keep them in check, but Detroit will have to contain those two danglers in order to have a chance at this upset.
Most Important Series Stat:
Tomlinson: Why not? Blocked shots.
Getting shots at the net seemed to be a key stat for both team’s last round. Lets roll with it again this round. Blocking the point shots from Chicago and making sure the Wings’ shots get to Crawford and around the dirty areas will be a huge factor.
Burke: Shots on goal.
Detroit has to be, at least, pretty close to even here. If the shot totals skew badly in Chicago’s favor, it’s hard to imagine the Red Wings coming up with enough offense to match the inevitable Blackhawks goals.
DeMara: Penalty minutes.
Chicago only had two power play goals the last round to Detroit’s six. On the other hand, the Blackhawks were the most efficient penalty kill in the last round at 100 percent while the Red Wings struggled to hang around 72 percent. As the old saying goes, something’s gotta give here. The key to this series will lie within specialty teams. If the Red Wings can cash in their chances with the man advantage, they will be in excellent shape, especially if they kill their penalties. They cannot let the Blackhawks’ power play off the mat, nor can they afford to take needless penalties.
Starrs: Penalty minutes.
As I said before the first round, it’s going to be special teams. The Red Wings have to take advantage when the Blackhawks go to the box. Chicago won’t let Detroit slide if they miss on a 5 on 3. On the reverse side, Detroit has to stay out of the box. The Blackhawks’ power play can be deadly when they’re clicking and get into a groove.
Detroit Wins If…
Tomlinson: The euro-twins continue to produce like they are producing.
Chicago is not giving up many goals and I still do not trust Jimmy Howard to stop much, either. If Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg continue to fill up the scoresheet, the Red Wings will find themselves in a series.
Burke: The back six raises its game.
Thus far, the Carlo Colaiacovo-for-Brian Lashoff switch has produced results for Detroit. The Wings need that back six to be rock solid — looking at you, Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith. It’d be nice to have Danny DeKeyser for this matchup; without him, the pressure’s on everyone else
DeMara: Scoring depth proceeds.
Last round, the Red Wings managed to hang around early in the series without much from their big guns. The third line was excellent, and the fourth line contributed a few good shifts as well. This time, though, Detroit will need their stars to play like stars right away, including Zetterberg, while getting the same effort out of other lines. It’s a tall order to match Chicago’s depth, but with inspired efforts, it could happen.
Starrs: If the young guns grew up during round one.
Lots of mistakes by a younger, inexperienced defense can’t happen this series. The Red Wings have to limit the giveaways, especially in their own zone. The Blackhawks won’t be missing open nets and breakaways like Anaheim did. If the younger players continue to take care of the puck and do the simple things right, the Red Wings will have a chance.
Tomlinson: Blackhawks in six.
Burke: This feels a bit like the reverse of the Wings-Blackhawks series in 2009, when Detroit was the Western Conference power and Chicago was an up-and-comer. I expect every game in this series to be pretty tight, but it’s hard for me to envision the Red Wings winning. Blackhawks in five.
DeMara: The Red Wings showed mettle against Anaheim and surprised many with a seeding upset. Turning that trick against Chicago will take a string of perfect games, hard work and good fortune from Detroit’s perspective. The mental advantage of being the team to play Chicago the toughest during the abbreviated regular season will matter in this series, and the game Red Wings give the Blackhawks a tussle. Home ice counts for more this time around in game seven, though, as the gassed Red Wings go down fighting. Blackhawks in seven.
Starrs: Everyone will be picking against the Red Wings because of Chicago’s dominance over the league this season. I think Detroit’s first round victory taught the young guys a thing or two, though, that will prove pivotal in this series. Red Wings in six.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax