Before I go any further, I would like to apologize for my complete underestimation of the Detroit Red Wings. I predicted the Blackhawks winning in six games and you really can’t blame me. The Hawks were almost indestructible all year long and their first round series with the Minnesota Wild did not do much to disprove this line of thinking.
The Red Wings on the other hand are well on their way to doing the impossible as they have won three straight games against Chicago, and hold a 3-1 series lead.
What seemed impossible, seems plausible now, especially to most Red Wings fans. There will no doubt be those who will quickly point out the fact that they predicted the Wings will beat the Hawks, and kudos to you for having such faith in your team. But that is an easy prediction to make as a die hard fan – we all get wrapped up in that from time to time. The Wings were an underdog by a mile and if you have this loon –“Right now the Blackhawks are the hammer and the Red Wings are the nail. That will not change during the duration of these Western Conference semifinals,” to believe, it would have seemed that Detroit did not even belong on the same ice with Chicago.
While that may be a bit of a stretch, the Hawks were the better team than the Red Wings all season long. When it comes to the predictions game, you use whatever analytical data you have on hand, and just make a hunch.
There are few things that I said to myself about this series and arrived at my own decisions about what the Wings needed to do to win. A major reason for the surprising result so far is that the Red Wings have executed these (yes, they put my plan into full effect) with few flaws. The Wings needed goalie Jimmy Howard to be better than he was in the first round series against the Anaheim Ducks, and he has been absolutely huge through the first four games. Check. The Wings needed their third line to be more effective and it has come through with flying colors, frustrating the Hawks, pinning them in their own zone on the forecheck, and even adding a little offence. Another check. Lastly, the Wings needed their green defensive core to step-up and play beyond their years. In this case the call has been answered once again. It is really amazing how the Wings are firing on all cylinders right now and getting the contributions they need from up and down the lineup. One more check.
Despite the overwhelming pro-Hawks predictions, it’s funny how this hockey game works on the ice sometimes. Hard work, dedication and effort combined with great coaching by Mike Babcock and his staff, can overcome the gap in talent level between the two teams – haven’t our hockey coaches been telling us that since Tyke? Not that the Wings lack talent, just that right now Chicago remains one of the most talented teams in the league.
What no one, not me nor any die hard Red Wings fan, expected is the meltdown that is occuring with Jonathon Toews right now. It is sort of ironic that he just recently got some serious props for being one of the best leaders in the NHL. The captain of the Chicago Blackhawks has been nominated for the Mark Messier National Hockey League Leadership Award. The award’s past winners include Chris Chelios, Mats Sundin, Jarome Iginla, Sidney Crosby, Zdeno Chara, and Shane Doan.
“The award is given to a player selected by Mark Messier to honor an individual who leads by positive example through on-ice performance, motivation of team members and a dedication to community activities and charitable causes.”
I am not sure about the wonderful activities that Jonathon Toews has participated in off the ice, but I can tell you that his on ice performance has been nothing short of disappointing in this series.
Toews is a wonderful player who has won the Stanley Cup and is a top tier Center in the league at both ends of the ice. However, in a pivotal game four at Joe Louis Arena he lost his cool, and looked like a timid-spoiled child that did not get it his way. Toews came unglued and made it personal by taking three penalties in a row. He even got into an altercation where he began slashing Wings Captain Henrik Zetterberg repeatedly in full view of the officials. This undisciplined play, and loss of composure was shocking out of Captain Serious Toews.
This may not be a fair parallel but the Wings fan and hockey world over can’t help but to think of another number 19 who wore a C on his chest. Another 19 who pretty much helped define what captaincy was, is, and is going to be for future generations. Can’t help to think that maybe Toews needs to watch a bit more old school tape to fish himself out of this funk (by #19 I meant Stevie Y, but you could insert Joe Sakic as well).
I understand that playing against Henrik Zetterberg is probably like trying to swim in glue paste on a sandy beach. Couple that with Niklas Kronwall’s less than friendly style of play, and one can imagine anyone could be frustrated into a hasty rage. The problem here is that while it could be anyone, it cannot be Jonathan Toews. Toews is supposed to be the cool composed icicle that leads by example and the one who restores order to his teammates when they become undisciplined. At one point Brent Seabrook skated over to try and calm him down as Toews sat down in the penalty box. Detroit would score the game winning goal on the third penalty by Toews, who is still sitting at zero goals these playoffs (now through 9 games) by the way. Toews could not amend for his mistakes as the Wings won 2-0 (with an empty netter added).
This is a dramatic and very interesting twist to this series, because if anything no one could have predicted this turn of events. Along with the woes that Toews was having, I have hardly heard Patrick Sharp or Marian Hossa’s name in game four. Couple these with the constant quick and done rushes from Patrick Kane and it must be quite worrisome for the Chicago faithful. The entire Blackhawks offense seems to be in a state of shock. They are playing spooked, and mentally uncertain right now.
I give all the credit in the world to the Red Wings squad and the coaching of Mike Babcock. Jimmy Howard has been spectacular, but I think the Hawks are showing a bit of a fearful side and while Corey Crawford has not been the issue as I though he might be, the entire top six unit for the Blackhawks has been neutralized. It is almost surreal and this disappearing act from all their top forwards is something that Hawks fans have not seen in a long time.
For most hockey fans this is just another amazing series to watch and seems to be a bit of a situation of a rivalry renewed instead of the one-sided hammering as it was during the regular season meetings. It is unfortunate that with the NHL’s realignment, that this will likely be the last time these teams meet in the playoffs for a long time (they will be unable to matchup unless they both reach the Stanley Cup Final in the same year). Henrik Zetterberg vs Jonathon Toews its the latest installment in the classic Detroit Red Wings vs Chicago Blackhawks rivalry, one that most would not mind seeing every spring.
So, is the series over? In the words of Daniel Alfredsson, “Probably”. I doubt the Hawks can win 3 in a row, especially with how fantastic Howard has been playing. Is it possible? Yeah, well, the Hawks are no strangers to winning streaks and do not forget all of the posts the Hawks have hit in the series.
If I was in the predictions business and had a time machine I would say Wings win it in six, but alas that technology is at least six months away. Jonathon Toews will have to forge his legacy in game five and play like a man, and while I know Zetterberg’s beard can be intimidating, this is the time where great players show up and play great. Will Toews answer the call of duty or will we see him spend more time chirping refs and sitting in the penalty box than playing the game? The Hawks must hope he can regain his composure and his scoring touch, or they will be out of the playoffs far earlier than anyone expected.
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