By: Eric Thomas
Playoff hockey is impossible to predict, but the gathered analysis going into the series against Chicago leaned the ‘Hawks way at an angle usually associated with a wooden a Labyrinth game. Few gave them a chance, even locally. The Blackhawks looked like they might go undefeated in the strike shortened season. Now they trail the Detroit 2-1 in this series, while many who cover the NHL stand aghast.
This could be the result of hubris; maybe the Hawks thought that the Wings would be a relative push over on their way to Stanley Cup destiny with the Penguins, or maybe Chicago is still sleepy from their days off in between series. Maybe the Wings’ rookie defensemen have awoken. Maybe Chicago is on a two game skid and in the next four they will rise like a hydra.
Either way, this stands as Mike Babcock’s best playoff achievement as coach of the Wings, outside of winning the Cup. Babcock has done this before, helmed the underdog team on a run, but he hasn’t done it since he was the coach of the Ducks. The team has been well prepared, well coached and playing beyond themselves. If there was any question about Mike Babcock’s return next year, this deeper than expected playoff run settles it.
Game three against the ‘Hawks was Jimmy Howard’s signature playoff win. He’s had many saves in the past, had many great periods past, but this is his best playoff game since the shutout in his first season starting in goal. A few of his saves in game three were backbreakers, especially in the second period. Chicago their lost confidence as the game went on.
While we’re at it, that much maligned Detroit defense has put together back to back excellent performances. Brendan Smith has totally redeemed himself, Kyle Quincey has played strong. Even Johan Franzen has played well, and Detroit calls a truce for the rest of the playoffs.
It seems like some of the city doesn’t even know this is happening. Many maybe gave up when the Wings nearly missed the playoffs, turned off to the idea of watching a team with little chance to kiss the cup. Might want to wake your neighbors. The Wings have their skates on the neck of the best team in the West.
Ken Holland and Mike Babcock have to feel good about themselves. Fans have spent the season kicking and screaming, asking them to defend their actions. There wasn’t an attempt to make a move before the trade deadline; they stood on the sidelines all summer while other teams snapped up free agents. They struggled with injuries; poor play by Howard early in the season, lack of scoring…they largely struggled with everything this season and made the playoffs in the last week of the season.
It’s fitting revenge. For all the Red Wings’ cup successes, ignominious early playoff exits pockmark the memories of many fans. The Wings, when this happens, usually skate away shocked when some scrappy underdog beats them by surprise. The Blackhawks are primed for just that, so frustrated by the end of the game that several players had to be physically restrained.
Patrick Kane skated off with a truly disgusted look on his face. Earlier in the week defenseman Brent Seabrook shook off game two, he said, “its one game.” That was the case when he said it.
Now it’s two.