By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) The Blackhawks said they would be ready for a stronger, faster Red Wings team in Game 2.
They just didn’t play like it.
In fact, Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Red Wings was their worst performance since their 24-game points streak ended in Colorado Mar. 8. Every other loss this season was by two goals or less.
“Across the board we should all assume some responsibility that we have to be much better than that,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said after the game. “I thought our game was way off as far as the pace that was needed. And we weren’t smart in certain areas.”
Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock promised a better effort after Game 1, when he indicated that the travel back and forth to Anaheim in the first round had taken its toll on his team. It appears he was right.
“It was great that we had an off day,” Babcock said after Saturday’s win. “It was unbelievable how well that worked out for us. Now we’re freshened up. Series on.”
The series is on.
The Red Wings now have home-ice advantage as the series shifts back to Detroit and you can argue it’s now the Blackhawks, not the Wings, that need an extra day off before the next game.
After a pretty even first period, the Wings dominated the second frame, controlling the puck for most of the 20 minutes and scoring two goals to take a 2-1 lead. It got worse as the period went along and while the Blackhawks came out in the third period with a better pace, the Wings still scored the only two goals of the period, putting the game away.
It was a rare game where the league’s best defensive unit didn’t play up to par, but Quenneville didn’t think that was where the game was lost.
“We lost the momentum of that game by what we didn’t do more so on the attack and in the offensive zone,” he said.
Indeed, the offense failed to put pucks on net like they did in Game 1 (the Hawks only had 20 shots all game) and they committed turnovers in the offensive zone that led to odd-man rushes the other way. That, combined with a defense that struggled and a goaltender (Corey Crawford) who was shaky at best, and the Blackhawks didn’t have much of a chance in Game 2.
The Hawks’ top line of Jonthan Toews, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad particularly struggled, with Toews getting bottled up by Henrik Zetterberg for most of the game. And afterward, a frustrated captain turned his attention toward the referees, saying the Wings got away with some interference in front of the net.
“That’s something we need to know and maybe do to them a little bit,” Toews said. “It’s just tough to understand sometimes why we get roughing penalties and hooking penalties, whatever it is, and that doesn’t go both ways.”
The end result was a puck-loving team hardly possessing the puck at all.
“They have to find a way to fight through it,” Quenneville said. “We got to be harder in the tough areas, particularly at their net. We didn’t really look to shoot it. We seemed to be on the outside.”
Now, the Blackhawks must adjust before Game 3 Monday night in Detroit.
“It’s not out of frustration it’s just trying to frustrate their team,” Toews said. “That’s something we need to do a little bit more. They’re trying to do it to our top couple lines and we can do a little bit more of it. We’re letting them skate around with the puck a little bit too much.”
While Toews is probably right that some calls were missed Saturday, changing their ways could be dangerous. Adjustments are one thing, but skating the fine line of what’s legal and not legal is not what the Blackhawks do best. What they really need to do is just play their game and play it better. Saturday was a rare poor effort. They were sleepy at times in the first round against the Wild, but they didn’t make the kind of mistakes that littered the ice against the Wings Saturday.
Odd scheduling and inconsistent officiating are a part of the obstacles and ups and downs of a playoff series, no matter how much talent you have. Those are the things you have to battle through.
That danger now is that the Red Wings are getting better and have been playing at a playoff-like pace for weeks after they had to battle just to get into the postseason. The Blackhawks are clearly the more talented team, but they can’t afford to open the door for the Wings.
“They got a real good club and they’ve been good all year,” Babcock said. “We got a real good club now and we haven’t been good all year. We just got better. We just kept getting better so we’re confident in our group and we really think we can be in this series and we’re excited about the opportunity.”
That’s a mindset the Blackhawks need to erase. Quickly.
For more coverage throughout the playoffs, follow Adam on Twitter (@AdamHoge).