By Adam Hoge-
DETROIT (CBS) With their season on the line, the Blackhawks nearly coughed up their Stanley Cup chances with a dreadful second period.
They were out-skated, out-hustled and out-scored after Corey Crawford let in the kind of soft goal that likely would have left Blackhawks fans trying to run the goaltender out of town during a long offseason.
“The Andersson goal was a gift,” Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock conceded.
It was about as bad a period as the Blackhawks could have had in an elimination game and frankly, they were lucky to only be down 2-1.
Some locker rooms may have folded in that situation, but that’s not what happened inside the Blackhawks’ dressing room Monday night.
“There were some speeches by some guys,” Bryan Bickell said. “It was just a positive thinking. I think going onto the ice we felt confident that we could do it and get that early goal to spark the bench.”
Bickell didn’t want to reveal who gave the speeches, but did say that defenseman Duncan Keith gave a good one.
“The veteran guys who have been in this situation before stepped up and said so,” he said. “I was just listening and taking it in.”
It worked. Bickell was one of three so-called role players (along with Michal Handzus and Michael Frolik) who scored a goal in the third period as the Blackhawks saved their season with a 4-3 victory over the Wings.
“We definitely realized the game was a do-or-die situation,” Jonathan Toews said. “We play our best hockey when we are really conscious of that.”
The Blackhawks haven’t always played their best hockey in the last two games, but they’ve played well enough to give themselves a chance to complete a three-game comeback Wednesday night at the United Center with a Game 7 victory.
Momentum is a tricky thing in the NHL and can switch suddenly, which the Blackhawks learned the hard way during the second period Monday night. When Joakim Andersson flicked a seemingly harmless puck at Crawford midway through the period, there was no reason to think a 1-1 tie would be broken. But the puck was on edge when Andersson struck it, causing it to knuckle in the air. Crawford completely whiffed, allowing arguably the softest goal of his season.
“It’s a huge momentum shifter,” Crawford admitted. “Whatever, it happened. Just gotta move past it and move on.”
He did. Before the Blackhawks came together in the locker room before the third period, Crawford did his part to keep it a one-goal game with some good saves late in the second.
“He’s been behind us every step of the way,” Toews said. “Games all year that we probably shouldn’t have won and we did because of him. Sometimes there’s tricky shots that go in like that and we didn’t let it faze us as a team and he didn’t let it bother him at all.”
The truth is, Crawford has been the second-best goaltender in this series, but he’s been good enough for the Blackhawks to win. And now they can win this series with a victory Wednesday night against a Red Wings team that has to feel a lot like the Hawks did after Game 4, if not worse.
“If I would have told our whole team before this series, if I would have told Detroit, Michigan before this series, that we were going to play Chicago in Game 7, I think everybody would have been pretty excited about that,” Babcock said.
That may be true, but it changes a little bit when you’re on the verge of blowing a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Semifinals. About 90 minutes after their Game 6 loss, dejected Red Wings players (including Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen) left Joe Louis Arena with their heads down and very few words amongst themselves.
Meanwhile, the other team left for the airport beaming with confidence. The Blackhawks’ locker room was still business-like after the win, but it was also loose — much looser than it was back in Chicago in between Games 4 and 5.
“We’ve been playing desperate hockey ever since we were down three games to one,” Toews said. “We have to. I think we’re learning to really keep that poise and keep that control in really emotional situations. We’re harnessing that energy and we’re using it. We’ll see what happens.”
If they keep playing desperate hockey Wednesday night, here’s what will happen: A Blackhawks’ season once headed for bitter disappointment will be extended and the Stanley Cup will remain in reach.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHoge and read more of his columns here.