By Steve Silverman-
(CBS)The Detroit Red Wings were a lot better than we thought.
They may have been the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, but they took the Blackhawks to the limit with a display in the seventh game that few thought they had in them.
The seventh game of any series is supposed to belong to the best players. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith vs. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall.
Through three periods, the Blackhawks’ trio had done little. Their only goal was scored by Patrick Sharp, as he finished off a beautiful sequence in which Michael Handzus and Marian Hossa combined to take advantage of a slow change by the Red Wings defense.
The 1-0 advantage lasted until the early seconds of the third period, when Zetterberg swept in a pass from Gustav Nyquist to tie the score.
The next five minutes would belong to the Red Wings and if it had not been for the stellar work of Corey Crawford, the Red Wings would have taken the advantage.
While the battle of the stars went to the Wings, it was the second rank that decided the game in the Blackhawks’ favor. Sharp and Hossa were key figures on the first goal and Brent Seabrook played the role of hero with his overtime strike that deflected off the stick of Kronwall and flew over Jimmy Howard’s glove.
Game over. Series over. Blackhawks win 2-1 (OT). Blackhawks win the series 4-3. Blackhawks survive and advance to play the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final.
But that’s not the full story, as all Blackhawks fans know. The series appeared to have been won on a tremendous blast by Niklas Hjalmarsson to finish off a rush that appeared to give the Blackhawks the victory.
Hjalmarsson’s goal was waved off by referee Stephen Walkom, a call that appeared to have no merit. Brandon Saad was getting roughed up by Detroit’s Kyle Quincey. It’s exactly the kind of by-play that gets ignored in the late stages of most regular-season games, let alone the seventh game of a playoff series.
If anything, Walkom could have called the penalty on Quincey, but Saad did nothing to deserve a penalty call.
The penalty call was simply awful and the timing of it was flabbergasting.
But Walkom allowed the Blackhawks to prove their greatness by nearly crushing them with his no-goal whistle.
Walkom hit the Blackhawks with a miserable break. He hit them with the worst call possible at an inconceivable time.
How many teams could have overcome such a moment? An average team would have sunk and died. A good team would have felt sorry for itself. But a great team would have found a way to overcome it.
That’s what the Blackhawks did. They had their hearts ripped out by the worst possible call at the worst time, but they did not let it stop them.
That’s the mark of greatness in professional sports. In 1985, the St. Louis Cardinals would have almost certainly won the World Series against the Kansas City Royals if it was not for an awful call by umpire Don Denkinger.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Royals found themselves down by a run in Game 6 of a series they trailed 3-2.
Leadoff batter Jorge Orta hit a slow roller to first baseman Jack Clark, who tossed the ball to pitcher Todd Worrell, who was covering first. Denkinger called Orta safe, but replays showed Orta was clearly out.
The Cardinals ended up falling apart. They lost that game in the bottom of the ninth and collapsed in Game 7 the next day.
The Cardinals were a good team but they were not great. They could not overcome a miserable call and a bad break.
The Blackhawks have been called a great team since their season-opening streak of 24 games without a loss. They proved it in the regular season and they proved it in their second-round win over the Red Wings.
They still have to prove it against the Kings and either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Boston Bruins if they are going to win a championship. But they showed that they are made of something special, overcoming the worst adversity at a time when good teams would have collapsed.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.