CHICAGO -- Of all the lessons the Chicago Blackhawks need to take from the postmortem that will be done on this series -- and most likely before the week is over, folks -- the biggest should be that when you want to get even, you can't afford to get mad.
Certainly not against a veteran team like the Detroit Red Wings that just doesn't get rattled and more important knows what it takes to win at this time. If that wasn't clear to the Blackhawks before the defending Stanley Cup champs pushed them to the brink of elimination, it was after Detroit provided a clinic on how to feast off an opponent's negative emotion by humiliating Chicago 6-1 to take a 3-1 stranglehold in the Western Conference finals.
"We didn't handle it well," conceded Chicago center Samuel Pahlsson, who took one of the nine roughing penalties assessed against a young Blackhawks team that was clearly still fuming from the crunching hit teammate Martin Havlat took from Niklas Kronwall in the previous game.
"Obviously there's a lot of emotion involved because this is playoff time," Pahlsson said. "They don't like us and we don't like them, but you've got to use that emotion in the right way. We got off to a bad start, and we got frustrated. Before, when we've been down, we stuck to our game plan and just kept going but today we started taking more penalties and getting into it after whistles. You can't really do that against Detroit because they're way too good, especially on the power play."
Good enough for Detroit to score three times with the man advantage, far beyond what was necessary to provide the difference in a game that was more lopsided than the score would suggest. Funny thing, the most important goal Detroit scored on a power play came when the Blackhawks were a man up less than eight minutes into the game. One of the Red Wings' best penalty killers, Henrik Zetterberg, was sitting in the box, and two others, captain Nicklas Lidstrom and MVP finalist Pavel Datsyuk, were sitting in street clothes nursing injuries.
It was the kind of opportunity the Red Wings rarely offer, and it gave the Blackhawks the chance to get off to the kind of start they hoped for and needed. In fact, Chicago couldn't have diagrammed a better opening to take advantage of any carryover momentum that might have existed from the dramatic Game 3 overtime victory, a triumph the Blackhawks believed had gotten them back into this series.
Everything was in place. The crowd was in the game, Havlat, who appeared to have a concussion from the hit, had willed himself into the lineup and the Blackhawks presumably were still in position to properly channel the anger most of them felt for Kronwall. And besides, Chicago's power play was the league's best in the playoffs while Detroit had been scored on short-handed in the previous 12 games.
|The Blackhawks get a few licks in, but the Red Wings earn the last laugh. (Getty Images)|
"We were missing key players so you have to step up," said Hossa, who led Detroit with 40 goals this season. "When you're getting chances and the puck doesn't go in for you, it's a human nature, you start pressing, so I told myself I just have to play more relaxed, play with my instinct and keep things simple."
Simple enough to provide a telling sign of how bad things would be on this day not only for Chicago, but for Huet, who had been pressed into service in the third period of Game 3 after starter Nikolai Khabibulin was injured. Huet, appearing for the first time in nearly two months, came across as something of a hero in that game as Chicago won in overtime after blowing a three-goal lead. But the reality is that he only faced six shots in a situation he didn't get a chance to think about and reacted so poorly to one he did, he was pulled in favor of an untested rookie midway through the second period.
"He hasn't played much, that was a part of it, but I wanted to change the momentum," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
By that time, Huet had allowed four goals, including back breakers to Johan Franzen (20.7 seconds remaining in the first period) and to Filppula (1:13 into the second). Chicago got a little life when captain Jonathan Toews scored less than three minutes later, but Hossa needed only 12 seconds to get that back and from there, the Blackhawks just lost it.
Kris Versteeg took a cross-checking penalty after teammate Matt Walker was called for interference and Zetterberg needed only six seconds to convert the two-man advantage against rookie Corey Crawford. Zetterberg scored another power-play goal in the third period, putting the final nail in the coffin of the Blackhawks for this day and probably for the series.
"We just felt that we wanted to play the game as physical as we can between the whistles, not do a whole lot of talking after the whistles," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "You know, when you're hyped up, you're excited, sometimes you cross the line. That's what happened for them tonight. They were busy making amends for [Havlat] and in the end, we end up on power plays, which is beneficial for us."