The reason why the Red Wings lead the series 2-1 is because their top players are producing at both ends of the ice. Superstar forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk rank first and second on the team in scoring during the playoffs, respectively, and they both played very well in Game 3.
Datsyuk scored a momentum-killing goal in the third period with an unreal snipe to beat Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford about two minutes after Patrick Kane cut the Detroit lead to one with a goal of his own. Meanwhile, Zetterberg continued his excellent defensive performance against Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who has made almost no impact in this series.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, Toews isn't the only star forward who has failed to produce offensively in the last two games. Here are some stats involving the team's top-six forwards over the last two games combined.
|Jonathan Toews||0||0 ||0 ||0 ||10|
|Marian Hossa||0||0 ||0 ||-1 ||6 |
|Patrick Sharp||0 ||1 ||1 ||-1 ||5|
|Patrick Kane||2 ||0 ||2 ||-2 ||6 |
|Brandon Saad||0 ||0 ||0 ||0 ||7 |
|Dave Bolland||0 ||0 ||0 ||-3 ||3 |
From a Blackhawks perspective, there are far too many zeros on the chart above. Kane is the only top-six forward who has found the back of the net over the last two games which, to no one's surprise, were both losses for Chicago.
Nobody in the Western Conference scored more goals than the Blackhawks during the regular season, which is why the team's inability to score goals right now (one goal in each of the last two games) is so surprising.
The play of Toews, in particular, has been the biggest disappointment for the Blackhawks in this series. Detroit has made it obvious that one of the team's goals is to play physical with Toews and make him work hard for every puck and each scoring chance.
Zetterberg and the other Red Wings forwards are hitting and pushing him at every opportunity, and the chippy play has really frustrated the young superstar. Every time he goes to the net, there's a player in a red sweater cross-checking, shoving or hooking him.
The 25-year-old star has complained to the referees on several occasions and provided this comment to the media on Saturday (via Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times).
As a former Stanley Cup champion and an Olympic gold medalist, Toews won't be intimidated by the challenge in front of him, but zero goals in eight playoff games is unacceptable for a player of his caliber.
Toews normally elevates his game in the second round of the playoffs (13 points in 12 career conference semifinals games prior to this series), but a combination of bad luck and good defense by the Red Wings has prevented him from getting on the scoresheet.
Marian Hossa is another star who must play better for the Blackhawks to avoid a 3-1 series deficit. He's one of the highest-paid players on the team and is so critical to its success with his strong two-way game.
But Hossa has been absent for most of this series with one point, a minus-two rating and 11 total shots in three games. Chicago needs the 34-year-old winger to create some more offense for himself and his linemates Toews and Brandon Saad.
Without a good performance from their top line, the Blackhawks offense will not improve.
One of the central matchups in this series is the Red Wings' heavy game versus the high-end offensive skill of the Blackhawks forwards.
Through three games, Detroit has done an effective job in frustrating Chicago's best scorers by winning the majority of the physical battles in all three zones. The Red Wings have a clear size and strength advantage on the ice, which is why they have outhit the Blackhawks 66-44 in the last two games.
As a finesse club without a lot of players who like to play a physical game, the Blackhawks cannot afford to lose their composure against a Red Wings team that does a good job of getting under its opponents' skin with after-the-whistle jabs and trash talk. Chicago was rattled at the end of Game 3, and it was obvious with some of the penalties it was taking.
Another reason why the Red Wings are shutting down the Blackhawks' best forwards is the coaching brilliance of Mike Babcock.
The league's best head coach has won the matchup battles with his opposite number Joel Quenneville, and his ability to motivate his players in an unfamiliar underdog role is impressive. With two full days off until the puck drops in Game 4 on Thursday, Babcock has plenty of time to watch film and find more ways to slow down Chicago's offense.
It would be unfair not to give a lot of praise to Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, whose brilliant play in net is one of the main reasons why the Blackhawks' star-studded offense is struggling right now.
He has played consistently well in this series and has made all the big saves late in games over the last two matchups. His confidence is growing with each victory, and his rebound control was fantastic in Game 3. Howard stopped 39 of the 40 shots he faced on Monday night, and as a result, his save percentage (.923) and GAA (2.43) numbers are better than they've been at any point in his postseason career.
Howard has given the Red Wings the advantage in net thus far, and if he wins the goaltending matchup, Detroit will reach the Western Conference Final for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
The Blackhawks got away with lackluster performances from their stars in the first round against the Minnesota Wild, who were forced to play their backup and third-string goaltenders for the entire five-game series.
Against a Red Wings team that's getting good goaltending from Howard, scoring production from its top three lines and winning the physical battles, Chicago won't survive the second round if its best forwards continue to struggle.
In the Stanley Cup playoffs, a team's star players need to lead the group and be productive at both ends of the ice on a consistent basis.
If the Blackhawks don't get better performances from players like Toews and Hossa in Game 4, this team will be pushed to the brink of elimination and might become the latest Presidents' Trophy winners to fail in the playoffs.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.