Coming into their second-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, it appeared that the Detroit Red Wings had little chance of winning. All of the stats favored the Blackhawks, who had already beaten Detroit in all four games during the regular season. But this is why the NHL playoffs are great. It does not matter what happened in the regular season; unlike any other league, the NHL playoffs become a completely different beast.
They are only halfway to pulling off the upset, but the Red Wings are playing extremely well. In Game 1 they were full of mistakes and just could not get anything going. Still, they were able to stay close until the third period when the Blackhawks eventually pulled away to a 4-1 victory. Since then, they have played much better in all facets of the game.
The Blackhawks scored on their first power play of the series, but have yet to score since then; they now only have one power play goal through nine attempts. Detroit's penalty-kill unit has been very effective at shutting down the Blackhawks' attack.
The Red Wing have been outshot in this series but, they have taken more quality shots. For the series, the Blackhawks have taken 20 more shots. The key is that the defense has forced the Blackhawks into bad angles and shots that goalie Jimmy Howard is able to see.
The aggressiveness of the Red Wings has been a big factor in the last two games, outhitting the Blackhawks 64 to 48. According to the Detroit Free Press, captain Jonathan Toews was complaining before Game 3 that “there’s a lot of clutch and grab, a lot of interference.” The physical play seems to be really getting to the Blackhawks.
Both teams won 50.8 percent of their faceoffs during the regular season. In this series the Red Wings have taken the lead, raising that number to 55.7 over the past two games. This has allowed them to control the puck better than they did in the first game.
The real key to the teams’ success is that they are getting contributions all the way down the bench. The bottom two lines and the young players are really playing well and the return of Drew Miller has been a tremendous boost.
Brendon Smith bounced back from an ugly Game 1 with a goal in Game 2 and an assist in Game 3.
Damien Brunner has two goals and an assist while Gustav Nyquist has one of each. The centers and forwards from the end of the bench have combined for four of the team’s eight goals this series.
Players like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will play well more often than not. In a playoff series, it is often the second-tier players that can help propel a team to the next round. In the case of the Red Wings, these are not just second-tier players; they are also the future leaders of the team.
While the series is far from over, the Red Wings have shown that they are not intimidated by the Blackhawks and that they are ready to play. The young players, while still prone to a bad play, are learning and getting better every game. What was thought to be an easy series for the Blackhawks is now a battle and one that the Red Wings hope to win.
*updated 5/21/13 2:40pm EST due to stat error*