The real Chicago Blackhawks finally showed up Saturday night, not the imposters that had weakly misrepresented them in the previous three games against the Detroit Red Wings.
The same team that dominated with the best record in the NHL during the regular season, yet managed just two goals in the previous three games of the Western Conference semifinals, exploded for four goals in Game 5 to trounce the Red Wings 4-1.
Detroit still leads the best-of-seven series three games to two. Game 6 is Monday in Detroit, with Game 7 (if necessary) slated to be played in Chicago at the United Center on Wednesday.
Without question, the Blackhawks played with a swagger and aggressiveness that had been conspicuously absent during much of this series—at least since Game 1, when they routed the Red Wings by an identical 4-1 score.
"You have to commend the guys," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought their attitude yesterday (in practice) was tremendous.
"They could’ve been walking around here thinking it was an awful spot, but they had the right approach. It was a very positive, good day yesterday, and today’s practice, I thought was real business-like.
"Going into the game, the guys played the way the approach was today. I commend them for being ready and doing a lot of right things."
Starting with the opening faceoff in Game 2, it had been all downhill for Chicago in the resulting three games, all losses, giving Detroit a commanding 3-1 series lead heading into Saturday's win-or-else matchup for the Blackhawks.
Even though the Red Wings' series edge has been cut, the Blackhawks are still faced with two more win-or-else situations if they hope to advance to the conference semifinals.
That may be easier said than done, however: In 19 all-time playoff series (through all rounds) where they took a 3-1 lead, Detroit went on to win 17 of those.
Still, if they play Monday in Game 6 like they did Saturday, the Blackhawks have a good chance of taking this to the series limit.
"We have to go back to Detroit, we have to win a game," Quenneville said. "I just thought today we got the momentum back on our side and let’s go in there and keep it."
While he expected Chicago to come out and play in much the same fashion as it did, Detroit counterpart Mike Babcock was a bit surprised at how his team—which looked like world-beaters in the previous three games, all wins—played in Saturday's game.
"I can be disappointed as I want," Babcock said. "We lost the game and we have a Game 6 at home and that's the way it is. We didn't play well enough to have success, give them credit.
"The team that wins the most battles and is the most determined and lets the other team have the least amount of space has been successful. I don’t think that’s going to change one bit."
And the team that did things right and wound up successful Saturday was the Blackhawks, doing everything they needed to in the dramatic must-win game:
- They scored on the power play—twice, in fact, after taking advantage of just one other man-advantage situation in the first four games of the series.
- After much angst personally and from Blackhawks fans, team captain Jonathan Toews finally netted his first goal not just of this series, but of the 10 games in the playoffs thus far. That scoring slump was highly uncharacteristic for Toews, who tied with teammate Patrick Kane for the team scoring lead in the regular season with 23 goals apiece.
- Andrew Shaw scored two goals in a playoff game for the first time.
- Even though Corey Crawford had lost the last three games in goal for the Hawks, Quenneville stuck with Crawford instead of starting Ray Emery.
- The third period was perhaps one of their best all season. While they only scored one goal on Shaw's second tally of the game, they outshot the Wings by a H-U-G-E 17-4 margin, dominating Detroit 45-26 in the entire game, the Hawks' best offensive production of the playoffs.
- They came out from the opening faceoff with an aggressiveness on both sides of the puck that seemed to catch Detroit by surprise.
On that last point, Chicago has primarily been a finesse team for most of the season, but Saturday it was a much more decidedly rough-and-tumble club.
The 'Hawks not only took the puck to the Wings, but they also threw their bodies around with abandon. Nothing else mattered to them but getting a win—and that's exactly what they did.
Depending on how you look at it, the Blackhawks came into Saturday's game with a huge chip on their shoulder and a heavy monkey on their backs.
But after what they did in Game 5, both the Blackhawks and their fans can only hope that there's much more from where all that came on Monday and Wednesday if the series goes its full length.
"Just take it game-by-game," said forward Patrick Sharp, who leads Chicago with six goals in the playoffs. "You can’t win the series in one period or one shift.
"You have to just approach every game and try to win it as best you can. So we’ll enjoy this one tonight, take a deep breath and give it everything we’ve got in Game 6."
It's the same situation for the Red Wings, even though they're still in a better place than their scrappy opponents.
"We knew they were going to come out on fire here," Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said of the Blackhawks. "They were better than us today. That’s a fact. We just have to regroup and come back and play better now.
"It’s up to us. We can talk about momentum here and momentum there. It’s up to the players to decide who has the momentum going into the game. We’ve been there before. We’ve been through this and just have to go home and play a good game."
All quotes were obtained by the writer.
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