Chicago overcame a 2-1 deficit by scoring three times in the first 10 minutes of the third period to earn a 4-3 Game 6 victory at Joe Louis Arena on Monday. The Blackhawks will play in their second Game 7 since the 2004-05 lockout (11 playoff series) when the series concludes on Wednesday.
One of the reasons why Detroit failed to close out this series is a lack of offensive production from the team's top-six forwards. Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen—who finished first, second and third on the team in scoring during the regular season, respectively—have struggled.
In Games 5 and 6, these three forwards combined for zero goals and two assists, but their scoring woes extend beyond the Red Wings' two most recent losses. Here are their offensive stats from the entire Blackhawks series thus far.
|Datsyuk||1 ||1 ||2 ||2.33|
|Zetterberg||0 ||3 ||3 ||4.00 |
|Franzen||1 ||2 ||3 ||2.33 |
Two goals in six games from three highly skilled forwards is unacceptable, especially when the opponent is a great defensive team that has a ton of postseason experience. Making matters worse for the Red Wings is the fact that this trio has tallied just one point in the third periods of the last two games.
Detroit has the worst third-period goal differential among the remaining playoff teams at minus-10, while the Blackhawks rank first in this category with a plus-seven differential. Failing to capitalize on scoring chances in the third period must not happen in Game 7 if Detroit is going to win this series.
With a roster that is less experienced than it was in years past, the Red Wings need Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen to lead the way in Game 7. These players have a combined 362 games of playoff experience, and each of them has Stanley Cup-winning experience with an impressive history of success in clutch situations.
As leaders on the ice and players relied on to create scoring chances in a top-six role, these three stars must step up. Relying on inexperienced players and bottom-six forwards is not a winning formula in the playoffs.
Without impressive performances from rookies Damien Brunner, Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist, the Red Wings might already be booking their tee times for the summer.
These three young players have tallied eight points (five goals, three assists) in six games versus the Blackhawks. This kind of scoring from the third and fourth lines has given Detroit a chance to win games despite the struggles of its top stars.
The Red Wings' third and fourth lines outplayed their Blackhawks counterparts in the first four matchups of this series, but that hasn't been the case in Games 5 and 6. This turn of events, combined with Chicago's top scorers outplaying Detroit's best forwards, has resulted in the Red Wings being outscored 8-4 in the last six periods (4-0 in third periods).
Here's a scoring comparison of these two teams' top scorers from the past two games.
Not only has Zetterberg made a small impact offensively in the last two games, but his performance defensively has also regressed a bit. He did a tremendous job of frustrating Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews in the first four games of this series, but the Chicago captain has broken out of his slump in the last two matchups, which has boosted his confidence.
Per TSN's Stats Guy:
Chicago is 4-0 in the playoffs when Toews gets on the score sheet, so it's vitally important that Zetterberg wins this matchup in Game 7. The Blackhawks have the last line change as the home team on Wednesday, which will make Zetterberg's challenge of shutting down Toews harder than it was in Game 6.
In a Game 7 when the pressure and intensity is increased several levels, the Red Wings will need their best players to shine against a Blackhawks team that has seized the momentum of this series with two straight wins.
Detroit is a resilient team and has overcome adversity all season as a franchise in an unfamiliar underdog role during what was supposed to be a "bridge year."
Given the Red Wings' lack of success against the Blackhawks prior to this series (seven-game losing streak going into Game 1), the fact that they are playing a Game 7 in Chicago is a win for this club against a superior opponent.
The Red Wings will be full of confidence on Wednesday night, but for this team to pull off another upset and reach the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2009, the top stars must take charge and lead the way.
This is the kind of stage where players of Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Franzen's caliber embrace the challenge and come up clutch with the season on the line.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. 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.