Why the Detroit Red Wings' Comeback Is Different Than the Chicago Blackhawks'
Upon scanning various stories on any sports website I could think of it has become apparent that comparisons between what the Chicago Blackhawks almost did in the first round and what the Detroit Red Wings are currently trying to do were inevitable.
It makes sense, I suppose, since the feat would be the same. Returning from a 3-0 black hole to win a Game 7 in a this is NOT Sparta sort of way. The conclusion being that it is highly unlikely that the Wings win in game seven because, you know, the Hawks lost the the Canucks the same way.
That logic is flawed.
During their comeback I thought the Hawks gave off a "just glad to be here" type of vibe. Which isn't a shot against the Hawks at all—I was pulling for them and my stomach sank when they lost in overtime. After each game, Kane and Co. were smiling at each other in a "can you believe this?" way.
I would have been doing the same thing, and odds are most players in the NHL (or most pro-sports for that matter) would be too.
But that's why the Red Wings are different.
The veteran leadership of their core group and white-knuckle coaching of Mike Babcock have collectively prevented Detroit from getting too high on themselves after victories and too low on themselves after defeat.
If Detroit would have come out in Game 4 and blown San Jose out like it did last year I promise you the Sharks would have finished the series before now. Because that's too high. You can't sustain that kind of performance.
Instead the Red Wings have found an alarmingly even keel while piecing together three straight games of consistent playoff hockey. Shot blocking, timely goal scoring, awesome (but not perfect) goaltending, depth players knowing their role, taking care of the puck, winning the 50/50 battles and so on.
There is nothing to come down from right now because the Detroit Red Wings are playing Detroit Red Wings hockey.
But the gap between the Wings and Hawks isn't large enough to expect a victory because of it. Detroit and Chicago both have excellent leadership and gobs of talent up front to go along with an above average defensive unit. I'd say Howard does for Detroit what Crawford does for Chicago, and that is give them a chance to win every game.
No, the difference is in the opponent.
The Vancouver Canucks would need at least another two years of short falls before they'd be in Shark territory (Get it? Because one is a whale and the other is a...shark...ahem...) Year after year San Jose is among the favorites to win the Cup. And year after year the Sharks fail to even make it to the finals.
When finally making it to the Conference Finals is considered enough of a victory there may be an issue with the culture. When all demons are considered exercised after making it out of round two by winning hockey games against teams you should beat this is what happens.
You wake up a sleeping bear in the Detroit Red Wings, and allow them to fight back to a game seven.
I wrote it last night and I'll write it again: Who is your money on in this situation? Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Lidstrom? Or Thornton, Marleau, and Boyle?
Group A are winners, and are paid for these moments. They have the rings to prove it. Group B are usually invited to the All-Star game at mid-season, then charity golf events by early May.
Sharks fans shouldn't be encouraged by the way San Jose decided to show their aggravation towards the end of Game 6 either. Guys who are gearing up and ready to win the biggest game of the season, and are aware that blowing third period leads in multiple games don't suddenly morph into Sean Avery or Matt Cooke.
But that's exactly what San Jose's players did, turning the last few moments of the hockey game into a cheap shot contest. Between Pavelski skating in after a shot and diving on top of Jimmy Howard to Joe "All Class" Thornton coming up behind Zetterberg and slashing his ankle from behind, my beer was warm before I had finished yelling at the television.
Any question about the mental state of the Sharks were answered in those closing seconds. They are aggravated, they are afraid, and they can't find any other way to relieve that tension.
Not with a late goal or with clean body checks like those that littered the first period of the game.
They are afraid of their own relentless identity catching up to them again. They are worried that they are going to let another one slip away. And after blowing yet another third period lead, what else would they be thinking about?
The Sharks have not given onlookers any reason to believe they'll be able to find a clutch performance to squeak a W out of this series. Anything can happen in a game seven, that's for sure. But at this point San Jose has left far too much up to the Hockey Gods, and more so, a determined and confident Detroit Red Wings club.
Game 7 is going to be a blast.
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