Wednesday night’s game at the United Center between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings is sure to be one for the storybooks. It is the last time Chicago will ever meet a fellow Original Six team in the playoffs (barring a Stanley Cup Final match-up), it is a Game 7, Chicago could come back from a 3 – 1 deficit, or Detroit could take down the team with one of the most historic starts in the history of the National Hockey League.
Okay, so it’s a big deal. We get it. What should we look for?
Chicago looked like it was on its heels after dropping three games in a row to Detroit. The errors were everywhere: poor passing, failure to escape the defensive zone, being out-muscled in nearly every corner of the ice. Those aspects were properly adjusted to begin Game 5 and allowed Chicago to win two straight and force Game 7. They could use some work, but have been effective in Chicago’s past two games.
The goalless Jonathan Toews has properly vented his frustration after losing his cool in the second period of Game 4, which found him in the box for three consecutive penalties. Toews added a goal and kick-started the offense in Game 5. His leadership has shined in Chicago’s last two games, and will shine brightly if the Hawks want to win Game 7.
Chicago’s defense has stepped up in a big way, as well. Duncan Keith is now averaging over 24 minutes of play per game, second only to Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall in ice time. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya have combined to record 33 blocked shots in the postseason, and are willing to take a hit to make a good pass. Nick Leddy has become adept at carrying the puck into the zone and Brent Seabrook has surged physically, recording 29 hits in postseason play. The defense is good, and it must remain at or above its current production level to eliminate Detroit.
Detroit’s always tough, though. What can we expect from them?
Head Coach Mike Babcock is arguably one of the greatest coaches the sport has ever seen. He knows what his team is capable of, how they’ve been performing, and what to do when a curve ball comes into play. He attributed Detroit’s most recent loss to “young mistakes,” which demonstrates his dissatisfaction with the play of his younger skaters. To compensate, Babcock is likely to make his top two lines lethal by throwing Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the same line.
Datsyuk and Zetterberg have combined for 20 points (6G, 14A) in 13 games and can be lethal on their own. Until now, they have been on their own lines. Don’t be surprised if you see that change occur during the game.
One thing Detroit has been exceptional at (especially in this series) is denying net presence for Chicago. As important as screening the goaltender is for Chicago, it is almost twice as important for Detroit to keep the area free of swarming Hawks. It is rumored that Jimmy Howard has a hamstring injury, and thus we see Detroit forming a tight box around him to prevent any second or third opportunities off a big rebound.
Expect that to be tight. Very tight.
The team that scores first should have a significant advantage, right?
Not necessarily. Both teams will come out with a surge of energy and look to get on the board early and often, as much of the series has gone on that way to begin with. We’ve seen come-from-behind games that relied on late-game heroics to declare a victory. That could very well be the case in Game 7. And, just as a reminder, a three goal lead in the third period is not necessarily safe – just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The team that refuses to give up is the team that could come out on top. Many times, Game 7’s will come down to the final seconds to determine a winner. It makes for great hockey, so long as your team wins or you don’t have any preexisting heart conditions.
So folks, Game 7 could be one of the greatest turning points in this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, a miraculous disappointment, or a number of other things in between.
The only thing that is certain is this: you do not want to miss this game.