Three weeks of training camp. Eighty-two regular season games. Sixteen playoff games. What has been a remarkable, rise from the ashes, success beyond our wildest dreams of seasons, has all of a sudden become a disaster and now, with the season precariously hanging by a thread, it has become a dire situation for the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Detroit Red Wings are the New York Yankees of the National Hockey League. They are the defending Stanley Cup champions. They are also the deepest, most talented team in the playoffs — battle tested, championship brazen. They were missing 3 of their top players, C Kris Draper, captain D Nicklas Lidstrom, and leading scorer C Pavel Datsyuk. They never missed a beat. In contrast, the Blackhawks were missing only one player, G Nikolai Khabibulin, and that made all the difference in the world.
After today’s 6-1 drubbing of the Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, the mighty Red Wings are once again in the drivers seat headed to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Where does that leave the Chicago Blackhawks? They must now sweep the Red Wings in a 3 game series to keep their season alive, a task that’s nearly insurmountable. The Blackhawks have been resilient all season. They have been remarkably resilient in the playoffs. But returning to Detroit carrying a 3-1 deficit against the best team in the NHL is a bit too much to ask.
It’s Sunday evening and Chicago Blackhawks fans are digesting the aftermath of this afternoon’s game, quelling the sting of a disastrous loss, resisting the notion that the season has already been wildly successful, beyond what anyone had imagined. After all, making the playoffs was the goal and that was accomplished. After all, with each win, and each preceding series victory, wanting more for the Blackhawks at this point could be construed as being greedy.
So what do the Chicago Blackhawks need to do to get back into this series? Three things they will need to get back into the series are:
1. Take each game one at a time. Game 5 is the most important game of the series. You can’t look past that and you can’t have one thought about Game 6 until Game 5 is in the win column. Game plan for that one game. It’s a one game season now. Win that, it’s another one game season, and so forth.
2. The young Blackhawks need to play with more composure and maturity. The Red Wings are a veteran, championship team. They set the tone for this series with their hard checks and pinpoint rushes to the net. The Blackhawks need to put the RW Martin Havlat hit behind them and play the type of game that got them this far. Regardless of what Hawks Coach Joel Quenneville said about the referees, this game was lost when the Blackhawks abandoned their strategy to adopt a more physical, retalitory stance against the Wings. It played right into the Red Wings strengths and the Hawks didn’t have the firepower to counter.
3. It’s imperitave to get a full strength Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin Havlat back. Havlat has been a marked man in these playoffs. Both the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks pounded Havlat, trying to get him out of his game. Havlat has been the Hawks catalyst, most clutch offensive performer of the playoffs. It’s no surprise the Red Wings are bodying him up in this series. Havlat has managed to avoid injury until now. He will need to be at full strength for the Hawks to compete. The loss of Khabibulin was probably the most brutal loss of all. G Cristobal Huet was inadequately prepared to play and it showed. If Khabibulin is out for Game 5, the Hawks are going home. If he is back and ready to go, they have a fighting chance.
The Chicago Blackhawks are down to their final strike and the veteran Red Wings smell blood in the water. The character of this Chicago Blackhawks team will be tested on Wednesday in Detroit. The only question: will the young upstart live to fight another day? By Thursday morning, we’ll all know……