DETROIT – Nothing has come easy for the Red Wings this season, and it’s a trend that will continue if they are to advance to the Western Conference finals later this week.
The Wings, who needed a win in the season-finale to qualify for the playoffs, and a Game 7 win to get beyond the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, now face the daunting task off beating the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 on Wednesday at the United Center.
The Blackhawks capitalized on breakdowns by the Red Wings, who let up three third-period goals en route to a 4-3 loss in Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena on Monday night.
In game that the Red Wings needed to advance to the next round, blown coverages and giveaways in the third led to an apocalyptic collapse, sending the series back to Chicago.
“At times maybe we've relaxed a little too much. Maybe not so much tonight,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “Especially against Anaheim early in that series when we were up a few goals and we thought the game was over and here they come. We were able to grind a few of those out anyway and get the win. Tonight, for some reason we started making some plays that we normally don't and got away from our game plan for a bit.”
The Red Wings have surrendered 20 third-period goals, the most by any team in the playoffs.
“Can’t explain it. Those are numbers that you guys point out,” defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. “We don’t really focus on that too much. At the end of the day you don’t want to give up goals in the third period and you want to protect leads and keep going. But don’t have an answer for it.”
The Red Wings took a 2-1 lead into the third on goals supplied by bottom-six forwards Patrick Eaves and Joakim Andersson. But the Blackhawks roared back, getting goals by Michal Handzus and Bryan Bickell after early-period miscues by the Wings in their own end.
“We made some young mistakes in the third period, and they ended up in our net,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought we did lots of good things, but in the end, we didn’t handle it, whether it be pressure or execution or whatever it was in the third.”
Now the Red Wings are faced again with winning another game at the United Center.
“We knew it was going to go deep, six or seven (games) at least,” Eaves said. “So we’re not surprised at where we’re at right now. I think it’s a great opportunity. It’s going to be a great atmosphere and we’ll go in there and play our game. It will be an exciting night.”
KNUCKLER: Andersson became the fifth Red Wings’ player to score his first career playoff goal this year when he gave Detroit a 2-1 lead midway through the second period.
With the puck on edge, Andersson fired a knuckleball in front of Brent Seabrook, who reached with his stick in an attempt to deflect the puck. However, the ’Hawks’ defenseman missed it, and goalie Corey Crawford misread it.
“It was a knuckle puck,” Andersson said, “it’s hard for the goalie to see those sometimes.”
Andersson, who has had to be more defensive-minded in his role as the third line center with wingers Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist, was dominant in the faceoff circle on Monday. The Swedish center won 8-of-9 draws in Game 6, and now owns a 60.6% winning percentage (40-for-66) during this series.
OVER-COMMITTED: Brandan Smith would love to have the first-minute of the third period back. The Red Wings’ defenseman over-pursued the puck behind the net, which allowed Niklas Hjalmarsson to find Handzus alone in front of the Red Wings’ crease.
Smith was responsible for the 36-year-old Handzus, and the rookie knew it by his reaction after the oldest player in the series tied the score at 2-2, beating Howard to his blocker side at 51-seconds of the period.
That was just the start of a three-goal third period for the Blackhawks, who have scored a playoff-best 17 third-period goals.
“Overall, I thought he made a lot of good plays out there,” said Kronwall, referring to Smith. “There were some mistakes as well. But that’s just part of the process. Smitty will be just fine. He’ll regroup like the rest of us. We win as a team, we lose as a team. That’s how we go.”
PENALTY SHOT: Colaiacovo was surprised as anyone that referee Chris Rooney called a penalty shot against him midway through the third period of a one-goal game.
“It’s unfortunate that it ended up the way it did, but I was just trying to make a play,” said Colaiacovo, who tried to prevent Blackhawks forward Michael Frolik from getting a shot off. “I thought I did a good job recovering. I haven't seen the play. I didn't think I hit him in the hand. I thought I hit him in his pants. It's an unfortunate calls.”
Frolik’s effort in the defensive zone sent him off to the race after he blocked Colaiacovo’s shot attempt from the left point. The puck caromed into the neutral zone where Frolik beat the Wings’ defenseman and rushed into the Wings’ zone. As Colaiacovo chased from behind, he tapped Frolik a few times on the hands with the last dislodging the puck from Frolik’s stick.
Frolik made an equally nice move on his goal – cruising in before identifying the top half of the net on Jimmy Howard’s glove side – to become the first player in league history to score two penalty shots in the playoffs.
“I was kind of surprised that I was the first one in history,” Frolik said. “It's a little bit special. I'm glad I can do that and I can be in the history and the club. … I have nothing to lose. I tried to just take a deep breath and focus and do the shot.”
Frolik scored his first playoff penalty-shot goal in Game 6 of the conference quarterfinals against Vancouver in 2011.
GAME 7s: The Wings last squandered a 3-1 series lead in the opening round of the 1991 playoffs, the first year of their 22-year run, losing in seven to St. Louis.
Chicago hasn't lost a Game 7 at home since the 1971 Stanley Cup finals against Montreal. Since then, the Blackhawks have won three straight Game 7s on home ice – against Toronto in 1995; and St. Louis and the Minnesota North Stars, both in 1990.
The Red Wings did beat Chicago 4-2 in Game 7 of their 1964 semifinal series at Chicago Stadium. Overall, Chicago is 4-2 in Game 7s played on home ice.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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