CHICAGO – For the third time in 4 ½ weeks, the Red Wings’ season hinges on one game.
If the Red Wings are to extend their season and continue in the Stanley Cup playoffs, they’ll need to beat the Chicago Blackhawks in a winner-takes-all Game 7 at the United Center on Wednesday.
It can be done, but it’s certainly a tall order for a team that has had nothing come easy. So why should the Western Conference semifinals against this year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning club be any different?
“Going into this series if you would have said we had a chance to go to a Game 7 in Chicago we'd be pretty happy about it,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “We won three in a row. They came back and won two. I'm sure it's going to be a good game in Chicago.”
After falling behind the Wings 3-1 in the series, the Blackhawks appear to be on a roll and gaining momentum with every shift. They’ve won the last two games, including a 4-3 decision where they scored three third-period goals in Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena.
Monday’s loss in regulation was the first one suffered by the Red Wings this season – in the regular season or playoffs – when they’ve scored three or more goals (26-1-2).
Yet adversity is something this Wings’ team seems to use as motivation.
The Red Wings have been through a lot in this lockout-shortened season. The retirement of legendary Nicklas Lidstrom, the loss of defenseman Brad Stuart, followed by a litany of injuries that forced the call-up of several young minor-league players, who have all played admirably and still contributing in these playoffs. Detroit needed to finish the regular season on an incredible winning streak just to make the playoffs. Since then, the Wings knocked off No. 2 seed Anaheim in a see-saw seven-game series, and now are up against another must-have game on Wednesday.
“Everything we have gone through this year has made us stronger and better,” Zetterberg said. “It's not the first time we're going to play a Game 7.”
In fact, 11 Red Wings players have participated in more than one Game 7 during their NHL careers, including their best players, Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who need to show up in Wednesday’s game as they have before in past Game 7s.
“Yeah, definitely, there's no doubt about that,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “But at the end of the day this is a team game. We win together and we lose together. We all got to do our part of the job. Of course we'd like the power play to get one or two. (Monday), if we get one there earlier in the game maybe it's a different story.”
Still, the Wings’ Euro-Twins have sparkled more than any other Wings’ player in elimination games. Datsyuk has produced four goals and an assist in six previous Game 7s with the Wings, while Zetterberg has two goals and six assists in five such contests.
“That’s why they are who they are,” Kronwall said. “I wish I could tell you why. They bring it every night and in games like these is when they shine the most. They seem to find that comfort zone and just go out there and produce and make things happen out of nowhere.”
Special teams have also played a factor in the series, and the Red Wings know if they’re going to stand a chance against the Blackhawks then they’ll have to win the specialty teams battles.
The Wings’ power play as been pretty much non-existent in this series, collecting just one goal in 22 chances. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks have started to heat up, going 3-for-8 on the power play in the last two games.
“Specialty teams are always critical, and of course when it comes down to a Game 7 they’ll be even more important,” Kronwall said. “Hopefully we can get our power play kicking and at the same time we need to stay out of the box and when we do end up in a PK situation we have to make sure we do all of the little things right.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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