9:17 AM CDT, May 29, 2013
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock says he loves Game 7’s, even if it sounds like he loves whistling past the graveyard.
Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is not smart enough to like the Rolling Stones, at least has the brains to know that home-ice advantage is an advantage.
The Hawks get that advantage in Game 7 on the West Side tonight. They get the loudest crowd in the league. They get the critical last change that will keep Jonathan Toews away from Red Wings annoyance Henrik Zetterberg.
And we get the drama of a win-or-walk game between the oldest of rivals in their last year of such alignment intimacy.
And it never should’ve gotten this far.
Thanks for the drama, boys, but the Hawks shouldn’t have to face such potential cliff-diving. They could’ve shown up for Game 2 on the same ice they’re talking up for Game 7. But they refused to compete, and it took them another week to win a game.
That’s when the turnaround began. That’s when the Hawks started doing to the Red Wings what Detroit did to Anaheim last series. In fact, the Hawks are coming back bigger.
The Wings were down one game, not two, when they won Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the Ducks’ pond to advance to this round and another Game 7. The Hawks are going for the 5-6-7 hat trick.
They have done it with desperate third periods. They have done it after allowing bad goals. They have done it after getting stung by lousy defensive coverage.
They have a growing confidence that seems to have aided the speed and quickness advantage they were credited for having when the series opened.
Even in losses in Games 3 and 4 in Detroit, the Hawks controlled play for long stretches. They had the puck and they had chances. They didn’t convert the way they did in the regular season.
In their last two wins, the Hawks not only have shown superior speed and quickness, but also touch. The Hawks have finished plays, even if you can’t believe which players have finished them.
And that’s the critical element in my hockey world. The Hawks’ season was saved by some afterthoughts. Their depth won a game they way a good team’s depth can.
It makes for a great story, but it wouldn’t be a story without some teammates’ failure. If the Hawks are again expecting Michal Handzus, Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik to carry them in Game 7, then they can start summer.
Actually, Bickell has been a Conn Smythe candidate in this series, if they awarded such things long before they actually give out Lord Stanley’s chalice, but the point is, big names show up in big games. It’s why they get all that money and all that ice time.
That might not be where this tale ends, but that’s where you start calling roll, and for starters, the Hawks top four forwards have two goals in the last three games. Combined. That ties them with Andrew Shaw.
Here’s an idea for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa: Meet the moment. They’ve done it before. Their names are on hockey’s Holy Grail. It would be nice if they could get their names on the goal sheet Wednesday night.
Toews has one goal in 11 games this postseason. He was a target for the Wings and he lost his composure. In the last two games, he has regained his poise and knack for making important plays. We have seen him score clutch goals, which would include any and all of them tonight.
Patrick Kane has two goals against the Wings -- the only two goals the Hawks scored in Games 2 and 3 -- but hasn’t been consistently dangerous. Like Toews, Kane has a history of scoring big goals, and like the Toews paragraph above, that goes for any and all of them tonight.
Marian Hossa also has just two goals in the series, while Patrick Sharp has only one -- none in the last five games and not so much as an assist in the last four.
It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: Everything assumes great play by Corey Crawford. If he doesn’t show up, the Hawks are dead. It’s always that way with goaltending.
But he can’t score. The Hawks top forwards certainly can. They have to.
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