Through the first 40 minutes of Saturday afternoon’s matinee between the Red Wings and Blackhawks, there was little doubt as to who the better team was on the ice. Sure, the Hawks got a huge break when Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard flipped a puck from behind the net directly to Andrew Shaw, but the Wings were the class of the Central for those 40 minutes, outshooting Chicago 29-11 and outscoring them 2-1. As soon as the third period started, however, it became a hockey game.
The Blackhawks managed to fire off 16 quality shots at Howard in the third, but he managed to stop all of them until Jonathan Toews won a face-off against Pavel Datsyuk (no small feat) coming off an icing, and Marian Hossa fired a puck off of Nicklas Lidstrom to score the game tying goal with only 52 second remaining.
The tide swiftly turned the other way, however, as Detroit scored late in the overtime frame to win 3-2 after outshooting the Hawks 9-0 in the extra session. Todd Bertuzzi is the one who netted the rebound off a high shot by Valtteri Fillpula for his second goal of the afternoon, and he ensured that the two teams would both have gotten four points in the three games the two teams have played against each other this season.
If one is to be honest about the effort that the Blackhawks put forth in this game, they probably should not have been in it to the very end. Not only did they get hideously outshot through 40 minutes, and not only did they get a gift goal off an incredibly bizarre choice by Howard (one that left head coach Mike Babcock with a look of “incredulous anger and sheer shock”, as one reporter’s notes described it), but they also left Corey Crawford out to dry for nearly the entire game. He stood on his head in a big way, and he made some incredible saves at key moments throughout the proceedings. If there was any doubt as to whether or not Crawford was back all the way from his early season struggles, it was dispelled with the way he played in this game against a serious contender for the Stanley Cup.
It was also appropriate that the Hawks’ second goal of the game went to Marian Hossa, because he was arguably the catalyst for the team’s third period surge. His ability to hold onto the puck despite the Red Wings throwing bodies at him left and right helped keep a slew of possessions alive for the Blackhawks, and it was his shot from the point that ended up deflecting off Lidstrom and into the Wings’ goal.
There were some serious negatives for the Hawks in this game as well, however. Nick Leddy continued his recent run of poor decision making, with a poor attempt to cycle the puck along the boards in the defensive zone nearly leading to Detroit snatching the lead back with just seconds left in regulation. He also pinched in hard on a play near the blue line in the third period, and the resulting breakaway just about cost the Hawks a momentum killing goal. Fortunately for Chicago, Crawford bailed out the young defenseman, but that doesn’t change the fact that GM Stan Bowman has to address the need for a veteran presence in that second defensive pairing at some point soon.
In addition to Leddy’s poor play, there has been the continuing matter of the play of Patrick Kane. He has only scored three goals in his past 26 games, and he has looked almost afraid of the puck at times. That being said, his puck-handling has been very sloppy as well, and he has been passing up a lot of open shots. He still is one of the leading assist getters on the team, and while that has been the primary source of points in his career, he needs to take more initiative in the offensive zone, and he needs to do a better job of protecting the puck if he is going to continue to receive the bulk share of the minutes among forwards.
Overall, the game was a good one for the Red Wings, but the Blackhawks have got to put up a better effort through a full 60 minutes. Their final push was fantastic to watch and it was great that they got a point, but the Wings showed why they will be a tough out come playoff time with their solid physical effort, as well as their consistent offensive attack. The Hawks will need to get off to a hot start tomorrow night against San Jose, because the odds of being able to generate that kind of third period push on the back-end of a back-to-back are slim.