Jimmy Howard deserved better, but the Detroit Red Wings did not.
Chicago was ripe for the taking, but the Wings couldn’t capitalize on early power-play opportunities and a rusty Hawks team, which would prove to be costly.
Because once the Blackhawks got their legs and their forecheck rolling, which led to an abundance of Detroit turnovers, the Wings were done.
Three third-period goals proved to be Detroit’s demise in a 4-1 loss to the Blackhawks in Game 1 on Wednesday at the United Center. But the disappearing act by Detroit’s secondary stars must be addressed for the Wings to have any hope of advancing beyond this second-round playoff series.
“I thought we hung in there in the first period, didn’t skate at all,” Wings coach Mike Babcock told FOX Sports Detroit after the game. “I’m talking about all our lines; one through four got out-skated.”
“We didn’t execute, didn’t play fast and didn’t put any pressure on them.”
Babcock also added that the Wings were gassed, indicating that all the cross-country travel his team endured during the Anaheim series caught up with his team.
“We have no excuse after this at all,” Babcock said. “We’re going to have a day off (Thursday) to get freshened up, and we’ll get back at it.
“But we’ve got to play at a way higher level than we did here tonight.”
Maybe the Wings were collectively exhausted. They’re only human, and being mentally and physically drained is a fact of life.
I’m not worried about Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader or even Damien Brunner getting their groove back. It’s the lackadaisical play of Johan Franzen and Val Filppula that concerns me.
If Franzen and Filppula can’t raise their level of play, the Wings have little chance against the talent-laden Blackhawks.
Detroit must play Datsyuk and Zetterberg on separate lines as much as possible. It creates matchup problems for the opposition, and they make the players around them better.
When the third period started Wednesday and Z and Pav were back together again, it sent a message that the Wings were desperate for offense and essentially made them a one-line team.
A one-line team against Chicago is like putting up the white flag. The Blackhawks are deeper than any team in the league. If you keep your best players together, you’re playing right into their hands.
Franzen and Filppula need to elevate their energy level and become consistent scoring threats. If they’re playing up to their capabilities, the Wings will control the pace and tempo of the game, and the Blackhawks will be in their own zone and chasing the Wings.
If that happens, the game comes down to the goaltenders. And as we saw in Game 1, Howard is up to the task.