DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings have played the unfamiliar role of underdog quite well during these playoffs, eliminating No. 2 seed Anaheim and taking a three-games-to-one lead on top seed Chicago.
The expectations, however, changed considerably once they put the Blackhawks on the brink of elimination after Game 4.
The Wings didn’t seem to handle it all so well the other night in a lethargic, 4-1 loss in Chicago in Game 5, but they get another chance to close out the series Monday night at Joe Louis Arena.
A victory puts them in the Western Conference final against either Los Angeles or San Jose.
“It’s a matter of not taking anything for granted,” Detroit defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said following the morning skate. “We’re not putting too much pressure on ourselves. Go out there, have fun, enjoy the moment and be excited about it.”
Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson added: “Our desperation level has to be higher.”
Forward Justin Abdelkader said the Wings are “still the underdog.”
“These guys had a magical run all during the regular season,” Abdelkader said of the Blackhawks. “They’ve been the favorite all year, all playoffs.
“We’ve got a great opportunity up three games to two, at our home ice. We don’t want to go back there (to Chicago for Game 7).”
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock expects a different approach from his team, especially the younger players, than he got the other night.
“Our effort in Game 5 surprised me, to be honest with you,” Babcock said. “I thought we’d be better.
“You play all year for this. February’s not a whole bunch of fun. This is fun.
“We talk about it all the time. You want to be tight and tentative? Or you want to be loose and driving? Which one sounds like fun to you? Let’s play.
“There’s six teams left in hockey. Play. Let’s have some fun.”
HISTORY LESSON: Chicago is trying to become the 25th team to rally from a three-games-to-one deficit to win a series in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Blackhawks have never done it before, but they did come close a couple years ago after losing the first three games to Vancouver.
Chicago came back to force a seventh game, but lost in overtime on the road.
Going through that experience makes this one seem more doable.
“There was a bunch of guys on that team that experienced it,” Chicago’s Marian Hossa said. “It is possible.”
Forward Patrick Kane said: “It was a fun series coming back against Vancouver for sure. Kind of get a second chance here.”
Kane said the key factor at times like this is to focus on the moment.
“Just worry about one game,” he said. “Sometimes you look too far ahead and it doesn’t go the way you want it to. That’s how we’re looking at it now.
“I think maybe after that first game of the series (a 4-1 victory over Detroit), we thought this is a team we can beat and we’ll move on to the next round. That’s just not the case.”
The last time a team came back from a 3-1 series deficit was in 2011 when Tampa Bay rallied to upend Pittsburgh in the opening round.
Detroit has blown a 3-1 series lead twice – to Toronto in the 1942 Stanley Cup Final and to St. Louis in a 1991 division semifinal.
ROLE PLAYERS CRUCIAL: For the most part, the stars on both teams seem to be neutralizing each other.
For the Red Wings, Henrik Zetterberg has been held to no goals and three assists in five games. Pavel Datsyk has a goal and no assists.
Kane has scored twice but Patrick Sharp, Hossa and Jonathan Toews have just one goal each for the Blackhawks.
No player on either team has more than four points.
“That’s what normally happens in hockey,” Babcock said of the top-two lines containing each other. “That’s why they give you a third line. That third line’s supposed to win you the series. That’s what depth’s all about.
“Our third line was like the rest of our group the other night, not very good. If we’re going to be successful, we need our third and fourth lines to be good. Their third and fourth line was better than ours the other day.”
POWER-LESS PLAY: Detroit has just one goal in 19 power-play opportunities in the series. The only goal was the Game 4 game-winner.
“I think our power play can be way better,” Babcock said. “To me, their penalty kill has been harder than our power play has been. They’re winning more of these puck battles. As soon as we shoot and it gets to the wall, they win that battle every time. That shouldn’t be the case.”
HOME ICE DOMINATING: Home teams are now 48-20 in the playoffs, including 18-3 in the conference-semifinal round.
The Red Wings are 4-1 at Joe Louis Arena with 3-1 and 2-0 victories over the Blackhawks in Games 3 and 4.