CHICAGO — Once again, the Detroit Red Wings saw what happens when you play with fire.
They felt the burn of the Chicago Blackhawks’ firepower in Game 5, a dominating 4-1 victory reminiscent of the first game of the series, also a 4-1 Chicago win.
Although the Wings still hold a 3-2 series advantage, playing the way they did Saturday night will only lead to more momentum for the Blackhawks.
“There was too much space and they were just free-wheeling around and having fun,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Just goes to show you how hard it is to win. You have to compete and do things right if you want to be successful.”
In winning Games 2, 3 and 4, the Wings were able to stop the Blackhawks from doing what they like to do by slowing them down in the neutral zone and preventing their stretch game.
“They got us spread out and they were able to get their game plan going of moving the puck fast in transition and they were on top of our D all night long,” said goaltender Jimmy Howard, who made 41 saves in the loss.
The Wings also hurt themselves by taking a few costly penalties.
First, Justin Abdelkader was called for unsportsmanlike conduct in the second period. It would have been just a tripping penalty on Chicago’s Dave Bolland had Abdelkader not reacted.
Drew Miller was called for hooking midway through the second and with one of their best penalty-killers in the box, the Wings couldn’t prevent the Blackhawks from ending their 0-for-12 skid with the man advantage.
The Blackhawks scored another one later in the second — Chicago captain Jonathan Toews’ first goal of the postseason — when Abdelkader was sent off for cross-checking.
“We couldn’t get it out, especially when they scored the first power play goal,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “We had a few chances to get the puck out. When you don’t get it out, it’s going to hurt you. We got tired, they were working on us. They were shooting the puck but getting the puck back, too. They were a little bit more hungry than us.”
It was no surprise that the top-seeded Blackhawks responded well when facing elimination.
“It’s hard to match that when their backs are against the wall but that’s something that we have to be ready to go Monday like our backs are against the wall, which I like to think that they are,” Daniel Cleary said. “They played better than us. They were more desperate, worked harder. Lesson learned.”
The Wings have several young players who haven’t been through these kinds of games at this level. They’re learning on the fly.
“We’ll be fine,” Cleary said. “Have to keep the room loose. Can’t get frustrated, I thought we were a little undisciplined, I thought we weren’t strong on our sticks. Those are all mental things. Monday’s a big game, we’ll stress the importance of a good start, the importance of getting it in behind their defense and being physical. We need to shoot pucks, get in front of (goaltender Corey) Crawford. Need to play a tight game.”
The kids learned a lot from facing elimination themselves in the first series against Anaheim.
Losing their first opportunity to eliminate a talented team like the Blackhawks should be a wake-up call to play like they’re facing elimination. Or else they really will be.
“We know what we’ve got to do and we don’t want to come back here, that’s for sure,” Ericsson said. “So, we’ve got a good chance at home at The Joe and we’re going to take it.”