DETROIT — If the Detroit Red Wings are going to beat the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7, it’s going to be up to the veterans to lead the way.
Here’s looking at you Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen, Daniel Cleary, Niklas Kronwall and especially you, Jimmy Howard.
The Wings watched a one-goal lead evaporate in the third period as the Blackhawks pounced on some mistakes en route to a 4-3 victory.
Michal Handzus was basically handed the puck and left alone in front of Howard 51 seconds into the third to tie the game at 2-2.
Then Bryan Bickell was able to get in front of Howard and push a rebound past him for the lead at 5:48 of the third.
“We made some young mistakes in the third period and they ended up in our net,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
But the Wings wouldn’t have had the lead without their young players in the first place. Brendan Smith assisted on the Wings’ first goal, a rebound by Patrick Eaves, and Joakim Andersson scored the go-ahead goal in the second, assisted by Jakub Kindl.
“Everyone wants to blame our youth all the time but our youth is what got us here to where we’re at,” defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. “We don’t use that as an excuse anymore. Guys have played a lot this year, have played in all situations. We don’t look at anybody as young guys anymore. We just look at them as guys who are helping us win hockey games.”
Smith was on the ice for the second and third Chicago goals and appeared to be hanging his head a bit.
“Overall, I thought he made a lot of good plays out there,” Kronwall said. “There were some mistakes as well. But that’s just part of the process. Smitty will be just fine. He’ll regroup like the rest of us.”
The young Wings do have the experience of the Game 7 they won in Anaheim to rely on.
“That’s an experience for sure,” Andersson said. “It’s the first time for me and a couple of guys that we can use in the future and already now. We won there earlier in the series so we know we can do it.”
It was Zetterberg who set the tone for that Game 7 in Anaheim when he scored the first goal just 1:49 into the game. Justin Abdelkader had a shorthanded goal and Filppula ended up with the game-winner, assisted by Cleary and Zetterberg.
The Blackhawks’ top players have kept the Wings’ top players from scoring much in this series.
Datsyuk has one goal and one assist in six games; Zetterberg has three assists; Franzen has one goal and two assists; Cleary has two goals and two assists; Filppula has one goal and one assist; Kronwall has one assist.
It’s a lot to ask for those players to neutralize guys like Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith and score against them, but that’s what they’ll have to do to win in Chicago.
“We’ve had guys in this room who have won Stanley Cups,” Colaiacovo said. “We like our chances.”
Howard shut out a Blackhawks team that hadn’t been shut out all season in Game 4.
Although it would be tough to shut them out again, if he were to get to that level of play, the Wings would really like their chances.
“Game 7s, they’re fun,” Howard said. “You definitely see what you’re made of. The season’s down to one game. We’ve got to go out there and execute.”
The Wings also have Babcock, considered to be one of the best coaches in the NHL.
Babcock flustered the Ducks when he split up Datsyuk and Zetterberg for Game 7 of that series, so you never know what he’ll have up his sleeve for Wednesday at United Center.
“I love Game 7s,” Babcock said. “I’m excited about it. We’ve got a chance to push them out of the playoffs. It should be a lot of fun.”