Jimmy Howard kept Jonathan Toews in his misery, making three saves against the struggling star to help the Detroit Red Wings beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 on Thursday night in Game 4 of the second round series to put the NHL’s best team during the regular season on the brink of elimination.
When Howard wasn’t using his glove or pads to deny Toews, Detroit’s skaters were rattling him and his teammates with a physical presence that is clearly making them uncomfortable.
”They are getting frustrated,” Howard said. ”Our guys are doing a great job in front of the net.”
Chicago’s Corey Crawford did a solid job in his net, but he couldn’t kick his right leg out quick enough to stop Jakub Kindl’s shot on a power play midway through the second period and he was on the bench in favor of an extra skater when Daniel Cleary sealed the victory in the final minute.
After losing Game 1, seventh-seeded Detroit has surged into control by handing the Blackhawks their first three-game losing streak of the year.
Game 5 is Saturday night in Chicago.
”The pressure is on them,” Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said.
Yes, it is.
And, no one in the Windy City will want to extend the series more than Toews.
”We’ve got to find a way to force a Game 6,” he said.
The Blackhawks desperately need their captain to score and lead after he extended his goal drought in a composure-crumbling performance.
Toews was called for three penalties in the second – two for high-sticking – and could’ve gone to the box a fourth time in the period for slashing Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg while an official stood between them.
”Emotions run high in some of these games, and my stick got a little loose there,” he said. ”I was playing hard. Sometimes that happens.”
The Red Wings took advantage of the second power play Toews gave them when Kindl sent a low shot to the near corner from the top of the left circle.
”We’d like to keep him in the box,” Ericsson said. ”He’s not as good for them in the box.”
Chicago had killed its first 30 penalties of the playoffs and matched the 2001 St. Louis Blues’ feat of playing eight postseason games without giving up a power-play goal, the longest such streak since 1988.
The Blackhawks had a power play with 4:45 left in the game when Kindl was called for hooking, but they couldn’t tie the game.
Crawford made 25 saves and allowed one goal, after giving up seven goals in the previous two games.
Howard was just a little bit better, earning his first shutout of this postseason and the second of his career in the playoffs. He has helped the Red Wings win five of their last six games since trailing Anaheim 3-2 in the first round.
”He has kind of been in a groove for a while now,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. ”And, we need that to be successful.”
Kindl scored his first goal of his first postseason, keeping up a trend that has helped the rapidly improving Red Wings pull within a win of their first trip to the Western Conference finals since 2009 when they got past Chicago and went on to lose Game 7 in a Stanley Cup finals rematch against Pittsburgh.
Detroit’s young players – six playing in their first playoff season – have been contributing to help out stars Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg.
Red Wings rookie Brendan Smith scored the winner in Game 2 at Chicago to even the series. First-year player Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist, who was pointless in his first four postseason games last year, had goals in overtimes against the second-seeded Ducks.
Chicago’s 25-year-old center, Toews, should seemingly be in the prime of his career, but he is in a slump against a team that appears to be getting to him physical and mentally. Toews was called for three penalties in the first 11 minutes of a period for the first time in his career, according to STATS.
He has gone 10 postseason games without a goal – dating to last year’s playoffs – in what is the longest scoring skid for a former Conn Smythe winner since Claude Lemieux went 20 games without a goal from 2000 through 2009, according to STATS.
Toews, who has three goals in his last 30 playoff games, broke a tie for his second longest streak without a goal in the postseason and trails his 14-game skid that spanned 2010 and 2011.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville insisted Toews, who he put on a line with Patrick Kane, is doing a lot of things well.
”We don’t measure just his contribution offensively,” Quenneville said.
NOTES:Detroit D Danny DeKeyser, who broke his right thumb in the first round and was ruled out for the playoffs, said he is holding out hope that he can come back if his teammates can advance. … Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, Chicago has lost in the first round twice and is a loss away from a second-round exit. …… Chicago hadn’t given up a power-play goal since April 22.