Bittersweet finish for Wings in loss to rival Blackhawks

CHICAGO — It was absolutely the way the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks had to end their Western Conference rivalry — in overtime of Game 7.

For the Wings, however, it was a bittersweet finish as it was Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook who got the game-winner at 3:35 of overtime, a puck that deflected off Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall and past goaltender Jimmy Howard into the net.

“I didn’t get good enough gap control there, didn’t get up,” Kronwall said. “He was able to walk down, I tried to block it and it went off me and in.

“Right now it’s just an empty feeling.”

So now the Blackhawks move on to face the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings while the Wings head home.

The Blackhawks had the 1-0 lead on Patrick Sharp’s goal at 1:08 of the second period on a bad line change by the Wings.

But Henrik Zetterberg tied the game just 26 seconds into the third, fueling the Wings and putting the Blackhawks on their heels a bit.

The Blackhawks overcame a waved-off goal with 1:47 left in regulation and delivered in overtime.

“You have to give the Red Wings credit, they’re a well-coached team, they keep coming at you,” Sharp said. “Each game could have gone the other way. But we have to be proud of ourselves in this locker room for being able to battle back.”

There are perhaps more storied rivalries in hockey, but the Detroit-Chicago one will be missed.

At times through the years, the Wings have been good when the Blackhawks were bad or vice versa.

But it’s always been great for hockey when the two were both good and faced off in the postseason.

In a way, the series reflected the history between the two teams.

The Blackhawks dominated Game 1, the Wings dominated Game 2. Then the Wings won close ones in Games 3 and 4. The Blackhawks dominated in Game 5. Then the Blackhawks won close ones in Games 6 and 7.

Considering many people predicted the talented Blackhawks to defeat the Wings in four or five games, it turned out to be a fantastic series between teams that were somewhat evenly matched.

“We won three in a row, then they won three in a row,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We should have won the first one so we should have won four. We needed to win one more game. We had an opportunity at home. I thought we had good momentum in Game 6, but made a couple mistakes defensively and never gave our goaltender a chance to make the save because there was traffic at the net.”

If the Blackhawks go on to win the Stanley Cup, they’ll likely look back on this series as a defining moment.

“I don’t think we played very well the first four games against Detroit,” Seabrook said. “Give Detroit credit. They played us hard and played us tough and took us out of our element. We had to fight through that. I think Games 5-6-7 we showed what we’re all about and battled back.”

Battling back was the Wings’ theme of the season. With their move next season to the Eastern Conference, the next crack they’ll get against the Blackhawks in the playoffs would have to come in the Stanley Cup Final.

“I thought our guys hung in there and battled hard just like they’ve done all year long,” Babcock said. “From the start to the end we were a team that just got better, better and better and they’re a very talented group. I thought we pushed them hard in the series and we had a lot of fun doing it. Those dreams you have as a kid of Game 7s, you always score and the other team doesn’t score.

“That’s hockey.”