myself included ) wrong. While the moment provided relief and vindication for the Hawks it will likely gnaw on Red Wing's nation for a long while. At some later date Wings fans will be able to appreciate just how far the team came this season but that moment is not now. Now, all the exists is an empty feeling and one resounding question; how did this happen? Despite genuine risk to my fragile psyche, I sat down to objectively analyze how the series changed after the Wings took a 3-1 lead on May 20th:
video here but in essence the d-man skates backward with the puck, giving himself room to unleash a long pass to the opposite blue-line. Ideally this long pass is then picked up by a streaking forward who breaks in on the defense with a head of steam and creates a good scoring chance. This is a difficult play and requires defenders who can both skate and pass at an elite level to pull off consistently; not to mention the kind of forwards who can win the one-on-one battles the play creates. Unfortunately Chicago has both of these commodities in numbers and after game 4 they seemed to build much of their offense around the stretch pass. Faced with the option of stepping up to cut off the pass (and risking embarrassment) or trying to win individual battles against the Hawks, young Wing defenders all too often chose the latter path with predictable results. An elite defender can spring forward and cut off this pass to create a rush the other way; more than once I found myself wishing Lidstrom was still around to punish the Hawks for their impudence. Unfortunately Lidstrom is gone and the Wings never found a way to counter this play effectively so Chicago literally ran them into the ground with it in the final 3 games.
previously discussed here on the blog the officiating in this series was laughably poor at times; specifically at various points during games 4 through 7. Now. before you assume I'm a Wings fan crying about the referees because her team lost please understand that I believe the officiating was horrible, not biased. Chicago also suffered from some inexplicably bad calls; including two that directly took goals off the board when replays indicated that the play was legal. It takes a special kind of incompetence to screw up 3 calls that directly add or remove a goal from the scoreboard in a mere 4 games on national television; somehow these refs were up to the task. Where the terrible reffing did favor Chicago however is how they adapted to it as the series continued and in that regard, the Red Wings only have themselves to blame. After getting frustrated with the refs in game 4 the Blackhawks came out in game 5 with a noticeable edge. Not only did they skate and hit harder but the Hawks started punishing the Wings physically with a variety of shoves, grabs, holds and gloves to the face at every opportunity; particularly away from the play. Originally the Hawks probably did this to send a message to Detroit with full intention of simply taking the penalties that might ensue as a result. When no penalties were forthcoming however the Hawks simply integrated the "rough stuff" into their regular play on the spot. Detroit, on the other hand struggled adapt to the general lawlessness of the final 4 games and it wasn't really until game 7 that they began openly shoving, clutching, holding and slashing to the full degree that the refs were allowing. All is fair in love, war and playoff hockey; the Wings did themselves a major disservice by not taking full advantage of the considerable leeway the officials were offering.
Though it pains me to say this, the better team won this series and did so in deserving fashion. When the chips were down Chicago found another level of play to operate on and although the Red Wings came excruciatingly close; they just couldn't quite keep up with the Hawks in the end. In time the pain from this loss will recede and this season will be remembered for all of the positives it brought to the Red Wings organization. A new generation of Red Wings burst onto the scene this year, young stars like Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Ericsson finally cashed in on some of their potential and Mike Babcock submitted a coaching job for the ages during the playoffs. For now however I'm going to grab a couple of cold ones, sit outside in the summer air and wonder what might have been if Danny Dekeyser was playing in Game 6 instead of Brendan Smith.
- Sportsball Chic