- Craig Custance
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DETROIT -- Mike Babcock isn’t a coach who typically addresses his team after a game. In his words, it never happens.
Following the Blackhawks' come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Red Wings on Monday, one that forced a Game 7 on Wednesday in Chicago, he made an exception.
Maybe it was the way the Red Wings lost, with mistakes in defensive-zone coverage that led to a flurry of activity in front of Jimmy Howard in the third period, a period in which the Blackhawks scored three goals to wipe out Detroit’s one-goal lead.
Maybe it was the way Detroit’s lead in this Western Conference semifinal series has completely vanished, its 3-1 edge a distant memory.
But Babcock felt compelled to speak. To remind his group that frustration from mistakes is wasted energy. To remind his young team that it did some things well in this loss. The Wings did, in fact, have the Stanley Cup favorites on the ropes for two periods.
"It’s not like they came in here and squashed us or anything," Babcock said.
It was about beginning to put this game behind them. To turn the focus to Game 7, rather than the path on which they got there. Because looking back is ugly and a reminder they’ve allowed a dangerous Blackhawks team to re-enter a series in which it looked nearly dead. They’ve allowed the Blackhawks to tune up their power play so well that it took all of nine seconds for Jonathan Toews to set up Marian Hossa for a first-period power-play goal.
The Blackhawks' stars are now outplaying the Red Wings' stars, and suddenly Detroit doesn’t have an answer for Chicago power forward Bryan Bickell. He scored his fifth goal of the postseason Monday night. It shows just how quickly a Stanley Cup playoff series can change.
"If I would have told our whole team before the series -- if I would have told Detroit, Michigan, before the series, we were going to be playing Chicago in Game 7, I think everyone would have been pretty excited about that," Babcock said. "I love Game 7s. I’m excited about it."
And chances are, Babcock suggested to his players that they flush this game out of their system. That they flush the blown series lead out of their system, because that was a message repeated often by the players after the loss. Flush it.
"You’ve just got to flush it out," Henrik Zetterberg said. "It’s part of playoff hockey. It’s first to four. It doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you get there."
Said Niklas Kronwall: "We have to flush this and get ready and prepared for Wednesday."
And Howard on the message to the team: "Take a step back and just flush it."
It’s the right attitude because otherwise the focus is on how they might have already flushed their best chance at ending the Blackhawks' season.
With a goal from Patrick Eaves and a knuckler from Joakim Andersson that had no business beating Corey Crawford, the Red Wings went into the second intermission with a 2-1 lead. But this is where the Blackhawks' experience shined through. In Detroit, you have a young team that is clearly struggling to close out games. And in this case, to close out a series.
The Blackhawks, however, are a veteran team that never believes it's out of it. Not even when the Hawks' season was down to its final period.
In that intermission, the message in the Blackhawks' room was to keep pressing. Put pucks on net. Don’t be afraid to make plays.
"It was just pure confidence," Toews said. "Our heads were just in the right spot. We knew what we had to do and we weren’t panicking."
That comes from experience.
"We just had to stay with it," Toews said. "We’re finding ways, we’re doing the right things to score goals and we’re confident when we get those chances that they’re going to go in somehow. We’ve got that momentum; we want to keep it."
The problem with Chicago maintaining momentum is that the team in this series that has played the best isn’t necessarily the one with the momentum. Usually, it’s been the team with the most to lose.
Game 7 puts the teams on equal footing in that department. For both the Blackhawks and Red Wings, one loss ends their season. How they got to that point has to be meaningless -- for both teams.
"Sure, we made some mistakes that cost us; that’s the way the game is played sometimes. You just have to stick with it," Kronwall said. "We just got to stay positive. Keep our heads high and refocus. What happened tonight is already history."
1dScott Burnside and Craig Custance