Commentary

Time to prove it again in playoffs

The top-seeded Blackhawks are too good to underestimate the Red Wings

Updated: May 19, 2013, 6:40 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- With the way the word "adversity" was thrown around Sunday morning, you'd think the Chicago Blackhawks were down 3-1 to Detroit, didn't get their Sunday New York Times delivered and had their rookies forget the coffee and doughnuts.

I can't confirm the team's paper and pastry situation, but I do know the playoff series with the Red Wings is tied at 1-1 with game 3 on Monday night at Joe Louis Arena.

Why the long faces?

Well, it's probably a good sign of the Blackhawks' playoff-tested attitude as a resounding 4-1 defeat Saturday afternoon still lingered Sunday like a brunch hangover on a perfect late spring afternoon.

Is this adversity? Losing one home game to a very good, under-seeded team? Isn't this, you know, the playoffs?

[+] EnlargeCorey Crawford
Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty ImagesThe Red Wings' Brendan Smith scores on Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford in the second period.

"The Wings are good and if anyone thought anyone was going to cruise through this series, they were wrong," forward Patrick Sharp said. "Look at the talent they have out there and how well they play their team game. We know it's a great series."

So you're saying Detroit doesn't suck? Could 20,000 Blackhawks fans be wrong?

Before these playoffs began, it had been a while since the Hawks were the favorites in a postseason series. Everyone wants to bring up the 2010 Stanley Cup season, but the current core of the Blackhawks have lost two straight first-round series.

Maybe that's why captain Jonathan Toews was so frustrated after the loss, complaining about the Wings' physicality and general grabbiness.

Given the expectations borne out of a record-setting start and the President's, I mean McDonough, Cup season, some urgency is probably necessary. If the Hawks go down 2-1, I expect mass hysteria at the 2,000 "Blackhawks bars" in the greater Chicago area.

But considering the Blackhawks are 9-2 at the Joe since the 2009-10 season, losing the home ice after two games not a "dire situation" as one reporter phrased it to coach Joel Quenneville. Then again, the Hawks went 0-3 the last time they played a playoff series in Detroit, back in 2009.

"I don't know about dire, but every series is challenging, every game is tough," Quenneville said. "Whether it's a big hit, whether it's a big save, whether it's a big goal or big penalty kill, timely goals. But it's always going to be close and it's always a situation where one way or another, could be the turning point."

On Sunday, Quenneville righted the third line after the two-game absence of benched Viktor Stalberg. He was back on his familiar, and deadly, third line with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw. A healthy Dave Bolland centered the Sharp-Patrick Kane line.

Stalberg's speed can be a difference maker against the physical Red Wings, which is why his absence in the first two games was a puckhead debate topic.

"When we talk about the decision to not play (Stalberg), we had a tough decision with Bolly coming back in," Quenneville said. "Nice to see (Stalberg) back in (at practice) with the option of that line playing together, which has been very consistent and pretty effective for most of the year."

Quenneville said Stalberg's benching was production-based, not attitude-related, as was reported. But if Chicago's game is speed and depth, not banging bodies, then it doesn't make much sense to bench Stalberg and play Daniel Carcillo. In any event, it looks like Stalberg is back in the coach's good graces, or Quenneville just wanted to make changes after the loss.

"You learn about your team as you go along here and how you respond to games like yesterday," Quenneville said. "I think we want to make sure we learn from it and let's move forward."

With a day off between games, there isn't much time to fool around. As Quenneville said, at this point of the season, you can still break down the technical mistakes the Hawks made in Game 2, but it's not cliche to say it boils down to the Big E -- effort.

"It all gets down to the compete level," Quenneville said.

"They just played harder than us," Bolland said.

With all the solemnity of the locker room, the underlying message was: We need to worry about ourselves, not the Red Wings. While seeds don't matter much in the NHL playoffs, No. 1 seeds tend to lose when their effort doesn't match their potential.

"I know we have a lot of respect for what they're capable of, and they just beat a very good Anaheim team, so we know how good they can be," Quenneville said. "We know we have to be better."

Despite Toews' reaction Saturday, Sharp said there are no surprises with Detroit. You know what you're going to get, which puts the onus on Chicago to play like, well, itself.

"They make it hard to get to the net and you've got to skate if you want to compete against them," Sharp said. "Right now we're concerned with what we're going to do."

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.