Friday, May 24, 2013
Blackhawks facing elimination after charmed season
CHICAGO -- Jonathan Toews is going to play his usual minutes. Corey Crawford will be in goal. The lines will look largely the same.
Don't expect any major changes for the Chicago Blackhawks when they try to extend their season in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series against Detroit on Saturday night.
After three consecutive losses to the rolling Red Wings, Toews and Co. think they are close to a breakthrough.
"The guys are very confident that we're very close to finding a way to win one game and when we do that we know all that confidence, the momentum is going to come rushing back and that's what we're focused on," Toews said. "It's the only thing we can worry about."
It's quite the change from the end of the regular season, when the Red Wings won their last four games to secure a spot in the postseason.
Then they were down 3-2 in the first round against Anaheim before taking the last two to advance, including a road victory in Game 7.
Now they're in complete control against the top-seeded Blackhawks, and eager to deliver a knockout blow.
"It's a race to four, and we feel that we're in a good position," said Daniel Cleary, who had an empty-net goal in Detroit's 2-0 victory on Thursday night.
"But we also understand that Chicago is a great team. They're loaded with champions, with winners, with guys (who) know what it takes."
Problem for the Blackhawks is those guys aren't doing anything right now. Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings have shut them down completely.
Toews, who took home the Conn Smythe Award when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, is without a goal in his past 10 playoff games dating to last season.
Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa combined for three shots in Game 4. Patrick Sharp got off to a great start in the postseason, but is without a point in the past two games.
And the few times Chicago's biggest stars have managed to wriggle free, Howard has been right there. The 29-year-old goalie has stopped 86 of 88 shots over the past three games for a sparkling .977 save percentage.
"They're doing a great job in front of me," Howard said, praising Detroit's maturing defensemen. "They've been helping me out a lot and (it's) why I think we've been successful here."
Toews grew so frustrated on Thursday night that he was called for three penalties in the first 11 minutes of a period for the first time in his career, according to STATS LLC. The Red Wings used the captain's second penalty to score the first goal of the game on Jakub Kindl's power-play shot midway through the second.
"I understand what happened in the second period wasn't a good thing and I don't attribute it to me losing my temper," Toews said after the Blackhawks had a team meeting and an optional skate on Friday.
"I think obviously I was a little bit careless with my stick and unfortunately it cost me and it cost our team, but I think we're looking to have that controlled emotion as a team."
But coach Joel Quenneville and defenseman Brent Seabrook felt the need to talk to Toews about what happened, indicating their concern about the costly sequence.
"It was I think after the third one he looked frustrated and I don't know if that was a reason for the penalties," Seabrook said. "It was a little bit of bad luck with his stick. I just tried to calm him down and we need him. He's the best player on the team and our leader. If the rest of the group sees him like that it's going to trickle down."
Toews has been hounded by Henrik Zetterberg throughout the series, but the Red Wings captain downplayed his role ahead of Game 5.
"I don't think it's man on man," he said. "It's two teams that play out there."
Only 24 teams have come back to win a best-of-seven NHL playoff series after dropping three of the first four games, according to STATS. That's out of 265 opportunities, or 9.1 percent. Tampa Bay was the last team to accomplish the feat, beating the Penguins in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in 2011.
The Blackhawks faced a similar situation when they lost the first three games of a playoff series against Vancouver two years ago. They managed to force a Game 7 and lost 2-1 in overtime.
"We talk about momentum and how important it is come playoff time," Quenneville said. "They obviously got it right now, but one game could turn everything around. That's what we're looking for."
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap