DETROIT — The Red Wings have made it to Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, a juncture that for different reasons no one saw coming when the series got under way, or before it took a swift turn over the holiday weekend.
Upset the Wings blew a 3-1 lead to Chicago? You’re looking at this all wrong, Detroit players say. It was as if they huddled in between Monday’s third-period collapse and the opening of lockerroom doors to the media and decided on a response that goes something like this:
“If someone would have said we’ll go to seven games, I think anyone would have taken it,” as defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.
Several of his teammates said something similar after the 4-3 defeat. It is perhaps their way of reconciling the pain of a series that has slipped from their clench, as Chicago, behind a ferocious offensive attack, clawed back from slumping posture to even the series.
Taking silly penalties and getting lost in the defensive zone cost the Wings control over the top-seeded Blackhawks and set up today’s affair to be winner-take-all. The puck will drop at 8 p.m. at the United Center, where Detroit has dropped four of five this year.
The Blackhawks scored three goals in the first 10 minutes of Monday’s third period to stave off elimination for the second time. Michal Handzus tied it 51 seconds into the final period when he was one-on-one with goalie Jimmy Howard in front of the net.
About five minutes later Bryan Bickell scored after several seconds of his hanging around the crease. Defenseman Brendan Smith failed to move Bickell away, leading to the go-ahead goal and prompting Howard to take Smith’s stick and throw it into the corner. Michael Frolik’s backhander on a penalty shot — a move Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said he doesn’t think he’s seen before — made the score 4-2 at 9:43 and silenced a crowd that may not have a chance to come back until next season.
Suddenly the soft goal Joakim Andersson scored midway through the second period on a knuckle shot was of scant importance.
The Wings have now allowed 20 third-period goals in 13 postseason games.
Detroit has had its hands full of late with Chicago’s marquee players. Captain Jonathan Toews, who was criticized early in the series for not scoring and not staying out of the penalty box, has a goal and two assists the past two games. Marian Hossa, who scored Monday to go up 1-0, has a goal and two assists.
“It's not like they came in here and squashed us,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They got what we gave them. Period. If I would've told Detroit and Michigan we would play in Chicago in Game 7, I think everybody would be excited about that. I love Game 7s. We've got a chance to push them out of the playoffs. It should be a lot of fun.”
Detroit is looking to recent success for inspiration. Last series they soldiered from deficits of 2-1 and 3-2 to win a Game 7 in Anaheim over the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks. Now the Wings must replicate that feat to avoid a messy finish to a series that began so promisingly.
“Those games are fun, and we won one of those before in Anaheim,” Andersson said. “Before the series, we’d probably take that.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.