To Walleye coach Nick Vitucci there is nothing better in sports than Game 7 of an NHL playoff series, but it's tough for him to have favorite in the Western Conference semifinals.
Vitucci has had to be neutral with Toledo's NHL parent clubs, the Red Wings and Blackhawks, facing off.
“I've just been sitting on the fence and hoping for a good series and that's what we've gotten so far,” Vitucci said. “It's been a highly-entertaining series. It's been high-paced with a high-skill level.”
Vitucci said he thought the Blackhawks may sweep the series when Chicago controlled the Wings in Game 1, posting a convincing 4-1 win.
“Chicago had such a dominant year,” Vitucci said.
However, Detroit outscored the Blackhawks 9-2 over the next three games to take a commanding three games to one lead in the series.
“The Red Wings have made a lot of noise and a lot of people didn't give them a chance to even make the playoffs,” Vitucci said.
Chicago responded with a dominating 4-1 win on Saturday.
The Blackhawks rallied with three third-period goals to beat Detroit 4-3 on Monday to force a decisive Game 7.
Vitucci said the Red Wings have shown resiliency all year.
“If anyone can win a Game 7 on the road, they are the team,” Vitucci said.
“I think Detroit can go in there and quiet that building. It's a tough task. Chicago has to be feeling great about themselves.”
Vitucci said he agreed with a critical call in Monday's game. Blackhawks winger Michael Frolik was awarded a questionable penalty shot after Red Wings defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo slashed him on a solo breakaway.
Frolik capitalized, scoring to give the Blackhawks an insurmountable 4-2 lead near the midpoint of the third period.
“I didn't have a problem with it at all. It met all the criteria that a penalty shot has to have,” Vitucci said. “I'd rather the refs be consistent.”
Vitucci, an ECHL hall of fame goalie, said the series has featured great goaltending. He said Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard, who has surrendered a league-high 20 goals in third periods in the playoffs, has been “excellent.”
“If not for that kid they would be nowhere near the playoffs and how far they've come,” Vitucci said. “He makes the tough saves look routine.”
Vitucci said Chicago's Corey Crawford, who gave up a soft goal on a shot by Joakim Andersson that gave the Wings a 2-1 lead in in the second period of Game 6, has been good as well.
“He's a big goalie and stays back in his crease while Howard is more aggressive,” Vitucci said.
Vitucci said playoff hockey is both about confidence and momentum.
“Chicago has both right now,” he said. “But Detroit won Game 2 in Chicago when no one thought they could. There's no reason they can't go in and win.
“It's two Original Six teams and it will be exciting.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.
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