A is for adversity. That’s symbolized the Wings’ 2013 season. It’s come in all forms, and no team in the NHL playoffs faced more challenges than the Wings in recent weeks. They reeled off four wins in four games to make the playoffs. Third-period meltdowns in Game 2 and Game 6 were answered with overtime winners. They trailed in Game 4 late in the third period, then won in overtime.
And Game 7 was perhaps their best team-wide performance of the season.
B is for boo. Chicago’s Marian Hossa will likely be booed each time he touches the puck inside Joe Louis Arena. He’s despised by Wings fans for his performance in the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, when he crumbled under immense pressure against Pittsburgh, his former team. Hossa had zero goals in the series, then signed with Chicago as an unrestricted free agent.
C is for cab driver. Someone needs to stand alongside the Chicago bench and remind Patrick Kane about his 2008 off-ice incident in his native Buffalo, when he punched a cab driver over 20 cents. Seriously, Wings fans: Bring a gigantic sign, chant “cab-bie” and get in his head.
D is for dangerous, dangling Datsyuk. His goal with 6:33 remaining in the third period to tie Game 4 is a snipe that will be remembered if the Wings get past Chicago. His goal in Game 6 was vintage Datsyuk: A few slippery moves through traffic – he fooled Ryan Getzlaf – and a backhander past Jonas Hiller. Datsyuk finished the series with seven points. He’s seventh on the all-time Wings list with 101 career postseason points, just three shy of Alex Delvecchio.
E is for emergence. How about Justin Abdelkader? He is playing like a bona fide, second-line forward: Two goals in five games and a team-high plus-4. How about Gustav Nyquist? He’s a spark every time he touches the puck. Both of his points last series factored into overtime-winning goals.
F is for fabulous flashback. Remember that special moment in the 1995 Campbell Conference Finals? Slava Kozlov flew down the right wing, slammed on the breaks and buried a shot through the five-hole of Chicago’s Ed Belfour, sending Joe Louis Arena into an uproar, and the Wings to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1966. Later, Kozlov admitted he misfired. He was aiming upstairs, but his shot stayed along the ice to end the series at the 2:25 mark of double overtime in Game 5. Oh, by the way: The ‘Hawks defenseman Kozlov evaded on the play was Chris Chelios.
G is for genius. Mike Babcock was downright brilliant in Game 7 with his matchups that befuddled Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau. “Babs” placed struggling Valtteri Filppula with Henrik Zetterberg, which paid immediate dividends with a goal 1:49 into the contest. Splitting up Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk threw a curveball at Boudreau. Prior to Game 7, Boudreau said this to the Detroit Free Press: “I know at the end of each of these games, I’m pretty whipped. You’re trying to match wits with Mike (Babcock), who has been in every pressure situation in the world, it’s not the easiest thing.”
H is for history. This is the 16th playoff meeting between the Original Six rivals. Chicago has won eight series to the Wings’ seven, so it would be nice to close the Western Conference time period with an even score.
I is for intrigue. The last three times the Wings and Hawks met in the postseason, the winner fell short in the Stanley Cup Finals. (Hawks in 1992; Wings in 1995 and 2009.) The 1995 Wings-Hawks meeting featured three overtime games. The 2009 Wings-Hawks meeting featured three overtime games. After the 2013 Wings played Anaheim in four overtime games and had three regular-season shootouts with Chicago, expect more overtime in this series.
J is for “JIM-MY, JIM-MY!” Howard shined in the opening round with three overtime wins and a steely resolve in Game 7. At times during the regular season, he over-committed on angles and gave up costly rebounds, but none of that was on display. In his fourth postseason, Howard is emerging.
K is for Kronwalled! Niklas Kronwall’s leveling of Kyle Palmieri in Game 4 drew chants of “You got Kron-walled” by Wings fans inside Joe Louis Arena. Classic. Bobby Ryan got a small dose of Kronwall in Game 7. One of the best-ever “Kronwalled” moments occurred against Chicago. It was the 2009 Western Conference Finals. Martin Havlat made the mistake of looking for a puck in his skates, and pure devastation occurred. Who’s next?
L is for layoff. It’s been six days since the ‘Hawks played a game. Will that be a factor, or completely irrelevant tonight?
M is for meltdown. After Game 4 of the 2009 Conference Finals, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville unloaded on the officials in the postgame press conference.
“I think we witnessed the worst call in the history of sports today,” Quenneville said. “They ruined a good hockey game, and they absolutely destroyed what was going on.
“They ruined the whole game.”
The “call” was levied to Chicago’s Matt Walker, who was penalized for roughing at the end of the first period, with the Wings leading 2-0. Detroit scored on the ensuing power play to jump ahead 3-0. However, there was still 38-plus minutes left in the game, plenty of time for a comeback. The Wings won the game, 6-1. One bad call does not “destroy” a game, Quenneville.
N is for never. Quenneville has never defeated the Red Wings in a playoff series. He’s 0-for-5.
O is for omen. Here’s what happened the last two times the Wings faced the Hawks in the postseason: The Wings won in five games, advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. Oh, and it gets better. Each time Quenneville lost to the Wings, they went on to the Stanley Cup Finals. Four of those years, the Wings won the Cup. In 1997, ’98 and 2002, Quenneville coached the St. Louis Blues. In 2008, he coached the Colorado Avalanche. In 2009, he was in Chicago.
P is for punchless. Chicago’s power play was 2-for-13 against Minnesota in the opening round.
Q is for quirky stat. Valtteri Filppula now has six points in five career Game 7’s. Not bad for a guy who is criticized for being unproductive.
R is for redeemed. Damien Brunner committed a gigantic gaffe in Game 3 – then scored the OT winner in Game 4; Justin Abdelkader took a careless charging penalty in Game 3 that earned a two-game suspension – then came back with an assist in Game 6 and shorthanded goal in Game 7; Valtteri Filppula made an epic turnover in Game 6, then produced a goal and assist in Game 7.
S is for scoreless. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane did not have a goal in Chicago’s first round. Don’t expect the Wings to limit Toews and Kane to zero goals. The Wings did shut down Corey Perry and held him scoreless last round in seven games, but Kane and Toews have a better supporting cast.
T is turbulence. There were some turbulent moments last series with the Wings, who proved a lead is never safe. In Game 2, a three-goal lead was coughed away during a 9-minute, 48-second span. A two-goal lead in Game 6 was blown in 51 seconds. With the high-powered Blackhawks entering the picture, there will not be many calm moments.
U is for unsung hero. Kronwall played flawlessly in Game 7 at Anaheim. He logged a game-high 28:08 of ice time and pinned the puck against the boards in the final seconds to run out the clock. He took a step forward with his leadership on the blue line amid the departure of Nicklas Lidstrom.
V is vengeance. After all those years of seeing a lower-seeded team upset the higher-seeded Wings, it was nice to turn the tables. Take that, second-seeded Ducks fans! That’s payback for 2007. Hopefully it’s time to upset the No. 1 seeded Blackhawks.
W is for whipped. The Blackhawks whipped the Wings 7-1 on March 31 inside The Joe. Jimmy Howard was pulled. Jakub Kindl fired a puck into his own net. Jonathan Ericsson was a minus-5, Niklas Kronwall a minus-4. Let’s hope it’s flushed out of the Wings’ system, eh?
X is for x-factor. Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who is 11-2-2 in his career against Detroit with a 1.82 goals-against average.
Crawford hurt the Blackhawks in their six-game, first-round exit last postseason to Phoenix: He had an .893 save percentage and lost three overtime games. In the opening round against Minnesota, he was very good: He had a .950 save percentage and NHL-leading 1.32 GAA. The Wild, however, were the lowest scoring team to make the Western Conference playoffs. Which Crawford will we see? The one who killed Chicago last year, or the backstopper of last series?
Y is for youth. Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Damien Brunner are all rookies with a valuable Game 7 experience under their belt. That will pay dividends down the road in future postseasons. Or maybe immediately.
The Wings’ third line of Nyquist, Brunner and Andersson finished the Anaheim series with eight points during even-strength time. If they can continue their success against Chicago, the Wings’ chances of advancing increase.
Z is for Zetterberg. Save the best for last. The gentleman whom we dubbed “PreZident Hank” continues to rise in clutch situations. He’s at his best when needed most. He produced 10 points in four wins to close the regular season and push the Wings into the playoffs.
He had eight points in the first-round series, again rising in the clutch when needed most. Seven points in the final three games of the series? An OT winner in Game 6? The first goal 1:49 into the contest of Game 7? Clutch. Clutch. Clutch. Zetterberg has 51 playoff goals since the lockout in 2005. That’s the most in the NHL.