Up and down. Quick as a minute. The compass was broken at Joe Louis Arena, and the game had only two directions: north and south. It was a track meet, a caffeinated pogo stick, all breathless goals and breathless chances. Fortunately, the Red Wings had three of the former and Jimmy Howard for the latter. When the horn sounded, the oddsmakers were rubbing their eyes, fans were singing Bon Jovi – “Whoa-oh, we’re halfway there!…” – and Chicago will have to beat the Wings three times in four chances now to keep them out of the Western Conference finals.
“That was fast – probably the fastest playoff game I’ve ever been a part of, ” Howard said after the Wings’ 3-1 victory and 2-1 lead in the series. “And I expect it just to get faster.”
Quick as a minute. Or maybe half a minute. The Wings’ first two goals – all they would require – came 31 seconds apart Monday night. And they set the tone for the victory.
The first, nearly midway through the second period, was a thing of beauty: Rookie Gustav Nyquist carried the puck across the face-off circles, lost one defender, who hit the ice, then smartly waited until goalie Corey Crawford did the same. Skating backward at this point, Nyquist lifted the puck into empty airspace and the Wings were up, 1-0.
“The more you can wait,” Nyquist would later say, smiling, “the bigger the net.”
Then, before the crowd was finished cheering that goal, Cory Emmerton stole a pass, got it to Patrick Eaves, who fired it off Crawford and saw the puck come loose and bounce toward the net. Crawford slid for it. Johnny Oduya stretched to hook it. But Drew Miller came flying in between them and poked it forward for a 2-0 lead.
Drew Miller? Wasn’t he in a cast less than a month ago? Wasn’t he supposed to need six or eight weeks to heal?
Quick as a minute.
Getting better each game
The Wings, the No.7 seed, now have won four of their last five playoff games and have scored seven even-strength goals in two victories against the top-seeded Blackhawks. How is this happening? Here’s the way captain Henrik Zetterberg explained it:
“I think we’ve been learning as the year’s been going on. The last two weeks of the season we found a way to play well, that created some confidence in this locker room…. The first series we’ve been through a lot … hopefully we can still do better. As I say, we’re learning as we go.”
Or as coach Mike Babcock put it: “Let’s be honest, we haven’t done anything yet.”
When Babcock says that, he has confidence in his team. A few weeks ago, he was cheerleading for his team, sticking his chin out and defying naysayers. He does that when his team needs a boost. He backs off when the Wings are good. And they’re getting good. I think Babcock is smiling inside like a Cheshire Cat – which is why, on the outside, he’ll say the team has done nothing.
Of course, that’s not true. It has found a way to do all of the following: nullify Chicago superstar Jonathan Toews (seven shots, no points Monday); break through Crawford’s previously stellar goaltending; cut way down on the giveaways; and improve the third- and fourth-line play to the point that Zetterberg can have five shots on goal, but Miller and Nyquist provide the scoring cushion.
Remember, Chicago had the best record in hockey this year.
No wonder the Joe was a party Monday.
Plenty of reasons to cheer
“It’s a little bit different, you know, playing the underdog role around here,” Howard said. “I don’t think people are quite used to it. I think that’s why our fans are enjoying it so much.”
They’re also enjoying the little things: the chippiness the Wings showed, winning the hits battle Monday (28-22) and the smarts battle (five penalties to Chicago’s seven). They’re also enjoying the good breaks any team needs to win in the playoffs (Chicago hit at least three posts Monday, and had a would-be tying goal waved off for goalie interference, a call coach Joel Quenneville said, “I disagree with.”)
The Hawks had more shots on goal – 40 to 30 -but that only means something if you put them in. Howard seems to thrive in the shooting gallery, he was smiling when he said this was the fastest playoff game he ever has been a part of, and he has certainly done more to affect his team’s fortunes than Crawford has.
Halfway there. Quick as a minute. The only thing slow about this series is the length between games.