The power play was going through its familiar struggles at the end of the first period. The Blackhawks talked about that advantage at intermission, and how they could improve on it pronto.
“We knew what we had to do: keep it simple, put pucks to the net,” said Andrew Shaw, “and we were rewarded.”
Yes they were. Twice. And the power play waking from its slumber is one reason why the Blackhawks are still alive in this series.
Jonathan Toews scored his first goal of this postseason, on the power play, and one of Shaw’s two goals also came on the advantage as the Blackhawks beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 at the United Center on Saturday night. The Blackhawks staved off elimination in the Western Conference semifinals, cutting Detroit’s series lead to 3-2; Game 6 is at 7 p.m. Central time Monday in Detroit.
For the Blackhawks, a lot of slumps were snapped on Saturday. They came out strong, bringing a physical game that precluded them finally getting a few past Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard, who had held the Blackhawks to just two goals in the previous three games. Coach Joel Quenneville said the team kept the right outlook the past two days entering the elimination game.
“You have to commend the guys: their attitude yesterday was tremendous,” he said. “They could’ve walked around thinking we were in an awful spot but it was positive. Today’s practice was business-like. The guys played the way their approach was. We did the right things.”
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The Blackhawks were up 1-0 near the end of the first period when they went on their first power play, which was as bad as their final one in Game 4 on Thursday night. Their second and third were strong, momentum-building and, most important, productive. The simple premise paid off: they sustained zone time – especially on the first one when Pavel Datsyuk lost his stick – and fired more shots.
“We probably worked harder on those two power plays tonight than we had all series on it,” said Brent Seabrook, who had an assist on the first power play as well as seven shots on goal, tied for a team high with Patrick Kane. “It was good to see the guys working, battling and getting second opportunities.”
Said Toews, “we were hard on it, we kept moving, kept shooting the puck and it eventually went in.”
The Blackhawks had talked simplifying the power play for a while now. On Saturday they did.
“Yeah, good things come from shooting the puck,” said Shaw, who’s second goal was an even-strength wraparound. “We had all the guys converging on the net, we tired them out and we were rewarded. We needed that. And the next power play we had all the momentum going.”
The Blackhawks kept Howard busy on Saturday, firing 45 shots at him. Corey Crawford stopped 25 of 26 at the other end for the victory. The Blackhawks were as strong with the hits as they were with shots on goal; they didn’t have more than the Wings (25-22 favor Detroit), but they had some timely, crunching ones.
“We had nothing to lose,” said Bryan Bickell, who had three hits, including a big one on Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall in the third period. “Tonight there was no tomorrow and we came out and had a plan what we wanted to do. And we executed it.”
The Blackhawks’ work, however, isn’t done. Detroit still holds a 3-2 series lead and will have the Joe Louis faithful behind them. The Blackhawks exorcised a few scoring demons on Saturday, be it as a group or individually. They need to work just as hard, if not more so, to force another game at the United Center.
“We have to go back and win a game,” Quenneville said of Game 6 in Detroit. “Today we got the momentum back. Let’s go in there and keep it.”