Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville must be scratching his head, wondering what he missed. Facing the Red Wings six times every season, he knows the Detroit textbook by heart:
- Pour shots at Osgood
- Be physical
- Negate the Wings’ power play
- Take care of the puck
Unfortunately for Quenneville and his Blackhawks club, Detroit is showing that knowing the book, and even applying it, isn’t enough. The Western Conference Final is a case of the aging professor schooling the bright, anxious, but woefully naive graduate student.
Coming into the series, Chicago had every reason to be optimistic. They were playing their best hockey of the year, converting opportunities at even strength and on the power play, and Khabibulin was solid, and periodically spectacular. Detroit had an unexpectedly difficult time with a veteran, hard-nosed Anaheim team, and looked tired exiting that series. If ever a defending champion was ripe for the picking, it appeared to be now.
Looking at the numbers through two games, it would seem that Chicago had followed the formula precisely. Although Detroit enjoys a shot advantage, Chicago is keeping it close, and has pelted Osgood with 71 shots. They are hitting the Wings early and often, edging them there 73 – 72. Detroit’s awesome power play has been held to a paltry 14% success rate, while the Chicago PP has clipped along at a 33% pace. The Hawks have given the puck away seven fewer times than Detroit, and have been competitive in the face-off circle. So how can they be down 2 – 0, trailing 8 – 4 on the scoreboard? Experience… and patience.
Watching Detroit and Chicago in this series is reminiscent of watching a Golden Lab with her pups. Mom lies there, while the pups fly around in a frenzy, jumping all over her, nipping at the ears, tumbling over each other. Mom seems to be getting the bad end of the deal . . .but only for awhile. Eventually, Mom gets tired of the game and the hammer comes down. Game over. Same principle here.
Detroit knows what it takes to win, and seemingly never misses the chance to convert an opportunity when crunch time rolls around. When the Red Wings got the odd man rush in OT of Game Two, was there any doubt that they would convert? No. Chicago has yet to learn how to play 60 minutes at both ends of the ice. While the Blackhawks can stun you with their speed and their talent, Detroit mesmerizes you with consistency and perseverance.
A bright student can outshine fellow students, but will rarely outdo the professor. Chicago is learning that lesson now. Mom has had it. Game over.