It's only one game.
Get ready to hear that a lot, because for the next two days, that's what Red Wing fans will be saying to each other to try and get over the shock of seeing the Wings getting completely dominated by the Blackhawks in Game 1.
Oh it started out ok. After Niklas Kronwall got over the shock of playing hockey again and stopped giving the puck away to Jonathan Toews, the Wings settled down and actually played a good first period. They were tied 1-1, but all in all it felt like the Wings were in the game.
Unfortunately, the second period had to be played, and the Blackhawks made Jimmy Howard their own personal target, firing 36 shots on the Wing net over the final 40 minutes. The Wings bent and ultimately broke, and so they're down after Game 1 of a series for the 4th straight time.
There was literally nothing redeemable about this game (save for one thing, which we'll discuss), and the Wings will either have to play a shit ton better or this series is going to be over very, very quickly.
- Break up the Brendan Smith-Kyle Quincey pairing. Play Ian White. Dress an extra forward. Build a bionic thumb for Danny DeKeyser. Just do anything except put those two on the ice at the same time. In fact, instead of Mike Babcock telling Brendan Smith that he needs to think about what Nicklas Lidstrom would do in any given situation, Smith should go all George Constanza and just do the opposite of his first instinct.
- Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were reunited in the third period. This seemed to work because the Wings had 9 shots in the third after getting 12 over the first two periods, but the Hawks did a very good job of containing both of them. If you have a strong stomach, check out the tonight's Corsi numbers. That's Mike Ricci-ugly right there. Hank led the team with 4 shots, but Pavel was held to none. That can't happen again.
- If the Wings had a major disadvantage in any area, it was in special teams, especially with regards to their power play against the Hawks' penalty kill. The Hawks have killed off 20 straight penalties in the playoffs, including the 3 Wing power plays. Detroit was able to get some good looks, but there were times where they passed up shots to try and make an unnecessary pass. Against a more talented team, the Wings need to put as many pucks on the net and look for rebounds.
- Jimmy Howard. What can you say about the man? Seriously, he made 33 stops in the final 40 minutes (including all 17 he faced in the second), which is more shots against than he averaged in the entire Anaheim series. It's yet another example of how he has carried this team throughout the entire season, tonight being no different. When you've got Blackhawk fans tweeting about how he was the difference, then you know that he was not the reason for the loss tonight.
- On a positive note, the third line was buzzing again tonight. They were the only Wing players to post positive Corsi tonight, and they combined for 6 shots tonight, scoring the Wings' lone goal and coming close late in the third when Damien Brunner hit the crossbar. With the speed of the Hawks creating issues all night, this line could be a game-changer for the Wings because they can keep up with Chicago and create some much-needed offense beyond the first line.
- The Hawks took a page out of the notebook of every team that has beaten the Wings the past few years: aggressively forecheck the defense, force turnovers, put a ton of pucks on Jimmy Howard, jam the net. The Hawks did that to perfection and won a game they totally deserved.
- Food for thought that might mean nothing to anyone but me: the Wings lost their opening game of the season 6-0 to the Blues and looked awful. They lost 7-1 to these same Blackhawks in a game where they played even worse on Easter. They were blown out at home against Anaheim in Game 3 of the first round. But they've bounced back after every loss, and all I want is to see them be competitive against a very good Chicago team.
- Thankfully, the Wings will get 2 days off to stew and think about everything they did wrong, and thinking back to the last series, they came out on fire and took it to a Ducks team who had played well in Game 1. While the Hawks looked very good, I thought the Wings did a pretty good job of limiting their quality scoring chances until the third period when Detroit looked to run out of gas. A better effort and more shots on Corey Crawford (who had the easiest game of his life tonight) and the Wings could earn a favorable result in Game 2.
It's only one game.