May 25, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Short-handed Wings add finishing touch

Jiri Hudler lands at the feet of Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford after getting pushed to the ice in the second period. (Daniel Mears/The Detroit News)


Now, that's how a savvy champion responds. Minus their captain, minus their leading scorer and stepping into a squall of squawking 'Hawks, the Red Wings played it perfectly.

They skated coolly and let the young, wacky Blackhawks lose their minds.

Anger rising? Danger rising? The Wings doused it quickly and completely, helped by heaping helpings of Hossa, and nothing can stop them now from returning to the Stanley Cup Finals. The blithering Blackhawks sure can't have much left, run over, 6-1, Sunday by the Wings, who have a 3-1 series lead and should end it Wednesday night.

This was a clinic, and it's obvious that adversity sharpened the Wings' minds. Nicklas Lidstrom missed the first playoff game of his career because of a lower-body injury, piled on top of Pavel Datsyuk's continued absence because of a foot injury and Kris Draper's absence because of a groin injury.

Ouch. It takes some pain in the playoffs and the Wings were willing to take it, and deliver it, and make the riled-up Blackhawks pay. While Marian Hossa and Valtteri Filppula were spectacular, taking turns setting each other up, the Blackhawks were running around trying to show how darn mad they were.

Blackhawks lose cool

Sure enough, Niklas Kronwall's thunderous check on Martin Havlat in Game 3 had a lingering effect, and it was the effect I expected. The feisty young Blackhawks took the bitter bait, bumping and banging and drawing all sorts of ridiculous penalties.

As dominant as the Wings were, the Blackhawks were pathetic. Their coach, Joel Quenneville made a lame attempt to protect his players by blaming the officials for one blown call, but please. Even before the score got out of hand, the Blackhawks were making dumb runs, and finished with 56 penalty minutes to the Wings' 14, including nine roughing penalties and one player, Ben Eager, ejected.

"They were busy making amends for (the Kronwall check)," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "In the end, we were on the power play a lot."

The Wings scored three goals on the power play and one short-handed. I'm pretty sure they could've scored hopping on one skate if they wished.

By early in the second period, goalie Cristobal Huet was yanked, and with Nikolai Khabibulin out because of a lower-body injury, the Blackhawks don't have any place left to turn. Heck, the fans couldn't even muster the passion to keep booing Kronwall, who was excellent picking up some of Lidstrom's vacated minutes.

The Wings were almost as calm afterward as they were during the nationally televised surgical procedure. It's not like Kronwall wanted to rile up the opponent (and, oh by the way, Havlat was back on the ice, showing no effects), but once Chicago players started tossing around words like "gutless," the Wings knew their foe would skate right up to the edge.

So the Wings gently pushed them over.

"It's all about controlling emotions," Kronwall said, speaking low. "Obviously, with key players out, everybody dug in a little bit more than normal."

Wings know their identity

Speaking of those key players, general manager Ken Holland said he expected Lidstrom back soon, and Datsyuk is getting closer and closer. Chris Osgood didn't play the third period but it wasn't a big issue. He was dehydrated but fine afterward, and during the first two periods, was typically poised.

For most of the game, the Wings were merciless, in that focused way that must annoy the bejabbers out of opponents who keep whacking away. Henrik Zetterberg was a relentless skater and leader. Hossa drove hard to the net, scoring twice. And Johan Franzen's sizzling shot in the closing seconds of the first period made it 2-0 and sucked the life out of the Blackhawks.

"I think that's one of the good parts about this team," Franzen said. "We keep our emotions in check. We stay out of the scrums and keep our cool."

If there's a lesson here for both teams, this is it: Be who you are.

The Wings are a veteran, composed team, not the head-hunters some tried to portray. I bet that ticked them off.

The Blackhawks are a swift, skilled team, not the rough-housers they tried to be, and they sure weren't any good at it. At one point, the P.A. system blared U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" after an innocent bump between players, as if trying to ratchet it up.

The Wings weren't biting -- they were too busy chomping on pucks.

"Great teams find a way to overcome everything," Babcock said. "When you're hyped up, you're excited, sometimes you cross the line. That's what unfortunately happened for them."

The defending champs have a way of doing that to people. Anger doesn't drive the Wings. Danger does. And with one stirring performance, they kept their heads, while the other guys lost theirs.">

Johan Franzen scored with 21 seconds left in the first period to give the ...
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