May 16, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Gregg Krupa

After furious start, Red Wings' game fizzles

Detroit -- The Red Wings failed to play an energetic game Wednesday, let alone their best.

The Blackhawks were good, well-rested and persistent.

The result was a 4-1 Chicago victory that could have been much worse had it not been for some terrific goalkeeping by Jimmy Howard.

Weathering storm

It was not the start the Red Wings wanted. The Blackhawks came out all over them.

The Red Wings were sloppy in their zone, with a big turnover by Niklas Kronwall and Johan Franzen failing to clear the zone.

Pavel Datsyuk blocked a shot on a scoring chance by Brandon Saad.

That was all in the opening minute.

In the tempest of the first few minutes, the barn door nearly blew right off.

Great mobility and puck movement by the Blackhawks defense provided a quick lesson in how they are utterly different from and far more difficult to defend than the Ducks.

But after each line had played one shift, the Red Wings began to settle down and assert themselves. One was encouraged in the thought they had regained equilibrium.

That was merely the eye of the storm, however.

In the second period, the Blackhawks talented four lines and defense, coupled with the Red Wings failure to play good five-on-five hockey, resulted in a renewed onslaught.

Missing from the Red Wings execution was the forecheck, forwards supporting defensemen, defense moving the puck well and taking care of it and easy breakouts from their own zone and through center ice.

The Blackhawks outshot the Red Wings, 17-5, in the second

But, largely because of Howard, it was still 1-1.

Stuck in their zone

The Red Wings got their feet back under them, at the start of the third period. But the Blackhawks came right back at them.

They swamped the Red Wings, who never recovered.

The Blackhawks got three goals, one into an empty net. They also outshot the Red Wings, 19-9.

The Red Wings had enormous difficulty leaving their own zone most of the night.

Improving puck movement and puck control in the second game will be enormous priorities for the Red Wings. They need to play a lot more with the puck than they did in getting outshot 42-21.

Howard outstanding

Despite the loss, Howard was terrific. It could easily have been a five- or six-goal game, for the Blackhawks.

Howard's teammates, through a lack of structure, very little forechecking and repeated recklessness with the puck exposed him time and time again.

He made a number of outstanding stops.

Perhaps his best was a left toe save on Dave Bolland, who was allowed to skate in alone from the blue line at about five minutes of the third period. Howard went to his belly, splayed both legs post-to-post and kept his tootsies hard enough on the left one to foil Bolland.

His only mistake of the night was knocking the puck off the meshing of his net in the third period, just before the goal by Marcus Kruger for the Blackhawks fourth line.

Howard should have signaled the referee to blow the play dead. It might have maintained the one-goal margin.

Puck control a priority

Keeping the puck away from a team as deeply talented as the Blackhawks is a priority.

And the Red Wings were generous to a fault. Brendan Smith was a serial offender.

To say the rookie had a rough night discounts the bumps. A great skater, Smith did not handle the puck with authority.

At one point, he passed it directly to Patrick Kane who already had a head of steam, along with the ever dangerous Patrick Sharp, near center ice.

It yielded yet another break-in Howard stopped.

Brunner produces

Damien Brunner has three goals in the playoffs and his goal at 10 minutes 57 seconds of the first evened the game after Marian Hossa had put the Blackhawks up 1-0.

It was a bit of a dirty goal as he banged away repeatedly at the puck in the crease after his first shot rebounded off Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.

Brunner nearly scored again, hitting the crossbar with about three minutes left, from the crease, once again.

If Brunner can get to those dirty areas effectively, both in this series and in his career, it will create considerable good fortune for the Red Wings.

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

Chicago's Bryan Bickell is upended while trying to skate between Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and Carlo Colaiacovo. / David Guralnick/Detroit News