Chicago — They found their legs. And then they used them.
Again and again, shift after shift, the Red Wings did, pulling together until they'd pulled even, skating away with Game 2 against the Chicago Blackhawks — a 4-1 win that silenced the matinee crowd of 21,822 at United Center — to tie this Western Conference semifinal series.
And no surprise, it was Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings' captain, who skated the hardest, and skated the longest, and in the end, left the Blackhawks lamenting all that time and space that vanished between Games 1 and 2, not to mention the series edge.
"There's a lot of clutching and grabbing, a lot of interference," grumbled Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks' captain. "And if they're going to let that go, that's something we need to know."
Well, that's something they should've known, and something they should've expected from this Detroit team, a group that vowed to show up with newfound energy after a painfully sluggish performance in Wednesday's opener. Fresh off their first-round marathon with Anaheim, the Wings "didn't skate at all in Game 1," in coach Mike Babcock's estimation.
But an extra day of rest figured to do wonders for Detroit. And clearly it did, as the Wings shrugged off an early 1-0 deficit Saturday and then dominated the final two periods, just as Chicago had done in Game 1.
"It's unbelievable how that worked out for us," Babcock said. "Now we're freshened up, and it's series on."
'Today it worked'
A series doesn't start until the road team wins a game, they always say. But in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the surest sign usually is one team complaining about the referees.
Which is exactly what Toews — who's hardly the whining sort, by the way — was doing Saturday afternoon. Matched most of the game against Zetterberg's line — a last-change choice by Joel Quenneville that Babcock appeared to welcome — the Blackhawks' leader struggled to find open ice. And he certainly felt Zetterberg's presence — a shove here, a push there, a stick everywhere.
"We were trying to bump 'em and give our 'D' a little more time with the puck, and today it worked," Zetterberg said, adding with a shrug, "It's part of the playoffs.
"I think he plays better when it's a little more physical, and I think I play better when it's a little more physical. So it's a lot of give-and-take — that's part of it."
That's the part that was missing from the Wings' game Wednesday, though, starting in their own end. For all the talk about the struggles Brendan Smith and the rest of the defensemen had clearing their own zone, it was the absentee wingers that were the biggest problem. And the biggest talking point heading into Saturday's game, as Detroit's coaching staff emphasized getting a third and fourth man back to help — and in a hurry.
"I mean, we were available," Babcock said, when asked to describe the difference with his wayward forwards. "Hard to get it to 'em when they're not there. We were so far away from each other (in Game 1) because we didn't skate."
Saturday, they skated, all right. All of them did, which explains why Chicago had half as many shots as they did in Game 1. And why names like Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula — voila! — showed up on the scoresheet, finally fully engaged. And why Brendan Smith, the rookie defenseman who took so much heat after Wednesday's loss, was all smiles in the locker room afterward.
Smith was victimized again on the Blackhawks' opening goal, getting caught pinching by Patrick Sharp, who lifted his stick and knocked — or tripped? — Smith to the ground, starting an odd-man rush that Patrick Kane later finished for his first goal of the playoffs.
But after Damien Brunner's deflection tied it early in the second, Smith netted the eventual winner by — yep, you guessed it — using his legs. Of course, it was Zetterberg setting him up, beating defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to a loose puck and then threading a pass between the skates of Duncan Keith to Smith, who'd come charging up ice past an unsuspecting Sharp to bury the one-timer.
"He's such a clutch player," Smith said of Zetterberg, "and we feed off his strength and his competition level."
And to Smith's credit, he's learning to digest the good and the bad of his first playoff rollercoaster ride. He wasn't the goat in Game 1 any more than he was the hero Saturday, though Babcock did say, "I thought Smitty was fantastic today." But he sure does seem to be in the middle of things, doesn't he?
"He creates a lot of stuff, sometimes for both teams," Zetterberg said, smiling, "He can put it away when he gets the chance. He's young, he's still learning. But it's nice to see he had a bounce-back game."
So did the Wings, obviously. Fresh legs and a frustrated opponent? As Babcock said, it's series on. Or, to use Zetterberg's line, just as the Wings did Saturday, "It all starts with being in the right spot. And away we go."