May 21, 2013 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Red Wings hitting Blackhawks like they mean it, grab series lead

Detroit -- If it moved, the Red Wings hit it. If it bounced, they chased it. The Blackhawks kept passing and pressuring, and the Red Wings kept pressing and pressing, slamming bodies and pursuing pucks.

This was all energy and noise, and the reverberations are becoming very real. The Red Wings are transforming before our eyes, and on this night, they left the Blackhawks blinking to clear their heads. Series on? The Red Wings are keeping it on, ratcheting the pressure and physical play, and officially have given themselves a legitimate shot.

They hung on for a 3-1 victory Monday at loud-as-ever Joe Louis Arena, and there's nothing fluky about their 2-1 series lead. Jimmy Howard is playing his best clutch hockey, outperforming Corey Crawford in net. The Wings are using feisty youth and savvy stars and growing more determined to pull off what would be a huge upset.

The Red Wings are showing they can go pretty when appropriate and gritty when needed. Pavel Datsyuk's blistering beauty supplied much-needed oxygen and a 3-1 lead in the third period. Earlier, Gustav Nyquist unleashed magical moves to beat Crawford for the first goal.

But getting down and dirty isn't a problem for these Wings, such as when fourth-liners Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller combined for a bang-at-the-net goal. Miller scored after an exhausting three-plus-minute shift, when the Blackhawks simply wouldn't give up the puck. He sounded equally pleased with his penalty-kill as he was with the goal.

"We've got guys whose job is to hit and provide energy," Miller said. "That's kind of how we play. We want to hit, and it's playoff time, so we ramp it up."

If Detroit can't quite match Chicago's skill, it's determined to match everything else. That means Howard standing tough, holding off the swarming with spectacular steadiness, if that makes sense. That means agitating stars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa into utter frustration, watching the Blackhawks like hawks. The Blackhawks got their chances — 40-30 in shots — but if they've evolved into what the Red Wings once were, there's a downside to it.

The Blackhawks like to get cute, over-passing at times. The Red Wings used to do that a bit, but now catch their breath and pounce. It also helps to get some good fortune, as the Blackhawks hit posts and crossbars, and Andrew Shaw's apparent tying goal was waved off because he was in the crease.

Ire is rising, as it always does in the playoffs, and the Red Wings felt burned by a no-call, when Johan Franzen was slammed into the boards by Niklas Hjalmarsson. That directly led to a goal by Kane that made it 2-1. Barely two minutes later, Datsyuk answered and calm was restored, somewhat.

"We haven't really done anything yet," Zetterberg said. "It's gonna get more physical each game, but we can't be too aggressive.

"If you're gonna go to hit the guy, you better be sure you hit him, because they're very good at jumping into the play. We just have to stay composed."

Long way to go

This was the game in capsule form, and the Red Wings hope it becomes the series in capsule form: On a power play, the Blackhawks possessed the puck mercilessly, practically toying with it, but didn't get a shot on Howard. Moments later, at 7:49 of the second period, Nyquist took a pass, deked his way around defenseman Brent Seabrook, deked Crawford out of the net and fired the puck in.

Nyquist is one of the swift young Red Wings skaters, and when he saw an opening, he took off.

"For a one-on-one move like that, you gotta kind of pick the right time," he said. "Fortunately, this was the right time."

The Blackhawks can strike quickly, we knew that. We're learning the Red Wings can strike in a variety of ways, with hits and shots. Thirty-one seconds after Nyquist scored, they went on another rush, and after Eaves banged two shots, Miller pushed the puck in.

The Red Wings hammered away, and they do have to be careful heading into Game 4 on Thursday. Justin Abdelkader led the team with six hits, and by the end, the Blackhawks were drawing penalties on foolish crosschecks. The Blackhawks may be slightly shaken, but they're not staggered, and the Red Wings know it.

"I think we did exactly what we wanted to do, we were scratching, clawing, and we were tough to play against," said Toews, still without a goal this postseason. "We'll come back even harder the next one. It almost takes something like this, or maybe someone to slap you in the face so to speak, to really understand what adversity is and how tough the playoffs can be."

The Red Wings understood that while the Blackhawks were churning to the best record in the league. Not many people thought they could slow them down, and there's still half a series to go. But one thing is clear — the Blackhawks wear the target, and the Red Wings are getting pretty good at chasing moving targets.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

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Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard makes a save as Chicago’s Patrick Sharp goes for a rebound in the third period. / Daniel Mears/Detroit News