May 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Gregg Krupa

Red Wings match Blackhawks hit-for-hit to take command

Detroit Looks like glass slipper time, folks.

The improbable Red Wings need one more victory to beat the Blackhawks and proceed to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009.

They defeated the Blackhawks a third consecutive time — the only time all season Chicago has lost three straight — chalking-up a tight, hard-fought 2-0 victory.

The Red Wings lead the Presidents' Trophy winners and overwhelming favorites in the series 3-1 after dispatching the No. 2 team in the West, the Ducks, in the first round.

How is that for rebuilding on the fly?

"Well, if you'd have asked me two months ago, I'd have been shocked," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after the victory.

"We're competing at a high, high level. We don't do things right all the time, that's for sure.

"But I think we're doing things hard all the time. We're trying hard."

Howard, the big eraser

And their mistakes sometimes require an eraser. His name is Jimmy Howard.

Despite 10 giveaways, Howard kept the score 1-0 until Daniel Cleary tallied late into an empty net.

He is authoring among the finest performances by a Red Wings goaltender in the playoffs in recent memory. Dominik Hasek was other-wordly in 2002. But he was playing with the NHL equivalent of Murderer's Row, including tons of talent and Stanley Cup experience on defense.

Howard pitched a shutout and has allowed two goals the past three games against one of the best offenses in the NHL.

"They got behind the D a few times, and Howard was real solid for us," Babcock said. "He's been in kind of a groove for a while."

Among the sources of frustration about which the Blackhawks are obsessing, much to the delight of the Red Wings, is Howard's steel curtain. He made big stops on Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Viktor Stalberg, among others.

As usual, the big guy from upstate New York and the University of Maine was matter-of-fact about his ministrations.

"Just getting out to the top of the crease, establishing myself," Howard said.

"My goalie coach Jim Bedard and I talk every day about getting to the top of the crease, being big. Hands up, and playing, and having fun out there."

A vow broken

There was much talk before this game, including from Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, that the first 10 minutes would be important for the Blackhawks.

But the Red Wings were with the Blackhawks every step of the way.

Cleary led the way with a determined shift and early pressure on the Blackhawks defense.

Justin Abdelkader followed with a hit on a defenseman deep in the Chicago zone.

Moments later, Howard made a huge stop on Toews, after the Red Wings had trouble with the puck near the benches.

With Toews' scoring drought, a big stop on him is worth two or three, psychologically.

Meanwhile, several offsides by the Blackhawks interrupted any flow they tried to develop, despite the aggressive play of the Red Wings.

Howard then stopped Kane and Michal Handzus over the next three minutes, with big saves.

At 10 minutes 20 seconds, Nicklas Kronwall turned it over and had to sit when he hooked. But Patrick Eaves and Brendan Smith were stellar on the penalty kill.

By 12:25, the Blackhawks had failed to dominate the game, let alone take the lead on the scoreboard.

A vow kept

The Red Wings thought that to lift their game in the face of an expected pushback from the Blackhawks, they could avail themselves of a power-play goal. And so, Jakub Kindl pinched and brought down his hammer. Bam!

Squeezing from the left point with time running down on their second opportunity, at about 10 minutes of the second period, Kindl fetched the puck and let it fly. He found a hole on Corey Crawford'r right, between the Blackhawks goaltender's leg pad and the post.

Drought ended, on the biggest NHL goal of Kindl's career.

Kill, kill, kill

The Blackhawks were 0-3 on the power play, and a goal on any one of them would have meant a 1-1 tie.

Howard is important, of course, but the scrappy play of Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller, Cory Emmerton, Joakim Andersson, Smith and the face-off wizardry of Datsyuk, who won 17 of 29 draws — some crucial on the penalty kill — is an underappreciated part of the Red Wings game.

Toews unhinged

Still without a goal, Toews took three penalties in the third period, at 5:20, 8:54 and 10:54. They were his team's first three penalties in the game, and he was whiny about all of them.

It could not be of any help to the Blackhawks that after they failed to muster enough push in the first period, their captain became unglued in the second — especially when they had talked for 48 hours about facing their biggest challenge of 2013 in Game 4.

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

Detroit's Johan Franzen is tripped up and falls into Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford in the first period of the Red Wings victory. / David Guralnick/Detroit News