May 28, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Gregg Krupa

Wings' defensive breakdowns fuel Blackhawks' comeback

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Detroit--The Red Wings reached the point of the playoffs at which any of the seemingly subtle things can loom large, and when they lost a bit of their defensive structure around Jimmy Howard early in the third period they also lost Monday's game.

That simple.

Some will complain that the penalty shot awarded to Michael Frolik, which resulted in the Blackhawks' winger becoming the first player in playoff history to score twice in a career on the penalty shot. But Frolik was behind Carlo Colaiacovo going in on Howard when Colaiacovo slashed his hands, and rules are rules.

It might be true that some referees would have called it two minutes. But Chris Rooney judged it otherwise, and in my book he is entitled.

The highly favored Blackhawks beat the Wings, 4-3, Monday to force a Game 7 after the upstart Wings had them down 3-1.

Game 7 will be Wednesday in the Windy City.

Misfortune and structure

In the first minute of the third period, Daniel Cleary had the puck on his stick in the corner to the left of Jimmy Howard and he stumbled. As he was doing so, he was passing the puck around the boards.

When it got there, it was Chicago's.

Brendan Smith rushed into the corner, where Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Blackhawks had it on his stick. Behind Smith, Kyle Quincey was failing to puck up Michal Handzus as he cut to the Wings net.

He was suddenly alone in front of Howard, and he made no mistake.

The Wings' one-goal lead heading into the third period was erased in 51 seconds.

About five minutes later, the puck was in the right corner, where Quincey was among a group of players fighting for possession. His stick broke.

Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews managed to get it out to Bryan Bickell, who stood with Smith in front of Howard.

Smith got neither the puck nor enough of Bickell, who scored his fifth goal of the playoffs.

The Blackhawks had the lead, 3-2, and soon Frolik had the penalty shot.

"In the end, we didn't handle it whether it be the pressure or whatever it was in the third period," Mike Babcock said. "We made young mistakes in the third.

"They got what we gave them tonight, period, in my mind."

Blackhawks special teams

It is often said special teams win playoff series.

Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville had both said it, possibly more than once, in the previous 24 hours.

The Blackhawks' Marian Hossa scored his fifth goal of these playoffs at 3:53 of the first to give Chicago the big first goal.

The Red Wings had three opportunities on the power play and failed to convert.

Greasy goals will do it, and the Red Wings did engage in some scrambles around the crease and were not too guilty of passing too much. But the goals did not come on the power play.

Wings' third line comes close

About 10 hours before Joakim Andersson skated up the left wing over the Blackhawks blue line with puck on his stick, his coach sat before the assembled media taking questions.

"The third line is supposed to win you the series," Babcock said. "That's what depth is all about."

Last season in the playoffs, the Wings desperately lacked depth at forward.

This season, their prospective third line — Darren Helm, Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson — almost never played.

But the improvement of the third line of Andersson, Gustav Nyquist and Damien Brunner in these playoffs has been huge.

Andersson — "Andy," to his mates — was thinking of none of that, of course.

As he gained the top of the faceoff circle, he let go of a shot that fluttered like a butterfly within on the way in.

Tight but all right

From the start of the game, the Red Wings might have been tight. But they had something they lacked Saturday in Chicago.

They had structure. And structure can help cover up inexperience or over-excitement in big games, especially at the start.

It helped them emerge from early Blackhawks pressure with only one goal against, and they profited when Patrick Eaves evened the score.

Game 7

No one thought they would be there, and now they really have nothing to lose.

Babcock said after the game that if he had told the players or the assembled citizens of Hockeytown that they would play a Game 7 in Chicago against the Blackhawks for a chance to be in the conference finals for the first time in four years, all would have been joyfully pleased.

There is the opportunity.

Seize it.

And bring your hammers!

gkrupa@detroitnews.com

Chicago's revived offense had Daniel Cleary and the Wings overwhelmed in Game 6 Monday. / David Guralnick/Detroit News