Daniel Cleary tries to swipe a puck into the Blackhawks goal during Game 6, but is denied. Cleary has four playoff goals. (David Guralnick/Detroit News)
Detroit It was not the goals. It was twice failing to attend to some basic details of their defensive game.
It was not so much the execution, as it was the stumble and the broken stick.
By the sixth game of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the gap between victory and defeat can be so slender that simple, small things do not even need to add up, necessarily, to snag a team.
Even more so in Game 7.
If the Red Wings attend to all of the little stuff today, it will provide a path to victory in Chicago.
It does not guarantee it, but absent complete attention to the particulars of executing their plan, they are likely to lose to a more talented opponent on the road in the playoffs.
"They're coming at us hard, they're a good team and it's on us to come out and focus and stick with our game plan for a full 60," Jimmy Howard said in Chicago on Tuesday.
"I thought we were doing a lot of great things out there (in Game 6), and it just goes to show that you need to play a full 60 to beat a team like that."
Losing the chase
After the Red Wings lost, 4-3, Monday, Mike Babcock talked about what went wrong, it was mostly in the nuts and bolts of their structure on defense in the first several minutes of the third period.
The Wings yielded two quick goals and lost their 2-1 lead, with the Blackhawks making it, 3-2.
"Well, I think on the one we had a broken stick in the corner and then got caught in between," he said, of the Wings deployment on the Hawks' third goal, by Bryan Bickell.
Wings defenseman Kyle Quincey had pursued Blackhawks forwards to the sideboards and was battling for the puck when the stick broke. The Hawks freed it and sent a pass to Bickell directly in front of Howard, where Brendan Smith failed to engage the big Blackhawks winger.
"And the another one, we followed the rim up the wall instead of just riding their check a little bit longer," Babcock said, of Smith and others pursuing a pass by Daniel Cleary, who had fallen awkwardly as he passed the puck around the boards.
"Our forward got beat to the wall, which happens sometimes in a cycle on a long rim. And, so, we got caught on the wrong side of that and Cleary had fallen down in the corner, so we didn't have anybody, a second layer, for coverage."
They were two goals that allowed the Blackhawks to extend the series, both resulting from relatively simple mistakes in defensive coverage.
"It's not like they came in here and squashed us, or anything," Babcock said on Monday. "They got what we gave them tonight, period, in my mind."
Although Quincey and Smith both had some difficulty with coverage, some plain bad fortune also played a hand.
On the first goal, at 51 seconds of the third, Cleary fell in one corner after appearing to dig the toe of a skate blade into the ice.
He went down while passing.
The result was a bit of a wild rim shot around the other corner and out toward the blue line that Smith pursued perhaps too far.
Then, when Quincey was a little late to the front of the net, Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson had possession of the errant puck and fed the goal scorer, Michal Handzus.
Handzus had so much time to deal with Howard he might as well have stopped to make tea.
On the second one, if Quincey does not shatter his composite stick battling for the puck, Smith's inability to defend against Bickell might never have been an issue.
Struggle and composure
The point? Two huge goals because of small stuff, some of which the Wings could control and some they could not.
Were the Red Wings in the right state of mind at the start of the third period Monday, or tense because of a one-goal lead 20 minutes from a trip to the Western Conference finals?
Trouble is, the line between tight and loose is fine, too.
"Loose is a great way to be, but you have to be intense about what you're doing, too," Babcock said Tuesday.
"When players are talking about being loose, they're not talking about being loose in a bar. They're talking about being loose enough to execute, to do good things to feel good about themselves."
Another reason to keep it simple and attend to the small stuff is that the ice at the United Center is likely to be a bit of a problem.
The Wings and Hawks are juggling arena time with the Rolling Stones.
"It's a busy building," Jonathan Toews said. "Some nights are tough, but it's the same for both teams.
"If it's chippy a little bit, you just have to play a simple game, can't make too many pretty plays."
Hockey players and coaches say they appreciate and respect the manifest fairness of the sport.
Normally, the bad breaks even out and a team can help create misfortune for an opponent through hustle and determination.
The Blackhawks did way more of that on Monday.
"You can't get ahead of yourself, you can't try to accomplish everything on one shift or one save," Howard said.
"It's going to be a grind out there tomorrow night, it's going to be a battle and you just have to stay within yourself. "