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Matchup: Detroit Red Wings vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Venue: United Center; Chicago, IL
Time: 8:00 PM EST
Television: NBC; CBC
Series: Detroit leads 3-1
In what was the closest played game of the season, both teams needed their biggest players to come out and play their best for their team to earn the victory in game four. The Red Wings were looking to go up 3-1 and shock the hockey world and the Blackhawks were looking to even up the series heading back home instead of being put on the brink of elimination. It was the Red Wings who were able to make their goals a reality thanks in part to Jimmy Howard who played his best game of the playoffs by shutting out the powerful Chicago Blackhawks offense.
For the first period, Chicago was able to control play in the offensive zone, mainly due in part to the Red Wings lack of ability to clear the puck and Chicago’s ability to force turnovers in the offensive zone. The turnovers led to multiple opportunity for Chicago who was denied 14 times in the period by Jimmy Howard. The Red Wings were able to get 10 shots on Corey Crawford in the period but Crawford would not let anything past him and the end result was a 0-0 tie after the first.
In the second period, the intensity of the game was turned up and the Red Wings started to put the pressure on the Blackhawks that had been so successful in the games two and three victories. This led to frustration by the Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews who drew three consecutive penalties for the Blackhawks in a span of just about 6 minutes of game time. As the parade to the box continued for Toews, the Red Wings knew they had to capitalize on one of the opportunities and were able to do so with one second remaining on the third penalty when Jakub Kindl was able to fire a slap shot through traffic that Crawford could not see to well and found the puck in the back of the net. It was the first powerplay goal Chicago had given up this post season and it was at one of the most crucial points of the series. No more scoring was to be found in the period and the Red Wings headed to the locker room with a 1-0 lead at the end of two.
The third period was dominated defensively by Detroit, as they were able to limit Chicago to six shots total in the period, despite Chicago having an opportunity to tie to score when Kindl went off for hooking at the 15:15 mark. Detroit’s style of play for the third period was mainly the classic dump the puck out of your zone to kill the time. The thing that really stood out though was Detroit’s ability to deny Chicago entry into the zone. This allowed the Red Wings to control the play and did not allow Chicago to get into any kind of offensive groove. Chicago decided to pull Crawford with just over a minute left in favor of the extra attacker in an attempt to tie the game. The Red Wings were able to take advantage of the empty net when Dan Cleary was able to add the final goal of the game with 39 seconds remaining, guaranteeing the Red Wings a mammoth 3-1 series advantage with a 2-0 win on home ice .
Thursday night’s game was a game full of firsts for the Blackhawks. The loss was their third in a row, the first time all season they have lost three consecutive games. The Blackhawks were also shut out for the first time this season, and it appears that the Red Wings physical style of play has stalled a Chicago offense that is among one of the best in the NHL. The second period powerplay goal by Jakub Kindl was the first powerplay goal given up by Chicago this post season. Their stretch of eight games without giving up a powerplay goal matched the 2001 St. Louis Blues for the longest stretch in post season play.
The Red Wings will now have three chances to close out this series after the game four victory, but it will be critical for them to do it as soon as possible. If Chicago is given any kind of momentum, they have the type of team that is able to put together a run as they are no strangers to lengthy win streaks. If the Blackhawks are to be eliminated this round, it would be their third consecutive early exit from the playoffs after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. They have been eliminated in the first round the past two seasons and came into this post season as heavy cup favorites.
To no ones surprise, the Red Wings will have Jimmy Howard in net again. Howard has been the biggest reason the Red Wings have the big series lead and if MVP awards were given out in the second round, there is no doubt it would be awarded to Howard for his play thus far. Howard was able to stop all 28 shots the Blackhawks fired at him Thusday night, earning his first shutout of these playoffs and his second career playoff shutout. If Howard keeps up his level of play, there is no reason the Red Wings can not end this series tonight in Chicago.
The Blackhawks will once again look for Corey Crawford to lead them to victory in this win or go home game. Crawford played his best game of the series since game one in Thursday night’s game, but a lack of offense has doomed him in all three losses this series especially Thursday night. Crawford has been the Blackhawks best player and usually that allows a team to steal a game or two but the offense is what will win more often and Crawford has been a victim of an offense that has just stalled.
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