CHICAGO – The 800th all-time meeting between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks was yet again a nail biter.
That was until the midway point of the third period when the Blackhawks finally found a way to beat Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard and did so on a consistent basis.
Johnny Oduya scored the first of three third period goals by the Blackhawks as they beat Wings, 4-1, Wednesday night at United Center.
“We stopped playing,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “We didn’t win any battles, we didn’t skate, we didn’t talk to each other and we didn’t want the puck enough, obviously, not good enough.”
Chicago takes a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.
Marian Hossa, Marcus Kruger and Patrick Sharp also scored for the Blackhawks and Corey Crawford made 20 saves.
Damien Brunner had the lone goal for the Wings. Jimmy Howard made 38 saves.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Saturday at 1 p.m. back at the United Center.
“We need to regroup here,” Kronwall said. “Howie kept us in the game, going into the third and it still being a one-goal game. He gave us a chance, but we came up way too short tonight.”
The Blackhawks, who hadn’t played since May 5 after eliminating Minnesota in five games, outshot the Wings, 35-14 over the final two periods.
Detroit last played Sunday.
“I don’t think we were playing well at all,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “I think it took way too long for us to get out of our own zone and when we get out we don’t have any energy to attack, so we had to chance. Then they come back. We have to do a much better job in the D-zone and the D’s got to do a better job of getting the pucks up and the forwards have to do a better job in being open.”
The Wings have now given up 15 goals in the third period this postseason.
“We gave up too many opportunities and made some mistakes down the stretch,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “The second period they hemmed us in for extended periods of time. We didn’t execute very good. Partly because of their quickness, partly because we didn’t skate well, move the puck well. So you add the two together, it was a tough night for Howie.”
Chicago also killed off all three of Detroit’s power play chances. The Blackhawks are now 20-for-20 on PK in postseason.
“Except for that first shift (in the first period) I thought we did a pretty good job, I thought it was pretty even,” Kronwall said. “We have to make sure we do the things that we need to do, skate out there, winning battles, but today for some reason we didn’t do that in the second and third periods.”
Sharp set up the game winner for Chicago after finding Oduya, who snuck in from the blue line untouched, and the defenseman finished things by clanking a shot off the post to the left of Howard.
Just over three minutes later, Howard tried to hold the puck on the back of the net for a faceoff and wound up losing his stick in the process after Daniel Carcillo chipped away to dislodge it and get it somehow out front to Kruger.
Sharp scored the final goal in an empty net.
“We definitely didn’t play that good, like we did in the last (series),” forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “It’s a long series. We came out, we felt pretty good after the first, then after the second they took over. Unfortunately, they got the second goal before we got it and that’s the game.”
Babcock made a switch on his top line, rejoining Zetterberg up with Pavel Datsyuk and Justin Abdelkader, but it didn’t help generate much offense.
Dave Bolland looked as if he was going to put Chicago out in front with a clear cut breakaway after chipping the puck out over the blue line. Bolland want backhand to forehand on Howard, but missing jamming the puck past the Wings goalie, who held the post and got a piece of it with his skate.
Brunner nearly got the Wings back to within a goal with 2:41 left in the third period after he chipped the puck over Crawford as he tried to cover. The puck hit the crossbar and Brent Seabrook whacked it out of midair to keep if off the goal line.
Chicago opened the scoring on the power just before the midway point of the first period.
As Brendan Smith tried to clear the puck he got tied up by two other teammates where Sharp dug the puck loose, fed it to Jonathan Toews, who quickly spotted Hossa for the one timer.
Brunner got the Wings even two minutes later.
After gaining entrance to Chicago’s zone, it took three shots by Brunner to beat Crawford. The first was blocked by Seabrook, the second was off Crawford’s right pad and the third Brunner banged home.
Chicago’s third power play of the game came after Kronwall was called for tripping Hossa.
This came just after Howard made a nice left pad save on Hossa.
However, on the replay Kronwall didn’t look like he touched the former Wing and the two of them talked side-by-side on his way to the penalty box.
Babcock was also making a diving gesture from the bench.