DETROIT – If there was ever a must-win for a team that holds a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series, it may come Monday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Coming off a 4-1 one-sided affair on the road, the Detroit Red Wings return home to host the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
“Don’t get me wrong, now that we’re here, this is our opportunity,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said Sunday. “Before Game 5, that was our opportunity and we dropped the ball. We didn’t have our best. We need to be better. We didn’t have enough guys on deck.”
The Wings had won three in a row in the series, outscoring Chicago 9-2 in the process, before suffering the defeat in the first close-out game of the series.
“As a coaching staff, we didn’t get the job done and the group of players didn’t get the job done,” Babcock said. “We weren’t good enough. We weren’t even close. Let’s get our minds right, much more so than our bodies right, and be prepared to execute and be desperate. We were tentative. I thought we were tight. I don’t know why.”
On Saturday, Chicago played like the team that began the season 21-0-3 and went on to claim the Presidents’ Trophy.
The Blackhawks also snapped a string of 12 straight power plays without a goal in the win, netting two on the night. One of the power play goals came from their much-maligned captain, Jonathan Toews.
“They were more desperate than us,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We know how we have to play to have success and we have to look back at what we did the previous three games. We got to match that.
“We have to come out with that desperation, just like a Game 7,” Kronwall continued. “Make sure we do everything we can to be true to ourselves, give ourselves an honest chance.”
Playing at home has been a decisive advantage in this year’s playoffs. Heading into play Sunday, homes teams are 47-20.
In the semifinals the home team has even been better, going 17-3.
“In the first round, we had one bad one, one good one, one bad one, one good one, one bad one, and then we finished off with two good ones,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “We’ve just got to find a way here to come back and play good and I think we’ve learned that in these playoffs.”
If Chicago forces a Game 7 it will be back in the United Center on Wednesday.
“When you’ve been through it a whole bunch, I think the reality is it’s a race to four,” said Babcock, who will go with the same lineup he has used since Game 2. “You’ve got to put teams away, they’re not going away. It’s not like they got a holiday booked somewhere they got to get to. They’re competing to stay in it. I thought that was evident and it was a real good message for our team. We thought we had done a pretty good job expressing that prior to the game, but obviously in our play it didn’t show. We talked about that and more so, we talked about what we have to do.
“It’s great that they played good, but it didn’t have anything to do with us,” Babcock continued. “We didn’t do anything. I’m not trying to take anything away from Chicago. We’ve got to play harder, more desperate, more organized, more detail-oriented. We weren’t a very good hockey team.”
And the furthest thing on their mind is another trip to Chicago let alone a trip to California to open the Western Conference finals.
“I think we’re just thinking about this next game here at home and taking care of business,” Justin Abdelkader said. “I don’t think anyone thought the series was going to go five games. I think everybody knew it would be a long, grinding series. We kind of took a step back (Saturday), but we’re ready and prepared to come out Monday night strong.”