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May 25, 2009
NHL Playoffs, Third Round
Detroit Red Wings vs. Chicago Blackhawks, Games 3 and 4

by Timo Seppa


Red Wings-Blackhawks, Game 3

The meek inherited the ice in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals between Chicago and Detroit on Friday night, as the backstory was about underachievers overachieving for both teams.

As statistically weak as Samuel Pahlsson has been in the regular season and playoffs, he was instrumental in Chicago’s two final goals; the 4-3 overtime victory is the only Blackhawks' win of a series that Detroit leads 3-1. With Chicago already ahead by a count of 2-0, the 31 year old centerman put the Blackhawks in an excellent position to win the game with an outstanding effort to help create the third goal. Following up a Kris Versteeg hit on Dan Cleary, Pahlsson took the body hit from Johan Franzen. As Valtteri Filppula appeared to get possession for Detroit, Pahlsson deftly knocked the puck up the boards to defenseman Duncan Keith. Moments later, he deflected Keith’s shot past a floundering Chris Osgood.

As far as the assist on the overtime winner goes, it seemed unclear at first whether Pahlsson’s pass to Patrick Sharp was intended as such or if it was just a poorly directed backhand shot on goal. After looking at the replay, there is no doubt that it was an excellent no-look pass, right on the money. Pahlsson either instinctively knew that Sharp would be in driving to the open side of the net or Sharp called for the pass.

A key underachiever for the Red Wings has been Tomas Holmstrom. Last we checked, the big Swede had performed 4.4 Points and 5 plus/minus worse than expected over the first 12 playoff games. While Holmstrom again turned in an anemic stat line of -1 plus/minus with 0 Points, 0 SOG and 1 Hit, he made a significant contribution off the stats sheet on Detroit’s first and third goals by expertly faceguarding Nikolai Khabibulin; Holmstrom and other Wings were camped out in front of Blackhawks’ netminders all game long. Arguably, #96 was more responsible for those tallies than the players who picked up the goals and assists on the scoresheet.

Red Wings-Blackhawks, Game 4

Did that Niklas Kronwall-on-Martin Havlat hit really have ramifications all the way to Game 4? Some analysts believe so. Looking at the box score, it did seem as if the referees were delivering their own version of a joke that I learned in grade school, though in this case the dog would have been answering “rough”, “rough”, “rough”. With 9 roughing penalties against Chicago and only 3 against Detroit, it did seem like the Blackhawks were looking for their pound of flesh, but they are paying the price for it.

I don’t see it, though. Remember that the contest was 1-0 Detroit through 19:38 of the 1st period, with the only tally coming on a Marian Hossa shorthanded goal, which was arguably just bad luck for Chicago. As the Blackhawks made it almost all the way through the 1st period without an even strength or power play goal against, it seems shaky to conclude that the Blackhawks were playing out of their mind from the outset of the game in a quest for punishing Detroit. The penalties were 3-3 before Matt Walker took a minor after the end of play at 20:00.

This is not to say that the Blackhawks played a smart or well disciplined game in the slightest. In fact, they lost their discipline at a bad time in the game and in the series. Trailing 2-0 at the first intermission –after a sneaky Johan Franzen wrister through defenseman Brian Campbell’s legs found the top shelf– the roof caved in on Chicago with all three Detroit goals scored within the first 8 minutes of the 2nd period, offsetting a lone Jonathan Toews goal for the Blackhawks. Two of the three Red Wings tallies were scored on the power play, as well as three in all throughout the course of the afternoon, highlighting the consequences of Detroit’s 10 to 4 advantage in non-offsetting minors. Being on the penalty kill for a sixth of the game is not an ideal formula for beating the best team remaining in the playoffs.


Is quality or depth more important to the success of a playoff team? The question is a moot point for Detroit, which has both in spades. Detroit was missing Hart Trophy candidate Pavel Datsyuk and top 4 defenseman Niklas Kronwall for all and most of Game 3 and Datsyuk and future Hall Of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom for Game 4. They didn’t miss a beat, which is quite a testament to the quality depth of the team. The Red Wings appear more resilient to losses than the Borg – With all the Swedes on the team, perhaps that’s appropriate. To call a Red Wings team with this level of talent “shorthanded” or “undermanned” even when missing two star players is downplaying the waves of talent that they can throw at you. Things aren’t too bad when you can be undermanned and still field a better team than the opposition.

The biggest change in Datsyuk’s absence has been the increased role of Valtteri Filppula (12 Goals, 28 Assists, 40 Points, +9 plus/minus, +3.4 offensive GVT, +5.8 total GVT). The 25 year old winger made a big impact in Games 3 and 4, with 1 Goal, 3 Assists, 4 Points and +1 plus/minus.

Missing in addition to Datsyuk and Lidstrom was faceoff specialist Kris Draper, a longtime Red Wing and veteran role player on 4 Stanley Cup championship squads. Yet for anyone to equate Draper’s loss as the loss of a “superstar”, is pretty comical. As they say, one of these things is not like the other:

  • Pavel Datsyuk: 32 Goals, 65 Assists, 97 Points, +34 plus/minus, +17.1 offensive GVT, +7.3 defensive GVT, +24.4 total GVT
  • Nicklas Lidstrom 16 Goals, 43 Assists, 59 Points, +31 plus/minus, +10.9 offensive GVT, +9.8 defensive GVT, +20.7 total GVT
  • Kris Draper: 7 Goals, 10 Assists, 17 Points, -13 plus/minus, -2 offensive GVT, -1.3 defensive GVT, -3.3 total GVT

The veteran centerman posted a 40 point season only once in his career – 24 G, 16 A, 40 P in 2003-4. You can't even say that he has been “clutch” in the playoffs; since 2000-1, Draper has 8 Goals, 8 Assists, 16 Points, -1 plus/minus rating in 95 playoff games, while averaging over 15 minutes per game.

I’m almost embarrassed to have to give an argument against Kris Draper being a superstar, but there you have it. I suppose it’s better to mention this argument before he gets inducted into the HOF with Chris Osgood on account of all of the championships he's won, though. Don’t feel too bad for Drapes, Wings fans. He’ll likely have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup for a fifth time in the not too distant future.


Previously, I suggested that it would be worth a try for the Chicago coaching staff to start Cristobal Huet due to Nikolai Khabibulin’s lackluster play against the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks. It appeared to be a worthwhile gambit, with not much to lose based on the subpar .897 save percentage level that the man formerly known as The Bulin Wall was putting up. That said, after Huet was pressed into service late in Game 3 by Khabibulin’s lower body injury, he has posted .844 save percentage with 27 saves on 32 SOG. The former Canadiens’ number one was adequate, but not particularly tested in Game 3 (6 saves on 6 SOG). Likewise, Huet was not horrible early on in Game 4, but the quality of some of the goals in the 2nd period will not give Quenneville confidence in him going forward.

It will be interesting to see who starts Game 5 for Chicago – Khabibulin, Huet or even Corey Crawford? Crawford is a 24 year old Montreal native whose career record is 1-2 in 7 appearances. Though he posted a .929 save percentage in 5 games this season, he only achieved .898, .909 and .907 marks in his last three regular seasons in the AHL. We’re not likely looking at Simeon Varlamov here. Then again, what do the Blackhawks have to lose?

At the end of the day, the choice of goaltender will likely not matter. It does not seem like any of them would offer the Blackhawks a markedly better chance of winning. Moreover, it is hard to imagine a scenario where Chicago can win three games in a row against this Motor City juggernaut.

Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.

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