As the series shifts back to the United Center in Chicago, IL, the Chicago Blackhawks look to protect their home ice while the Detroit Red Wings look to take a strangle hold on the series. Game 3 is tonight (5/22/09) at 8:00 PM ET. Detroit leads the series 2-0. Let’s take a look at how they got there and what Chicago must do to claw their way back into this series.

Game 1: DET 5, CHI 2

Game 2: DET 3, CHI 2 (OT)

Game 3: @ Chicago, Fri. 5/22, 8:00 p.m. ET

Game 4: @ Chicago, Sun. 5/24, 3:00 p.m. ET

*Game 5: @ Detroit, Wed. 5/27, 7:30 p.m. ET

*Game 6: @ Chicago, Sat. 5/30, 8:00 p.m. ET

*Game 7: @ Detroit, Mon. 6/1, 7:30 p.m. ET

* if necessary

May 17, 2009
Game 1

4. Chicago Blackhawks 2
2. Detroit Red Wings 5
Final

One of the biggest issues the Chicago Blackhawks had in their semi-final series with the Vancouver Canucks was falling behind early, often times by two or three goals, before settling down and playing their game. They would need to correct this if they wanted to stand a chance against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings.

They corrected this in game 1 … but it did not matter.

Blackhawks RW Adam Burish was in the right place at the right time to open the scoring in game 1 of the Western Conference final. Detroit netminder Chris Osgood handled the puck behind the Detroit cage and attempted to pass the puck to defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. The puck took a strange bounce and careened back toward Osgood. Burish swooped in from behind the net and took a back-handed swipe at the puck, depositing the biscuit in the basket past Osgood and gave the visiting Chicago Blackhawks a 1-0 lead at 5:25 of the first period.

The defending lead champions, loaded with talent, would naturally look for a chance to strike back quickly. One would expect to hear the name Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, and Nicklas Lidstrom when talking about Detroit’s offence. However, the man with the golden touch right now is RW Dan Cleary, whose two goal, +3 performance helped give Detroit a 1-0 series lead.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews won an offensive zone faceoff, pulling the puck back to defenseman Brent Seabrook. Seabrook, however, mishandled the puck and turned it over to Cleary. Cleary skated down and let loose a shot from the top of the circle to the right of Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. The wrist shot went over the glove hand of Khabibulin and tied the game 1-1 at 8:23 of the first period.

“He’s got a hot stick right now,” Franzen said of Cleary to reporters after the game. “He goes to the net and he deflects pucks and he shoots the puck into the back of the net. He’s been great for us. He’s plus-12 or something right now. That’s something else.”

In the second period, after a scrum to the right of Khabibulin, a miscommunication between Chicago defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook allowed the puck to skid along with no one controlling behind the Blackhawks net. Johan Franzen swept in and quickly did a wrap around move that beat Khabibulin to give the Red Wings a 2-1 lead.

Down, but not out, the Blackhawks came out in the third period looking to even things up. With Jonathan Ericsson sitting in the penalty box for a 2-minute roughing penalty, Kris Versteeg picked up a loose puck rebound in front of Chris Osgood and scored his fourth goal of the post season at 3:12 of the third, once again evening things up, this time at 2 goals apiece.

Four minutes later, Detroit RW Mikael Samuelsson, using a Chicago defenseman as a partial screen, took a shot from the center of the faceoff circle to the left of Khabibulin that beat the Russian netminder at 7:31 of the third period.

Dan Cleary scored his second goal of the game at 8:58 and Henrik Zetterberg scored an empty net goal at 19:17 to seal Detroit’s 5-2 victory.

Much has been said of Cleary, who began his professional career in bouncing from the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League to a 6 game stint with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1997/1998 season. He had no points and a -2 rating in those 6 games. Cleary also spent time in the IHL with the Indianapolis Ice and in the AHL with both the Portland Pirates and the Hamilton Bulldogs. From Hamilton, he spent time with the Edmonton Oilers and eventually the Phoenix Coyotes. In 2004, he played for Mora IK in the Swedish Elite League. For the 2005-2006 season, he signed with the Detroit Red Wings and has remained a valuable role player.

“It’s been pretty documented … looking back on it, I was real close (to being done),” Cleary said to reporters. “It was right there. If I didn’t make Detroit, I don’t know where I would have been. I tried to work hard and focus on making the team. Each year, my ice time has increased.”

Nikolai Khabibulin had a steady diet of shots coming from the Red Wings, with Detroit taking 15 shots in the first period and 14 shots in both the second and third period for a total of 42 shots. The “Bulin wall” stood tall on Detroit’s man-advantage situations, being the best penalty killer on the ice for Chicago.

On the other side of the ice, Chris Osgood faced 32 shots, with 13 of them coming in the final regulation period.

May 19, 2009
Game 2

4. Chicago Blackhawks 2
2. Detroit Red Wings 3
Final/OT

Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.

The Chicago Blackhawks were able to once again take an early lead over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. Once again, they were unable to hold onto that lead and are now staring a 2-0 series deficit in the face.

Chicago obtained the lead on a power play in the first period. Detroit RW Mikael Samuelsson was sitting in the penalty box for a 2-minute cross checking penalty when defenseman Brad Stewart joined him for tripping. Samuelsson’s penalty was killed, but in the waning moments of Stewart’s penalty, Blackhawk blueliner Cam Barker was able to hold the puck in the Detroit zone, pass it to Martin Havlat on the near side half wall, who then gave it to Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. Toews threw the puck towards the goal mouth and it ricocheted in for the 1-0 lead at 12:49 of the first period.

Nearly three minutes later, Toews was assessed a 2 minute tripping penalty and the Red Wings power play unit decided to return the favor at 16:43 of the first period. Pavel Datsyuk won a faceoff draw on the right side of Chicago netminder Nikolai Khabibulin and drew the puck back to defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom passed the puck to fellow D-man Brian Rafalski, who walked the blue line and shot from dead center through a Tomas Holmstrom screen. The puck tickled the twine and knotted the game up at one.

The teams skated evenly for the rest of the period and most of the second, with scoring chances being denied on both sides of the ice by Osgood and Khabibulin. However, a mistake late in the second period would cost the Blackhawks the lead.

After a faceoff win in the Detroit defensive zone, defenseman Brent Seabrook attempted to pass to his defensive partner, Duncan Keith. The pass bounced off of the leg of Detroit’s Dan Cleary, who then pressured Keith and took the puck the other way and beat Khabibulin for an unassisted goal at 14:06 in the second period.

Toews was credited with his second goal of the night on a deflection at 12:20 of the third period. Detroit was unable to clear the puck from their defensive zone. Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell passed the puck to Kris Versteeg, who let loose a cannon of a slap shot into a mass of humanity that had gathered in front of Chris Osgood. The Toews deflected the puck, which found its way in and tied the game at two.

Five minutes into the overtime period, the Blackhawks were sustaining pressure in the Detroit zone. However, a pass by ‘Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell was deflected by Detroit LW Jiri hudler, leading to a three-on-one with Hudler, Valtteri Filppula, and Mikael Samuelsson forming a triangle attack towards the Chicago end. Defenseman Cam Barker laid out to try to block cross ice passes, but it was all in vain. Samuelsson sent the Joe Louis Arena crowd home happy with an overtime winning wrist shot at 5:14 of the overtime session.

“They had something good going on there,” Samuelsson said to NHL.com reporters after the victory. “I just went over, put the stick down. I just was going to throw it across. I saw they went the other way and I kept skating with them. Great pass from Fil. Thank God it went in.”

The series shifts to Chicago, IL, where the Blackhawks hope home cooking and the friendly confines of the United Center can energize them to win a game and cut their series deficit in half.

Injury Update

Detroit
C Pavel Datsyuk, who blocked a slap shot with his thigh in game 2 is listed as “questionable” for Friday night’s game against Chicago.

Chicago
G Nikolai Khabibulin and D Duncan Keith are both probable for Friday’s game against Detroit. Both reportedly have some sort of flu-like illness.

Can the Chicago Blackhawks bounce back?

This is not the ideal scenario for the young Chicago Blackhawks to be in. They went into Detroit and did exactly what many had hoped they would do: strike early. The unfortunate part is, they have been unable to hold any early lead they have obtained in this series. Costly turnovers by blueliners, particularly Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell, along with a blocked pass from Duncan Keith, have lead to “backbreaking” Detroit goals.

In a press conference during the off-day between games, Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville echoed this sentiment. “I don’t think we’ve seen it all year, but we’ve given up three goals with puck possession at the offensive blue line,” Quenneville said. “We have the puck, but we get the shots blocked. All three of them end up in our net. All huge goals. Surrendering goals on plays that start at our offensive blue line is no way to beat the Detroit Red Wings. We turned the puck over and all three turnovers ended up in our net.”

Correcting mental mistakes is the first step for the Blackhawks in their effort to claw back into this series from their 2-0 deficit. One thing the Blackhawks cannot do is let the excitement and buzz of the crowd over take their better judgment. Playing with proper fundamentals and puck support will be key.

Western Conference – News and Notes

Roy on a Rocky Mountain High?

Reports are that the Colorado Avalanche offered the job of head coach to former player, and Hall of Fame goaltender, Patrick Roy. Roy responded on Radio-Canada by saying, “I never received an offer … but anyway, I’m not commenting.” Roy had met with the President of the Colorado Avalanche, Pierre Lacroix, who was at one point, Roy’s agent. The Avalanche finished in last place in the Western Conference and have nearly $44 million dedicated to the roster slated for next season, barring any major changes in the post-draft off season. That sort of difficult situation may easily have Roy passing on this head coaching job, if it was even offered. One wonders if the Montreal Canadiens could woo Roy to right their ship. Stay tuned!

The Continuing Story of … “As The Ice Melts”

The continuing saga of the Phoenix Coyotes had some interesting participants over the week. The National Football league, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association all lined up in support of the NHL’s court fight to block the impending sale and move of the Phoenix Coyotes to southern Canada (read: Hamilton, Ontario). All three organizations made statements to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, which is overseeing the bankruptcy of the Coyotes, to “respect the National Hockey League’s rules and procedures regarding ownership transfer and relocation.”

The Associated Press reports that the “statements of baseball and the NBA ask that the court ‘not set precedent that could severely disrupt the business of professional hockey,’ baseball, basketball and other major league sports.”

United States Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand of the great State of New York have also reportedly sent letters of concern to National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman expressing opposition to the possible move of the Phoenix Coyotes.

At issue is the special provision within the possible sale of the Phoenix Coyotes from current owner, Jerry Moyes, to Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie for a reported $212.5 million. The special provision would be that the franchise would leave its Jobing.com Arena home in Glendale, AZ for Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Hamilton, which has a metropolitan population of just under 700,000 people, is located 65 miles away from Buffalo, NY, home of the Buffalo Sabres. This would place the Coyotes deep within the fan base of the Buffalo Sabres and on the outskirts of the fan base of the Toronto Maple Leafs as Toronto is a mere 50 miles from Hamilton.

The move could potentially cause revenue losses to either club, with the Sabres being affected due to the smaller fan base and lack of storied history that the Maple Leafs have.

The full letters from Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand read:

Dear Commissioner Bettman,

We write to express our support for the Buffalo Sabres franchise and to express our opposition to locating a professional team within their regional sphere of influence. We also wish to express our support of the NHL’s efforts to protect its rights and enforce League rules regarding the ownership and location of NHL franchises, and we urge the NHL to continue those efforts. As you know, we strongly believe it is critical that the League protect these rights in order to protect the best interests of the sport, the League’s current teams, and their host cities and regions that invest considerable resources in the sport.

Since the NHL originated in 1917 with just six teams, it has steadily grown to its current number of 30. This increase is indicative of hockey’s growing popularity in the United States and Canada, and I know that your priority as commissioner of the League is to safeguard each of these 30 teams and to grow the sport. As you have publicly stated in the past, the NHL owes these commitments to its fans. We thus applaud the NHL’s efforts to protect its rights as a joint venture to determine the ownership and location of its teams. When the Buffalo Sabres faced bankruptcy in 2003, it was protection of those rights that in large part preserved the team’s presence in Western New York and has resulted in the team’s successes both on and off the ice.

Professional hockey’s history is closely entwined with Buffalo. Home of the “French Connection” and the infamous “Fog Game,” Buffalo boasts some of the highest local ratings in the NHL, in addition to some of the highest national ratings in the league. These are remarkable statistics given the city’s relatively modest size compared to other NHL cities. The region’s hockey fans are rabid and the local youth leagues are vibrant. This marquee hockey status was recently recognized when it won the competition to host the prestigious 2011 World Junior Hockey Tournament. The Sabres franchise and its loyal fan base are important to the history of professional hockey, and, under the ownership of Tom Golisano, we know the Sabres look forward to many more years of making hockey history right here in Buffalo.

We know that you share our desire to ensure the continued viability of the NHL and it member teams, and we pledge to help your efforts in any way possible. If you have any questions or need further information, please contact our offices at 212-486-4430 (Schumer) or 202-224-4451 (Gillibrand). We thank you for your continued support of New York’s franchises.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer, United States Senator
Kirsten E. Gillibrand, United States Senator

Will the Phoenix Coyotes stay? Will they leave? Tune in next time to “As the Ice Melts”.

The Price of Failure
Calgary Flames head coach Mike Keenan needs to pass out his resume again, as he has been fired from his position. The Flames bowed out of the playoffs this season with a quarter finals loss to the 4th seeded Chicago Blackhawks.