The Chicago Blackhawks find themselves trailing 2-0 in the Western Conference final not because of Detroit's superstars, but because they haven't proven capable of containing a couple of guys any team in the NHL could have had for a song not so long ago.
For the second game in the series, third-line left-winger Mikael Samuelsson delivered the game winner for the Red Wings, beating Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin 5:14 into overtime on a three-way passing play with linemates Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler for a 3-2 victory in Game 2 at Joe Louis Arena.
Signed as a free-agent by the Red Wings, his fifth NHL club, in 2005, Samuelsson admitted he rolled the dice on the winning play, jumping cross ice to deflect a point-to-point pass attempt at the Detroit blue-line by Chicago defenceman Brian Campbell.
"It was kind of a risky play," Samuelsson said of his gamble on the OT winner. "If I miss, something good would develop for them.
"I kind of went over to the hot spot and put my stick in the way. Usually, I go over to the other D [at the point]. I didn't that time and it worked."
Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock recognized the gamble that Samuelsson took on the game winner.
"Good for Sammy," Babcock said, realizing the value the transition game is playing for both of these quick, skilled teams in this series.
"If the puck doesn't get to the net or hit the other end of the rink, it's a huge mistake because here they come.”
In the soup
In the quiet Chicago dressing room, Campbell took the heat for his miscue.
"If I had the play to do over again, maybe I'd put a little sauce on that [pass]," Campbell said. "I've got to make that play."
"It's frustrating. We battled hard."
The other bargain-basement thorn in Chicago's side so far this series stings a little bit more, since he was once one of them.
That would be right-winger Dan Cleary, Chicago's first-round draft pick way back when in 1997.
"He's a pretty underrated player," Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith said of Cleary. "He's really developed here and he's a threat every time he's on the ice with that line [with Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg]."
Detroit signed Cleary from a 2005 training-camp tryout and he's been paying dividends ever since.
A two-goal scorer for the Red Wings in Game 1, Cleary, whose goal in Game 7 of the second round against Anaheim was the series winner, tallied for the third
straight game when he scored on a second-period breakaway to give the Wings a 2-1 lead.
"I really tried to keep it simple," Cleary said. "I figured I'd go five-hole and get a quick shot, maybe catch him off-guard a little bit.
"You've got to go with it," he said of his recent run of scoring success. "Shoot the puck on net, you never know what can happen."
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville found some success by switching his key scorers, centre Jonathan Toews and right-winger Patrick Kane, to separate lines.
"We just wanted a little more balance," said Quenneville, who played Toews with Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien and Kane with Sammy Pahlsson and Troy Brouwer.
"We feel like everybody's played with everybody throughout the year. I think guys are compatible with whoever they're out there with."
Toews scored both Chicago goals, but Kane, who had three shots on goal, was held pointless for the second straight game and was minus-2 for the game, making him minus-5 for the series.
After the switch, Babcock opted to adjust his match-up plans.
"At the start of the game, we decided we were going to go head-to-head with Toews," Babcock said, beginning his top shutdown line of Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Cleary against that unit.
"Then we decided we'd do it against Kane because he was having way too much fun out there. So we had Nick [defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom] go against him and Stewie [Brad Stuart] and Kronner [Niklas Kronwall] got the other guys.
"For me, our group on the back, since we got E [defenceman Jonathan Ericsson], we're not as concerned with that stuff. We just get them out there.”
Weary Red Wings
Babcock felt the wear and tear of Detroit's rugged seven-game series against Anaheim was evident in Game 2 and was looking forward to the two days of rest before hostilities resume Friday with Game 3 at Chicago's United Center.
"I don’t think we had any legs or any pop whatsoever, right through our lineup," Babcock said. "I thought it was very evident right from the get-go.
"I thought we had good will and determination, but no legs. We need two days between games so bad it's not even funny."
Babcock was already planning lineup changes for Game 3, indicating he'd insert veteran forward Kirk Maltby, who sat out the first two games of the series.
Babcock didn't offer any insight as to which forward he intended to sit for Game 3, however.
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