Good evening ladies and gentlemen, literate and illiterate, and people from Detroit.  It’s time for the crucial Game 4 in the Blackhawks vs Red Wings series.  In seven game series the fourth is always the crucial game as it either decides who wins (via a 4-0 sweep or in taking a commanding 3-1 lead) or it leads to a 2-2 draw all but guaranteeing a true playoff battle awaits the rest of the way.  Joining me tonight are The Wife and my trusty dog. 

I can’t tell if I’m letting my heart take over the logic center of my brain but I think we’re in store for a quality showing by the boys sporting the Indianhead sweaters.  They’re just too good to fall down in this series 3-1. 

Before the game starts we learn that Doc Emeric is feeling ill tonight and some suit is filling in for him.  Not a good omen.

On the other hand, why does no one ever talk about Karen Newman – Detroit’s national anthem singer?  The Wife chips in with her first shot on goal tonight when upon seeing Karen on screen she says, “that’s so typical of Detroit.  They’re the New Jersey of the Midwest.  They take fashion and miss the boat entirely.”  Game on indeed.

1st Period

20:00 – Joel Quenneville’s begins tonight’s gamesmanship by changing his lines in practice the past two days and then completely revamping them again right as tonight’s game begins.  It looks like it’s Hossa-Handzus-Sharp, Bickell-Toews-Kane, Stalberg-Shaw-Saad as their top three lines tonight.  To my knowledge these groupings have never even been together in practice to date.  My critique of Coach Q is how quick he is to change things up.  The Hawks were the best team in the NHL from the initial puck drop this season and basically rolled the same four lines night in and night out for five months.  At the first sign of trouble however everything gets shaken up like a game of Boggle.  I think you stick with what works and make your opponents adapt to you.

17:10 – The big winner of the NHL Playoffs thus far?  Checkered shirts with ties when worn by NHL head coaches*.  It’s all the rage and they look damn good doing it.  * Moustaches optional

15:04 – It’s been 65 minutes of hockey in Detroit this week and I’ve yet to hear an announcer mention the extremely bouncy or “live” boards they have at Joe Louis Arena.  This has to be some sort of record.

 13:20 – I hate to admit it but Pierre McGuire actual made a poignant observation.  The Hawks appear to have made a change in their attack by keeping one forward high – about a stick length short of being called cherry picking – to stretch out the Detroit defense.  This is their way to try and open the game up with the thinking that they have a better chance at winning a 5-4 game than they do a 2-1 affair.

9:35 - The Blackhawks forecheck has been outstanding.  They’ve created a handful of turnovers in Detroit’s zone already in the first ten minutes.  Their most recent turnover created by Kane resulted in Toews getting hooked and Nikolas Kronwall is off to the box.

8:47 - …and there it is.  Edzo just dropped a, “you have to stay aware of the active boards here in Detroit” comment.  I knew it was too good to be true.

7:25 – The Blackhawks fail to make anything of their first power play chance.

4:42 – The teams just traded odd man rushes with Sharp and Zetterberg both coming up empty.  While a scary way to play, this appears to be a risk Coach Q is willing to take.

4:24 – Bickell just crushed Zetterberg behind the net.  That’s what he’s out there for tonight.

3:10 – If given only one word to describe Niklas Hjalmarsson’s series to date, I would choose: forgettable.

End of 1st Period

It was an interesting twenty minutes.  It felt like the teams were feeling each other out again and brough none of the momentum from Game 3 with it.  That probably has a lot to do with the line changes the Hawks employed as the Red Wings tried to get a feel for their match ups once again.  To that end I guess it was a win for the Hawks as they appeared to be the better team once again despite the scoreboard reading zeros for both sides.  I keep coming back to the fact that the Hawks just purely have more talent than Detroit does and anything they can be doing to exploit that and keep Detroit on their heels the better.  They’ve got the next forty minutes to bear that out.

Second Period

19:01 – While the line changes seem to be a net positive thus far I’m not sure that having Toews and Kane neutralized by the Zetterberg line along with Kronwall defensive pairing is a good idea long term.  The Sharp/Hossa combo is really going to need to step up the rest of this game and put some points on the board.

17:52 – Leddy puts one off the goal post.  As soon as he wants to introduce vulcanized rubber to mesh netting we’ll be ready.

16:45 – From a quick touch pass by Bickell Toews is sprung for a partial breakaway and gets pulled down from behind by Zetterberg.  Now might be a good time for the PP to come out of its funk.

14:45 – I literally think the Blackhawks do not have a single shot on net after four minutes of having the man advantage in this game.  Now let’s see if Detroit can get one as Toews goes off for hooking.

14:40 – It took all of about four seconds for Detroit to generate a shot on their power play attempt.  Go figure.

11:56 - As soon as he gets out of the box Toews pops Abdelkader with his own stick and heads right back to the Sin Bin.  After going 29 for 29 on the penalty kill in these playoffs the Hawks must be thinking that they’d rather embody the name of ESPN’s documentary series.

 9:57 – I shouldn’t have written that.  I know better.  The Red Wings score with one second left on the power play.  The Blackhawks are now 29 for 30 on the PK.  The Red Wings lead the game 1-0.

9:06 – Toews gets his third consecutive penalty in the past eight minutes.  If they don’t win this game I get the sense that this might get brought up once or twice in the game recaps. 

 4:43 – Bryan Bickell acts on behalf of the entire Chicagoland area and throws a few cheap shots to the face of Justin Abdelkader at the bottom of a pile in front of the net.  Coincidental minors are dished out to each of them.

End of the 2nd Period

The Red Wings retain their 1-0 lead as the Hawks continue to look just off their game.  They’re not getting the quality chances that we’ve grown accustomed to through the year and they aren’t equipped with the kind of grinders it takes to score the greasy goals in front of the net.  Toews penalties this period say it all.  For whatever reason Detroit has shaken what is generally thought of as unshakeable and the result is reflected in both the score of the game and the series.  This next twenty minutes of hockey could determine the social calendar over the next six months of the Blackhawks lives (not to over sell it or anything).

3rd Period    

17:00 – Detroit is clogging the middle of the ice and generally appear to be playing to win this game 1-0.  The Hawks have had their chances early but Detroit is making nothing easy for them.  I never thought I’d see the Red Wings being the defensive oriented team trying to muck things up – after years of their Russian laden teams of the 90s being the antithesis of the neutral zone trap scheme.  It speaks to their strength as an organization and the coaching of Mike Smith in being able to adapt on the fly to play whatever style will bring them results.  They’re the New England Patriots of the NHL.

11:55 – I feel like I should be typing something but nothing has happened.  It’s literally been seven minutes since the last shot on goal.  Advantage: Detroit.

10:35 - Jimmy Howard just stonewalled Dave Bolland on a sweet feed from Frolik on a two on one.  This came on the heels of Crawford standing on his head down in the Hawks end.  On the ensuing faceoff after the Bolland save Handzus draws iron right off the draw.  So much for that stat about there being no shots on goal.

6:50 – The Blackhawks are winning the period and are 7 of 10 on faceoffs.  I think those facts are related somehow. 

4:45 – Rosival hits Saad on a long stretch pass up the middle and he gets hooked as he breaks in alone on Howard.  Not to be too dramatic but this is about as must-score as a power play can get.

2:35 – Well that wasn’t exactly what they were going for there now was it? The Hawks generated zero shots on goal once again with the man advantage. 

2:06 – Who are these Detroit fans that have had a dead squid in their possession for the past two hours and forty-five minutes?  If there hadn’t been a whistle right now is there a chance they would have brought a lifeless sea creature and never thrown it onto the ice?  What do you do with it afterward?  Can you freeze octopus for dinner/Game 6?

1:27 – Crawford gets pulled

 0:38 – Dan Cleary benefits from a long breakout attempt gone wrong by the Hawks and buries the puck into an empty net.  You live by the sword, you die by the sword I guess.  2-0 Red Wings.

End of Game

As the Blackhawks come to terms with their first three game losing streak of the year, I strongly suggest that they take a good look in the mirror between now and Saturday and come to terms with exactly who they are.  If I’m Coach Q I go back to the lines that have worked for me all year and stop trying to get fancy with secret combinations and general trickery.  At some point you gotta dance with the girl who brung ya.  The Blackhawks need to get back to playing Blackhawk hockey.  A buddy today said it best in stating that the only team in the NHL that can beat Chicago is the Blackhawks.  If you ask anyone in the sport, chemistry, especially at this time of year, trumps talent – as evident by the past four games of this series.  Why the Hawks are choosing to mess with their chemistry on a seeming period by period if not line by line basis is beyond me.  It’s time to get back to basics gentlemen, you know, the same brand of hockey that made you the best team in the league since the season began.  If they don’t then they’re going to have a whole summer to second guess themselves and remember just how far their chemistry took them three years ago.