The Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings meet for the final time as division rivals on Wednesday night, as their unpredictable series culminates in a Game 7 in the Windy City.
Which team wins the Western Conference semifinal and moves on to face the Los Angeles Kings?
The answer will be found through these Seven Questions About Game 7:
1. Can Zetterberg and Datsyuk Lead Detroit To The Final?
Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have been silenced in this series, with Datsyuk tallying a goal and an assist and Zetterberg failing to score a goal (he has three assists). Were it not for their efforts in Games 6 and 7 last round, the Wings wouldn’t even be here. The Wings need that type of leadership now, desperately.
2. Will Jimmy Howard Outduel Corey Crawford?
After looking unbeatable for three games, Howard’s given up eight goals in his last two losses to the Blackhawks. If he’s going to rebound, Game 7 is an appropriate spot: Howard is 2-1 in Game 7s, stopping 32 of 33 shots against Phoenix in April 2010; 27 of 30 in a loss at the San Jose Sharks in 2011; and 31 of 33 shots in that Game 7 win over Anaheim earlier this month.
Crawford’s lone Game 7? It was April 2011 at Vancouver, where he took the loss despite stopping 36 of 38 shots.
3. How’s The Ice?
Chicago’s had temperatures in the 80s this week. That’s fine. More challenging: The fact that The Rolling Stones played United Center on Tuesday night, leading to some speculation that the ice might be less than stellar for Game 7. From James Neveau of Madhouse Enforcer:
What does that mean for the Hawks? First and most importantly, it means they are going to need to try to make the simple play as often as possible. The stretch passes that have been working to such perfection over the last two games in spreading out the Wings’ defense may not be as accurate during this game as they have been, and so a dump and chase mentality might have to be the way to go if the ice surface is bumpy.
Bad ice works in Detroit’s favor. It won’t give the Blackhawks no satisfaction. We may watch as their tears go by.
4. Can The Red Wings Hold A Third Period Lead?
If coffee is for closers, Detroit’s going to have to find another caffeine source. The Blackhawks aren’t going to wilt if the Red Wings enter the final 20 minutes with a lead, as Detroit has been outscored 20-10 in the third period. They’ve blown leads in the third twice in this series, leading to Chicago victories. It's the one spot where their inexperience is glaring.
5. Can The Blackhawks Win The Faceoff Battle?
Chicago had the advantage in the faceoff circle in just one of the previous six games: Game 1, a victory where they won 52 percent of the draws. In Game 6, the Red Wings won 61 percent of the faceoffs, with Marcus Kruger of the Blackhawks going a pitiful 0-for-11. In a game where Chicago can’t allow Detroit to dictate play, the faceoff gap needs to close.
6. Can Detroit Kill The Hawks’ Chances?
Chicago’s resurgence has been in part due to a power play that’s gone 3-for-8 in Games 5 and 6 after going 0-for-9 in the previous three losses. The Blackhawks have scored a power-play goal in each of their three victories. For Detroit, it’s kill or be killed.
7. Finally, Can Joel Quenneville Actually Beat The Wings?
Mike Babcock has outcoached the Blackhawks’ bench boss in this series, but that shouldn’t come as a shock: Quenneville is 0-for-5 in series against the Red Wings, including three losses as St. Louis Blues head coach and once with the Colorado Avalanche. Ultimately, the players play the game; but it’s the coach whose reputation, and some might say job, are on the line.