DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings hope the next time they board a plane, it is headed for California.
Even though the Red Wings have already won a Game 7 on the road this post-season, they would rather eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 on Monday night to avoid making another trip in the second-round series.
“We’d like to take care of business,” Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader said Sunday. “We’ve just got to play desperate.”
Seventh-seeded Detroit leads the series 3-2, putting the Red Wings a win away from advancing to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009 to face the winner of the Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks matchup.
The NHL’s top-seeded Blackhawks are counting on staving off elimination in Joe Louis Arena and making Game 7 necessary on Wednesday night in the Windy City. With a 4-1 win Saturday night, the Blackhawks extended the series by at least another game.
“”It was the biggest game of the year,” Chicago’s Bryan Bickell said before the team boarded a flight for Detroit. “We’re just going to take Game 6 the same way.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews ended his 10-game drought without scoring in the playoffs, dating to last year, with a second-period goal that gave Chicago a two-goal lead after it lost the previous three games by a combined score of 9-2.
“For sure, I put more pressure on myself,” he acknowledged. “Considering we only scored two goals in three games, you feel like in big-time situations you need to find a way to do something.”
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock lamented that his team did nothing well in Game 5, saying the coaching staff and players wasted their first chance to advance against a talented and determined team.
“You got to put teams away, they’re not going away,” Babcock said. “It’s not like they got a holiday booked somewhere they got to get to. They’re competing to stay in it. I thought that was evident and it was a real good message for our team.
“We got to play harder, more desperate, more organized, more detail-oriented. We weren’t a very good hockey team.”
Chicago was the league’s best team from start to finish in the lockout-shortened regular season, beginning with an NHL-record, 24-game point streak and closing with at least five more points than any other team in the league.
The Blackhawks opened the playoffs by easily getting past Minnesota in five games and beat Detroit 4-1 in Game 1 to make it look like only a matter of time before they would be in the conference finals for the first time since their 2010 championship season.
The young and rebuilding Red Wings, who won at Anaheim in Game 7 in the first round, bounced back with three straight wins — including two games at home — to take control against Chicago.
Just when some started to write off the Blackhawks, they dominated Detroit in Game 5 and shifted some stress according to their 21-year-old forward Andrew Shaw.
“The pressure is on them to eliminate us,” Shaw said. “They kind of have our backs against the wall and we’re pushing back and that makes us a dangerous team.”
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said his team has seized momentum in the series.
“Now, we just want to try to sustain it,” he said.
Babcock said he’s sticking with his same lineup for Game 6, insisting there’s “no chance” he’ll insert a previously scratched player onto the ice. He might, though, juggle his lines by playing Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk together more than he has in the series.
The Red Wings will have the benefit of making the last change because they’re at home and they’ll have fans cheering for them, but Babcock said both of those facts are advantages only if the team is having success.
“When you play well in front of your home crowd, they got something to cheer about and they can help you along,” he said. “When you don’t play well, there’s not much they can do for you.”