Peaking early. It’s one of the biggest dangers in sports, especially during the regular season. Remarkably, the Chicago Blackhawks haven’t tasted hockey adversity in three months, and naturally, they’re getting all the best headlines.
But this is March, and despite all the fluff you’ve been reading and seeing on television, it dosen’t mean the Blackhawks are guaranteed a simple cakewalk to the Stanley Cup during the playoffs. Their two match ups with the Detroit Red Wings have proven that fact, as the Red Wings have played Chicago tougher than any other team in hockey. Two games, two 2-1 shootout losses that could have (perhaps should have) gone the other way.
No, the Blackhawks’ extended winning streak is not reason for Red Wings’ fans to get discouraged or be fearful in the least bit. After all, Detroit’s own hockey team has been there and done that recently. About this time last year, the Red Wings were rolling along and had just come off a 23 game unbeaten streak at Joe Louis Arena, which was unprecedented feat unseen for years in hockey. Losses were tough to come by, and pundits (myself included) spent their time wondering if the team could possibly lose again at home.
Then, the playoffs happened. The Nashville Predators made quick work of the Red Wings, dispatching them in five games, which included two wins on the once impenetrable Joe Louis Arena ice. What had happened? Amongst plenty of other things, the Red Wings had peaked too soon and were perhaps a bit overconfident. Their luck had run out. They hit their stride in February instead of April, and things fell apart at the worst possible time as a result. In fact, the 1996 Red Wings won more regular season games than any team in NHL history, yet still didn’t even make it past the Western Conference finals.
The Blackhawks could eventually fall victim to the same pitfalls. Given how they’ve played in their two excellent games, the Red Wings should anticipate future match ups with Chicago. The Blackhawks are not unbeatable, nor are they a juggernaut. Instead, they’re a great team which has been on an amazing roll through the first half of a shortened season. Certainly, they deserve plenty of credit for that, but there’s always problems and troubles lurking, namely in the form of injuries, slumps, bad match ups or mysterious goal scoring droughts. Yes Blackhawks, those things could still happen to you.
The moral: regular season streaks, while nice, always count for nothing come playoff time. Winning is an entirely different animal during a seven game series when the weather’s just a bit warmer. Over a month from now, nobody will care about past success, point streaks or winning records. Seven other hungry teams will be competing in a Western Conference tour de force where anything can happen on the way to the cup.
Don’t believe me? Just talk to the 1996 and 2012 Red Wings.
Play Of The Week: Niklas Kronwall’s fluke goal against Colorado. Needing a break, the Red Wings got one in the second period on Tuesday night against the Avalanche. Kronwall’s blast went wide of the net, but bounced back off the pad of Jean-Sebastian Gigurre and caromed in the net. The goal was the important difference in the game for Detroit, who ended up winning 2-1. As plenty of hockey coaches would attest all over the world, all you have to do is put the puck on the net and good things tend to happen.
Game Of The Week: Columbus vs. Detroit, Saturday and Sunday. A home and home series with the Blue Jackets gives the Red Wings a major chance to pick up points and go on an extended winning streak. Columbus has already played Detroit tough this season, so these two games are very important for the Red Wings’ mentality.
Stat Of The Week: 22, the amount of shots on goal Detroit allowed in their shut out against Edmonton, a two shot improvement over a match up the two teams had in early February. Defensively, this shows the Red Wings are quietly starting to put things together and figure things out. That’s good news considering this is the same Detroit team which opened the season with a 6-0 loss against St. Louis.
Central Charting: Through Thursday, the Red Wings have 28 points, which is good for second place in the Central Division by themselves. Detroit is hanging around in the bunched up Western Conference race also, currently owners of the number four seed.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax