There’s little over a day left until hockey’s longest rivalry is renewed for one more time, and both the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings have their sights set on the Western Conference Final. Only one team will get there, and the Blackhawks will have to win four games against a playoff-tested Red Wing squad to do so. Here are three Red Wings (Not named Datsyuk or Zetterberg) that need to be controlled in order to advance.
Justin Abdelkader has undergone a great transformation for Red Wings fans, and is now one of the team’s biggest offensive threats. He appeared in five of the seven games against the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, and recorded 3 points. Abdelkaders’ game, much like Viktor Stalberg‘s, does not always lie in stats. Abdelkader posesses alot of top-end speed, and this is key on an aging Red Wings team. He will be relied upon to bring the puck into the offensive zone, either on an odd-man rush, where he is very dangerous, or when setting it up. Although he has been shifted around on lines during the season, he always seems to be a good fit, getting in on the cycle, and finding good position where he can dish a pass or take a shot. In the defensive end, Abdelkader is a key cog once again, dishing out hits and blocking shots, where he had 120 and 13 respectively.
The Blackhawks will have to control Abdelkader by forcing him wide, where his shot will be less of a threat, and there is a better chance of a takeaway. Abdelkader skates hard each night, and knocking him down early and often will be a good way to take the spring out of his step.
Niklas Kronwall has been, and continues to be, one of the Red Wings premier defensemen. With the departure of Nick Lindstrom last season, Kronwall became the crutch for the Wings defense, and it shows, as he was the team leader in ice time through the regular season and playoffs. Kronwall is best known for his massive hits, affectionately known by Detroit citizens as ‘Kronwalling.’ More than once #55 has laid out a Hawk, and he plans to continue that trend in this series. Besides his physicality, Kronwall has a good hockey sense, and does not rush the play like some of the Wings’ younger defensemen. He has a very underrated shot from the point, and the Wings like to utilize it on the power-play, which will be interesting with Chicago’s perfect penalty-kill. Kronwall dressed in all seven contests in the first round, and recorded one assist, while going -2.
The Blackhawks’ method of controlling Kronwall lies not on the ice, but on the bench. With an experienced coaching duo in Mike Babcock and Joel Quenneville, they will be constantly matching lines, and you can be sure to see Kronwall on the ice when the likes of Kane, Toews, and Hossa are. With Kronwall on both the first PP and PK units, he will see a lot of ice, and the Blackhawks need to wear him down by playing a full 200-foot game every night. Kronwall is not a spring chicken anymore, and playing a lot of minutes will certainly affect the composure of not only him, but the entire Wings back-end
When Damien Brunner entered the NHL this season, he provided the shot of youth the Red Wings were desperately looking for. He immediately made an impact, scoring the shootout winner in his second career contest, and notching his first NHL goal in the very next game. Since then, he has continued to impress, playing with a lot of energy, and keeping the very European style of play that the Red Wings are so accustomed to. Brunner is like a miniature Pavel Datsyuk on the ice, as he plays with a lot of the same traits, albeit on a smaller scale. Brunner put 123 shots on net in the regular season, second on the team behind Henrik Zetterberg. He likes to get the puck, and when he does he uses his soft hands and impressive speed to generate a scoring chance. He back-checks hard, and often breaks up plays going the other way by getting back into a defensive position to knock the puck away. Brunner also appeared in all seven contests in the first round, where he amassed five points, and a game-winning goal.
Brunner needs to spend as much time away from the puck as possible, and this starts in the faceoff circle, where the Hawks need to gain possession He is not a very big body, at only 5’11″ 184 lb, so the Hawks big bodies in Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson need to lay the body on him often, as he will be far less effective come the tail-end of the series.
Only 12 wins stand between the Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup. The last installment of this great division rivalry begins tomorrow night at the U.C., where puck drop is at 7 PM CT on CBC and NBCSN.
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