DETROIT – In a game that saw the intensity in an Original Six rivalry ratchet up a level, Patrick Kane and his Chicago Blackhawks continued the challenge of getting it done without star captain Jonathan Toews.
While Toews continues to be listed as "day-to-day" back in Chicago with what's believed to be a concussion-related injury, the Hawks won their third straight game on Sunday by downing the rival Detroit Red Wings 2-1 at Joe Louis Arena.
"It was definitely one of those games where you kind of feel it out to begin with and then as the game goes on it gets a little bit more intense," said Kane, whose goal with 1:19 left in the second period stood up as the eventual game-winner. "It's a great rivalry. Both teams were missing big players from their lineup and it's good to see other players step up [for us]."
The Blackhawks (36-24-7) were also missing defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body)and Steve Montador (upper body), while the Red Wings (43-20-3) played without star defenseman and captain Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle), star center Pavel Datsyuk (knee) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (wrist fracture).
Detroit also lost defenseman Jakub Kindl (upper body) early in the first and starting goalie Jimmy Howard (lower body) after the opening period to really stress their remaining active lineup -- especially the five defensemen who were left.
"It's a little hard and sometimes it can be a little frustrating because you don't know who you're going to go out with next shift," said Wings rookie defenseman Brendan Smith, who logged 17:50 and got in a fight in just his sixth game of the season and NHL career. "It's tough on everybody once you drop to five [defensemen]. I just think you have to play the situation. We're all good hockey players here and I'm glad they had a lot of faith in me in a lot of different situations."
Smith even played 2:10 on Detroit's power play, which went 0-for-4 overall and missed on all five shots generated with the man-advantage.
Chicago's Ray Emery started in goal and made 23 saves to pick up his third straight victory for the Hawks, who improved to 3-0-2 against Detroit this season with just one more game left to play – again in the Motor City – on the last day of the regular season. Each of the five games played thus far has been decided by one goal, with the first three finishing 3-2 and the last two -- both won by Chicago -- finishing with 2-1 final scores.
"Every time we play them it's a tough game," said Hawks forward Patrick Sharp, who scored the game's first goal just 3:17 into the first and then set up Kane's marker with a blind backhand pass to the slot from behind the net. "It was a fun game to be a part of. There was lots of pushing after the whistles ... not a whole lot of talking out there, but there's some bad blood, that's for sure. It's a good divisional game."
Sharp's goal actually deflected past Howard off a point blast that hit Niklas Kronwall in the chin first before changing direction on the way into the net. It didn't take Kronwall long to make up for it, however, as he scored Detroit's lone goal just 2:46 after Sharp scored to knot the game 1-1 just 6:03 into the first.
After that, however, neither team could get one past the opposing team's goalie until Kane took the pass from Sharp in the slot and stickhandled to his backhand to slide the puck under the outstretched catching glove of backup Joey MacDonald (12 saves) – who replaced Howard to start the second and played well.
The Red Wings have now gone winless in three of their last four games on home ice after reeling off an NHL-record 23 straight home victories and will hit the road on Tuesday to play the Philadelphia Flyers. They're now shorthanded because of multiple injuries and are also just 16-16-1 away from the “Joe” this season.
The Wings also traded veteran defenseman Mike Commodore to the Tampa Bay Lightning hours before the trade deadline expired – after they'd made a trade just a week earlier to get Kyle Quincey and give them eight NHL blueliners.
Suddenly, they've got five healthy bodies on the back end and might need to recall defenseman Doug Janik from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League if Lidstrom and/or Kindl can’t make the trip to Philly.
Is Red Wings coach Mike Babcock concerned about all the guys in the training room getting work done on their bodies right now?
"I'm not because there's nothing I can do about being concerned," he said. "It's just one of those things. You get injured every year and you gotta fight through them and other guys gotta pick up their game to help you win. That's all you do."
As for Sunday's game, it was another classic battle between old rivals.
In the Chicago locker room, several players just sat at their stalls immediately afterward looking a little whipped from trying to keep the hard-charging Red Wings at bay for most of the third period.
They got a little help from the goal posts and crossbar, not to mention a couple of Wings players misfiring on one-timers and just missing big openings entirely, but Emery came up with a number of big stops and the Hawks also played well in their own end of the rink to grind out the win.
"Huge win for us," Kane said. "I think that's three in a row, so we've got a little confidence and we're playing good too. We're not giving up many goals and we're playing good defense. You'd still probably like to see a little more pressure there in the third period to get an extra one, but [Emery] stood tall in there and got us a big win."