Commentary

Hawks get schooled in Wings 101

Updated: May 18, 2009, 12:52 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Game 1 of the Western Conference finals looked awfully familiar.

It reminded us of the first two games the young Pittsburgh Penguins played in Detroit last June in the Stanley Cup finals. The Pens never touched the puck and wondered what had just hit them. By the time they recovered in the series, it was too little, too late.

The Detroit Red Wings delivered that same lesson Sunday, controlling large stretches of the afternoon in a dominating 5-2 victory over the young Chicago Blackhawks.

The class in question Sunday was Puck Possession 101, a course the Red Wings have taught many times to the rest of the league.

"Welcome to the Western Conference finals, kids," the Wings seemingly said loud and clear Sunday. "Did we tell you this was our eighth trip here in 14 seasons and third in a row?"

"They've obviously been here before," said Blackhawks star center Patrick Kane, who was minus-3 on the day without a single shot on goal.

We'll see if the Hawks are quick learners. They looked disjointed Sunday, unable to get their speed game going and certainly unable to mount any kind of sustainable forecheck. It's hard to fore check when the home team has the puck all the time.

"We know that we got a lesson today and that we've got to be better," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville.

The lesson for these youngsters from Chicago is to figure this out in time for Tuesday's Game 2. Otherwise, the West finals could be a short series.

"I just think we were not smart out there," said Hawks blueliner Brian Campbell, among his team's better players in Game 1. "You feel a guy coming, you have to find a way to get it deep and skate harder. Move your feet and don't stand around.

"We knew that coming in, we knew what to expect. We play them enough in the regular season. That's the frustrating and disappointing part for me."

One moment from Game 1 said it all. Kane came out of his zone during a power-play breakout, but was caught from behind by reigning Selke Trophy winner Pavel Datsyuk and stripped of the puck. A simple play, but the Wings were making all of them Sunday and the Hawks looked like a scrimmage team on the first day of training camp.

"We try and play their game and get away from the way we play, what's made us a good team so far," said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews. "I don't think we were patient enough tonight. We didn't protect the puck well enough. When you turn it over, they're not an easy team to get it back from."

What the Hawks learned in a hurry Sunday was these aren't the Calgary Flames or Vancouver Canucks. They won't get away with the same number of mistakes at this level. There were outshot 43 to 32 and didn't really threaten Wings goalie Chris Osgood.

"This is a better team than the last two we faced," said Toews. "We'll have to work a lot harder and be smarter if we're going to get chances and create offense."

The Wings' line of Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Cleary picked up where it left off in the second round, scoring four of the team's five goals Sunday. Cleary's first of two goals, 8:23 into the first period, tied it at 1 after the Hawks came out of the gates on fire.

After that, it was all Detroit. And the Hawks had no answer for the Franzen-Zetterberg-Cleary line.

"I think that whole line is tough to play against," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "They play real well in their own zone. I play behind them most of the time. They're real responsible players defensively, all three of them. When they have the puck, they're able to use their speed through the neutral zone. They can hang onto it down low and they can take it to the net. That's how Cleary scored the second goal, by going hard to the net and deflecting it."

As Lidstrom pointed out, he's on the ice a lot with those guys. Last season, it was interesting to hear Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby talk about what it was like to play against an intelligent blueliner like Lidstrom and how hard it was to get around him. Kane got another taste Sunday.

"He's just got a really good stick," Kane said of the 39-year-old, six-time Norris Trophy winner. "Sometimes you think you have the puck and it's chipped by you. We have to find a way to get more open ice. Hopefully that comes with the next game."

So much has to change for Game 2. The Hawks have to make better decisions with the puck and somehow find a sustainable forecheck. They've got a lot of work to do to prove all the pundits wrong, most of which picked the youngsters to go out in four or five games. A popular theory among some observers is the Hawks might be just happy to be here.

"That kind of ticks me off if people say that," said Hawks forward Kris Versteeg, who scored his team's second goal Sunday. "We're not just happy to be here. We want to win. We knew how good we were from Day 1 and no one really gave us a shot.

"If people think we're just happy to be here, that's a joke. We're a pretty proud bunch in here. We're going to come out stronger in Game 2."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.