Commentary

'Big brother' Wings win out again

Updated: May 25, 2009, 1:01 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- Turns out big brother can pin down little brother even with two hands tied behind his back.

Six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom and Hart Trophy nominee Pavel Datsyuk were in street clothes Sunday, but the Detroit Red Wings reminded us once again why they are the NHL's modern-day dynasty.

A deeply talented supporting cast, led by Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula and Marian Hossa, headlined a resonating 6-1 victory over Chicago in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals to give Detroit a 3-1 series lead.

This was the Red Wings, also devoid of former Selke Trophy winner Kris Draper, telling the young Chicago Blackhawks -- and the rest of the NHL, for that matter -- that they are still the champs. They are still the standard of excellence. They are still the clutch team.

We're pretty sure the Pittsburgh Penguins took note Sunday.

"We haven't won anything," Wings GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com after the game. "But yes, there's a lot of leadership in the locker room. Anytime you've won a championship, you just know. Your will has been tested. Your determination and your character has been tested. You know these players have all these ingredients.

"Even without Lidstrom and Datsyuk and Draper today, we still know that we have lots of veteran guys that have won the Cup that have that will and determination."

This victory is a by-product of what this organization is all about. Eight trips to the conference finals in 14 years. Four Stanley Cups in 11 seasons. It's a culture of winning, paying the price, doing things right. It started with Scotty Bowman and Steve Yzerman and, of course, Lidstrom. Now, you've got a brilliant coach in Mike Babcock continuing the tradition with new leaders like Zetterberg, who scored twice Sunday.

No matter who is or isn't in the lineup, the Wings hit the ice believing they'll own it. And that comfort zone showed again Sunday, when the rest of the hockey world might have thought they were there for the taking with both Lidstrom and Datsyuk out.

"We feel confident, that's the bottom line," veteran forward Mikael Samuelsson said. "It's fun to play on this team. Everybody thinks that in here. Every time we go on the ice, we want to win and we think we're going to win. That's the key, too."

There are statement games in every team's run to the Cup finals. You can't make a bigger statement than the Wings did Sunday. This was kicking the young Hawks down and rubbing sand in their eyes.

One day, perhaps as early as next season, the Blackhawks will rule in the Central Division and the Western Conference. But Sunday afternoon was a reminder that the Wings are not ready yet to give up that mantle. Nope. On a day when the Hawks got a gift from the hockey gods with Lidstrom (lower body) and Datsyuk (foot) both unable to play and the unexpected return of star winger Martin Havlat, they came out and fell flat on their face.

For five weeks, the Blackhawks have betrayed their birth certificates by playing well beyond their years under the immense pressure of playoff hockey, knocking out veteran clubs in Calgary and Vancouver. And in Friday's Game 3, they surprised us again with their tremendous poise in prevailing over the Wings despite blowing a three-goal lead and losing their starting goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin.

But reality hit Sunday. The kids lost their composure. They took stupid penalties, made dumb decisions and looked very much like baby-faced newcomers in their first playoff foray. Chicago took 16 penalties, nine of them for roughing. They acted like the 10-year-old whose lunch was stolen.

Hey, they may surprise us yet again and win in Detroit on Wednesday night just to spite all the doomsayers, but they're not beating the Wings in three straight games. Sorry, it's not going to happen.

"We're learning on the job," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "This is obviously a huge hole we haven't faced or seen yet. We'll try to look at it in the short term and look at the good things we've accomplished this year and try to get some positives [from] the time we played against them in this series.

"You know, it's a tough task. But we'll look at the short term, which is shift to shift and one game."

Quenneville chose to protect his players in front of the media Sunday, instead of pointing out their shortcomings. So he made the on-ice officials the target of his ire. A roughing penalty to Matt Walker at the first-period buzzer led to Filppula's power-play goal early in the second period. Game over.

"Well, I think we witnessed probably the worst call in the history of sports today at the end of the first period there, a nothing play," Quenneville said. "You know, they score, it's 3-0, they ruin a good hockey game. They absolutely destroyed what was going on on the ice."

He later added: "They ruined the whole game. I think that's basically the gist of what I'm trying to say."

Sorry, Joel, not buying it. This was your young team unraveling in front of your eyes. The guys in stripes had nothing to do with it.

The Hawks will learn from Sunday's painful experience, and perhaps they will learn to win just like big brother.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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