CHICAGO – Mike Babcock looked like a walking advertisement for Sprite as he strolled out of the Detroit Red Wings’ victorious locker room Saturday and entered a room filled with reporters.
As Babcock stepped behind the lectern, he found no place to set down his drink without it tipping. So the veteran coach leaned over and put the plastic 20-ounce bottle on the floor.
Moments earlier, the Wings had quenched their thirst with a dominant 4-1 win against the Blackhawks.
“Now, we’re freshened up,” Babcock said. “Series on.”
Count me among those who figured that the Hawks would breeze past the Wings in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals much like they did in the series opener. After all, the Hawks had dominated the Wings to win Game 1, and the second game of the series featured the same players, the same coaches and the same venue.
How much could change in a couple of days?
Oh, nothing. Except for everything.
Put away your broom, unless you want to use it to sweep away any remnants of disappointment from the Hawks’ setback Saturday. The Hawks did almost everything wrong, whether it was falling down to set up a Wings goal (ahem, Niklas Hjalmarsson) or turning over the puck in front of the net (that’s you, Michal Rozsival) or committing dumb penalties (cough, Dave Bolland, cough).
Less than 72 hours after outshooting the Wings, 42-21, the Hawks were outshot, 30-20.
The final horn that blared across the United Center – BLAMMM!!! – served as a wake-up call.
“Maybe after the first game, we thought it was going to be an easy series,” Hawks forward Patrick Kane said afterward in a sparsely populated locker room. “We had a lot of confidence in there.
“But they’re a good team, and they have a lot of players over there that still want to battle and prove themselves even more than they have already. By no means is it going to be an easy series or a cakewalk.”
The Hawks had manhandled the Wings in recent seasons, winning all five head-to-head matchups this season and posting a 13-2-2 record in the past three seasons heading into Game 2. Yet none of that matters now as the second-round series has been reduced to a best of five with the next two games scheduled for Monday and Thursday at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.
All of a sudden, a Hawks team that has faced little (if any) adversity since January must respond to its first legitimate challenge of the playoffs.
Forget hip checks and shoulder checks and poke checks. This lackadaisical loss – one of the worst of the season – served as a reality check.
“Across the board, we should all assume some responsibility that we have to be much better than that,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought our game was way off as far as the pace that was needed, and we weren’t smart in certain areas.”
At least the Hawks are smart enough to know when they’re not smart.
Hawks captain Jonathan Toews spoke for the team as he emphasized the importance of controlling the puck and avoiding “dangerous areas” on the ice where the Wings could capitalize. He said it was no secret that the Hawks needed fewer turnovers and more traffic at the net.
“I think we know exactly what we need to improve on, and we need to do it right away,” Toews said. “There’s no time to waste in this series.
“We know that going into their building, it’s going to be even more difficult than it was today. So we’ll turn the page and make sure we’re better in Game 3.”
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.