DETROIT – Oh, it seemed like such a sucker bet, didn’t it?
You looked at the Blackhawks regular-season mastery of the Detroit Red Wings and you considered anything but a Hawks’ sweep out of the realm of reality.
Even if you weren’t aware the Hawks were a gaudy 9-1-1 at Joe Louis Arena since the 2009-10 season, you believed Monday night would quickly erase any lingering memory of the way the Red Wings manhandled the Hawks in Game 2.
But then the came Game 3 when the kind of raw, flesh-beating hockey that has defined this rivalry for decades re-emerged and awakened the Red Wings in a 3-1 victory that gives Detroit a 2-1 edge in the Western Conference semifinals.
And just like that, the octopi hit the fan.
For a second straight game, the Red Wings flat-out out-played the Hawks. For the second straight game, the Hawks seemed to lack urgency and allowed Detroit to control the pace from the middle of the second period on.
If the Red Wings don’t have your attention now, it’s time to set your Chelsea Dagger alarm clock and wake up because you can be sure the Hawks understand that the Red Wings represent a serious obstacle between them and the Stanley Cup championship many believed was a foregone conclusion.
“It takes something like this to slap you in the face, to really understand what adversity is and how tough the playoffs can be,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said, surrounded by a host of reporters, television cameras and boom microphones.
The swagger that the Hawks carried into the series? The Red Wings have taken that along with momentum they’ll carry into what is now a must-win Game 4 back here in Detroit.
All that skill that seemed to be so lopsided in the Hawks’ favor? Detroit’s physical playing style once again neutralized that to the point of making the Hawks look downright mortal.
And remember any talk of Hockeytown taking up residency at the Madhouse on Madison, well, perhaps now isn’t the time to be pulling up roots just yet.
The Hawks will spend the next two days at home in Chicago. There will be no panic. But there better be some serious soul-searching that takes place because if the Hawks return to Joe Louis Arena without the kind of in-your-face urgency they should have had Monday night, this won’t end the way you expected it to.
The problem now is that Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard is more confident than ever after allowing only one goal in each of the last two games. Never mind that Toews still hasn’t scored in the playoffs, there isn’t anyone not named Patrick Kane that has found the back of the net since Game 1.
And here’s perhaps the biggest issue with the fact that the Hawks were so good during the regular season: They never dealt with adversity, they never had to play through tough times and never had to come up with answers to questions that threw them off track.
So now comes the test and how the Hawks respond may not determine how the rest of this series plays out, but if they have what it takes to again hoist the Stanley Cup.
“We just have to dig deep and battle,” goalie Corey Crawford said, repeating the same cliche’ every team that has had to play from behind has used since the beginning of man.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The series is far from over and both teams know it. Expect the Hawks to deliver their most passionate performance of the season Thursday. But if they don’t and the Red Wings head back to Chicago up three games to one, the stress that eluded the Hawks all season long will be very, very real.
And at least right now, the Hawks look far from being a sure bet.
• Jeff Arnold is a sports reporter with the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @NWH_JeffArnold.