Make no mistake about it, this has been a coach's series.
Mike Babcock knows his Detroit Red Wings are up against a team with overpowering talent in the Chicago Blackhawks, and he has done some of his best coaching in helping his team build a 3-1 lead after five games.
However, after Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks rebounded from a three-game losing streak in the series with a 4-1 victory in Game 5, Babcock will have to be even better if the Red Wings are going to come away with a series triumph.
The Blackhawks were the dominant team on Saturday, outshooting the Red Wings 45-26. They regained their territorial edge and looked more explosive in this game.
Chicago seemed to solve the riddle of Jimmy Howard when Bryan Bickell scored the first goal of the game in the first period, but the most important sequence came in the second period.
The Red Wings had tied the game 1-1 on a goal by Daniel Cleary midway through the frame, and the Blackhawks appeared vulnerable. However, Andrew Shaw scored a much-needed power-play goal, and Jonathan Toews finally tallied his first goal of the playoffs minutes later. That gave Chicago a 3-1 lead and control of the game.
Credit Quenneville for making the right moves in Game 5.
Now, Babcock has to prepare his team to play and get it to forget the most recent results. He has to convince his players that they are the better team in this series.
Babcock put the Game 5 loss behind him minutes after it was over:
"I can be as disappointed as I want...we lost the game, we've got a Game 6 at home...you've gotta compete." - Mike Babcock— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) May 26, 2013
Babcock may be right that his team has two chances to win the series because a victory in Game 6 or 7 will do the trick, but the reality is that if the Red Wings don't win at home on Monday, it might be nearly impossible to take Game 7 in Chicago.
If the Blackhawks come back to their building with a two-game winning streak and they can get their relentless offense rolling, it is probably too much for any team in the league to overcome. It's a situation that the Red Wings can avoid by playing their best game at home.
Babcock has long been one of the best coaches in the NHL, and he didn't get to that level by not recognizing his team's opportunities.
He has to take advantage of having the last change and getting a chance to put Henrik Zetterberg on Toews in all situations.
Babcock excels at finding the best matchups for his team, giving them a workable strategy and building up players who may need help finding their confidence.
Howard may just need a bit of a boost. He didn't lose his confidence because the Blackhawks scored four goals in Game 5, but he could need to hear how much his coach believes in him. That will help him put him in his best effort when the Wings need it most.
Babcock will be able to get his message across because his team has excellent veteran leadership. When you can depend on Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Niklas Kronwall and Cleary to enforce the message, it makes the job easier. The Red Wings have to take space away from the Blackhawks and get them out of their comfort zone.
Babcock's team must play determined hockey if it is going to beat Chicago. The Blackhawks finally got Toews going in Game 5, and he is likely to feel much more jump in Game 6 because he no longer has a zero in the goals scored column.
It is up to the Red Wings to put the pressure back on the Blackhawks by scoring early in the game.
They will be prepared. They have Babcock to get them ready. He will not let this opportunity slip through his fingers.
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