If the Blackhawks are going to beat the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals that begin Wednesday at the United Center, it all starts with shutting down Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
For most teams, that's easier said than done.
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Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red WingsG1: Wed. at Hawks, 7 p.m.
G2: at Hawks, TBD
G3: at Detroit, TBD
G4: at Detroit, TBD
G5: at Hawks, TBD *
G6: at Detroit, TBD *
G7: at Hawks, TBD *
* If necessary
Datsyuk, the Russian wizard, has a big fan in former Red Wings teammate Marian Hossa.
"He's one of the biggest talents I ever played with," Hossa said Monday. "He's got extraordinary skill with the puck, he's so smart and poised with the puck. I learned some stuff during the one year from him. He was fun to watch even in a practice. We all face a big challenge. We have to be careful when he's on the ice because he can make the difference."
For the first six games against Anaheim, Datsyuk and Zetterberg played on the same line, but Red Wings coach Mike Babcock split them up for Game 7 on Sunday to prevent the Ducks from easily checking them both.
"I thought I should have (done it) last time in here (for Game 5) and I didn't," Babcock said. "I met with the guys and told them we were going to do it until the 10-minute mark, just to get through the first bit, and then get them back together. But I liked what was going on so much I just kept them (apart)."
Zetterberg had a goal and an assist in Game 7, giving him 3 goals and 2 assists in Games 6 and 7 -- two elimination games for Detroit.
The Hawks will likely use Jonathan Toews against Datsyuk along with the defense pair of Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
But if Datsyuk and Zetterberg are split up it will force Hawks coach Joel Quenneville to make a decision with who to play against Zetterberg.
"They're the two guys that are making their offense go right now," Toews said. "For myself, especially, there's some responsibility with maybe getting on the score sheet a little more often, but also trying to keep those guys away from the net."
Hawks goalie Corey Crawford has had great success against Detroit in his career, going 11-2-2, and contends you always have to be aware of where Datsyuk and Zetterberg are.
"You've got to stay patient, stay with the shooter," Crawford said. "Sometimes, because they are so creative, it's easy to think they're going to pass the puck to an open player. They have hard, accurate shots too, so I just have to stay patient and stay with the shooter and make sure I make the first save."
These are two of the oldest rivals in the NHL getting ready to meet for the last time as Western Conference members. The Red Wings are moving to the East next season under the new realignment.
The only way they could meet in the playoffs after this would be in the Stanley Cup Finals.
"Both teams know quite a bit about each other," Detroit's Justin Abdelkader said. "It's going to be a fun series, fun for our fans. We're happy to be going to the East, but disappointed we're not going to be playing Chicago as much. It will be good to go out with one last playoff series with them."
The Hawks and Red Wings have met 725 times during the regular season while meeting another 74 times in the playoffs. Only Boston and Montreal -- with 891 total games that include 170 playoff meetings -- have met more often.
"They're a good team, been playing well, took care of business early against Minnesota," Zetterberg said. "It's going to be a tough one for us, but if we play well, do the right things, we'll have a chance."
The Hawks swept the season series from Detroit 4-0, but two of the games were decided in shootouts and a third in overtime.
Babcock had some fun when talking about playing the Hawks.
"We're excited," Babcock said. "Chicago's a great city, they got great players. They led the West. We got a lot of reasons to be excited about playing them. They got nice restaurants. We'll have a good time.
"They got five (defensemen) that are flat out great skaters. They got a captain who's a real good human being and a great leader, and they got lots of skill and good depth. They're well organized. The national anthem is fun -- lots of things to like about Chicago. Good uniforms."
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