After dispatching the Minnesota Wild with relative ease in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville made it abundantly clear that more would be expected.
"I still think there's another level we gotta get to," Quenneville said after the series ended last week.
For the most part, the veteran bench boss got what he was looking for Wednesday at United Center. Chicago used a dominant final 20 minutes to blow by Detroit 4-1 in Game 1 of their conference semifinal series.
"Much better from our prior series," Quenneville noted. "I thought what we're talking about in our team game was in place. Had some pace, some speed, zone time, and I thought everyone contributed."
In the first period, Chicago looked like a team that hadn't played in almost a week. By the third, Detroit looked like a team that basically had four cross-country flights in about a week's time.
"I don't know if they had their legs in the first period," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I thought they skated way better than we did in the second and third. To be honest with you, we're looking forward to a day off. We did a lot of traveling in the first series, back and forth. I saw us yesterday (in practice) and I wasn't surprised when I saw us today."
This isn't an excuse, at least not the way Babcock offered it up. Face it: There's a few reasons the Red Wings are really looking forward to playing in the Eastern Conference starting next season, and "Not having to leave the time zone for playoff games" has to be high on the list.
Because there is an extra day between games -- they don't play until Saturday afternoon -- the Red Wings flew back to Detroit after the game, and will return to Chicago on Friday.
I thought Detroit showed it can compete over the long haul in this series. During the first period, the Wings were physical, won faceoffs, and seemed to have Chicago on its heels for a good portion of the 20 minutes.
Does that sound familiar, Blackhawks fans? It should, because Minnesota did similar things for short stretches of the first round.
And much like the first round series, the Red Wings couldn't sustain that level of intensity over 60 minutes. They also couldn't get pucks past Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who continues to look very sharp. As long as Crawford is playing this well, it will be incredibly difficult to beat the Blackhawks, especially when four wins over six games is required like it now is for Detroit.
As well as Jimmy Howard played for Detroit, he deserved a better fate than his team losing by three goals.
"Howie was unbelievable for us again," captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "Really gave us a chance to win. We had a few chances but couldn't really find a way to score a goal."
Wild fans can sympathize. Josh Harding deserved a better fate, too.
Zetterberg also echoed his coach's thoughts on how the game turned in the last 40 minutes.
"I think in the first it was pretty even," he said, "but then I think in the second and third they looked like they had a little more energy than we did. It's going to be nice to have a day off (Thursday) and practice and then looking forward to Game 2."
This series can still turn, but it might take a Crawford meltdown. Travel or not, the Red Wings struggled to handle Chicago's depth. Dave Bolland made an obvious impact in his return to the lineup, Marcus Kruger scored a huge goal in the third period, and it was defenseman Johnny Oduya -- not well-known stars Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook -- scoring the winning goal on a nice wrist shot in the third.
Marian Hossa had a power play goal for Chicago, but the top line was generally held off the scoresheet again. It wasn't for a lack of chances. Jonathan Toews and Hossa combined for a glorious scoring chance in the game's first minute, and Brandon Saad was able to get to the net a few times. Howard shut the door on them, plain and simple.
Can Babcock find a matchup to slow them down? Can he find a way to get his top players going? If he answers those questions, Detroit has more than a chip and a chair in this series. If he doesn't, it will end quickly, and Detroit can begin preparing for its run in the Eastern Conference.