Controversial? Brutal? "Gutless" in the words of Brian Campbell?
However you describe Niklas Kronwall's hit on Martin Havlat in Game 3, it is safe to say that this was a turning point in the series. Yes, there was no Nikolai Khabibulin today, and that played a factor in Detroit's 6-1 rout of the hometown Hawks. Yet, it also looked like Chicago was out for revenge, ready to play a physical game against the NHL's best team; it clearly did not work.
The Blackhawks never got back in the game following a 2-nothing deficit after one period. Goalie Cristobal Huet looked rusty in his first start of the playoffs, and there was clearly more crowd noise during Jim Cornelison's national anthem than there was in the game itself. Chicago looked like a young team, taking dumb penalty after dumb penalty. Ben Eager received a pair of 10-minute misconducts and rookie Chris Versteeg received a game misconduct in the third period.
The Hawks played physical, but Detroit played smart. In the end, it was the defending champion Red Wings that controlled things, and they take a 3-1 series lead back to Detroit. It did not matter that defenseman Nikolas Lindstrom was out with injury, along with Kris Draper and Pavel Datsyuk.
The fans booed Kronwall each and every time he touched the puck. This is understandable, but for the players on the ice, going out of their way to hit people away from the play was not the way to go about things. You do not bully around the Detroit Red Wings, and this is a lesson learned for the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Hawks are a young team, and the series is not over yet. Detroit still needs one more win, but you can sense some deflation in the eyes of the Hawks. It has been a great season, and nobody expected Chicago to reach the Western Conference Finals this year. They will not be happy with an exit in this round, but maybe, it is a step in the learning process before the team can really get over the hump.
We will see how they respond in Wednesday's Game 5. I know one thing...if they want to check people left and right, for no apparent reason other than revenge following Kronwall's hit, they will not respond well.