DETROIT -- The message in the Detroit Red Wings locker room on Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena following another frustrating loss to Nashville in Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinals series was simple.
Technically speaking, Cleary is right.
However, after dropping two straight home games in a building they were dominant in all season, the Red Wings have fallen behind 3-1 in the series and are now precariously close to a third straight exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs sooner than they expected. This time, it could be much sooner with Game 5 on Friday in Nashville now an elimination game.
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"You can't look at the big picture," said 41-year old Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who like most of his teammates has been in this position plenty of times before. "You've got to break it down and look at that one game [on Friday]. We've got to win one game and that'll be our mind-set. We can't look any further than that or we're done. We know we just have to keep our mind on that next game."
If they let their minds wander, only bad things can come of it.
Despite the Predators being on the verge of clinching, it's been kind of a weird series. An argument could be made that each of the first four games was won by the team that got outplayed for much of the game, including Detroit's lone victory in Game 2 at Bridgestone Arena -- when the Red Wings won 3-2 despite putting only 17 shots on goal.
Conversely, in all three losses they have outshot Nashville by wide margins and controlled the puck for long stretches of time. Rinne, however, has been outstanding. The Preds defense is also putting up hockey's version of a soccer "wall" in front of him -- continually collapsing into a cluster in front of the 6-foot-5 Rinne, who's still able to see over them just fine.
Nashville has blocked 61 shots through the first four games of the series and the Predators defensemen are usually positioned close enough to the net that they're in great position to clear out any rebounds.
It's left the Red Wings only one frustrating option to try and score more goals than the eight they've potted on a whopping 138 shots.
"Their goalie is making saves," Detroit's Drew Miller said. "We just have to find a way to score. We're out there working hard and it shows that we want to win. We just have to keep putting shots on net and eventually they're going to go in."
Time, however, is running out on that theory and the Wings know it.
"It's do or die," Miller said. "We have to go in, play our game and get a win."
Otherwise, it's an even longer offseason awaiting them than the previous two -- which both began after losing to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Semifinals. That said, last year's loss to the Sharks has to become part of the rally cry this time -- after coming back from an even worse position, down 3-0 in the series, to force a Game 7 in San Jose.
"You can't look at the big picture. You've got to break it down and look at that one game [on Friday]. We've got to win one game and that'll be our mind-set. We can't look any further than that or we're done. We know we just have to keep our mind on that next game."
-- Red Wings' captain Nicklas Lidstrom
"[Lidstrom] said we've got to go to Nashville and just try to win one … then win another one when we get back here," said Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who's currently on the losing end of the goaltending matchup against Rinne by a sizable margin statistically speaking. "We have to start with Friday and not get ahead of ourselves. We've been in this situation before and we know what we're capable of. Sometimes when you feel like you're outplaying them, [but] you don't always win. You have to remain positive."
As Howard pointed out, that's the main message from Lidstrom, Detroit's legendary captain. He's not only hoisted the Stanley Cup four times, but Lidstrom has now played in 262 NHL playoff games during his 20-year career.
"It's disappointing when you're not getting rewarded on the chances you're getting," Lidstrom said. "You can't get discouraged. That's playoff hockey. You have to battle through it."