DETROIT -- It's the third straight year the Detroit Red Wings have found themselves just one loss away from the season ending prematurely, only this time it's in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
The Nashville Predators have taken a 3-1 series lead based off star goalie Pekka Rinne and the defense in front of him, despite Detroit having a staggering advantage in shots through the first four games (138-91). As the series shifts back to Nashville's Bridgestone Arena for Game 5 on Friday (8 p.m. CBC,CNBC,RDSI), the Red Wings need to stave off elimination and get back into the series.
Here are five ways to do it:
1. Keep the faith: If there is any good news in Detroit's recent playoff failings, it's that the Wings ought to be familiar with the position they currently find themselves in. Last year in the Western Conference Semfinals, Detroit got down 3-0 to San Jose and managed to win three straight to force a seventh game -- which the Sharks won at HP Pavilion.
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The big difference is that Detroit won Game 4 of that series on home ice to help swing momentum back in their favor. It will be a tougher task to regain lost footing on the road, but the Red Wings have the veteran leadership, talent and experience to do it.
"It definitely is a battle," Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard said. "Right now they're getting the bounces. We have to find a way to shift that. We've been in this situation before in this dressing room. I'm not giving up."
Neither should his teammates.
2. Tear down that wall: Nashville has leaned heavily on Rinne, who thrives with a lot of shots put on him. However, it's not all Rinne. The Predators are also doing a great job of eliminating scoring chances from the middle of the ice in the offensive zone.
They're keeping almost everything the Red Wings do to the outside and collapsing three or sometimes four skaters in front of Rinne whenever Detroit's cycle game is working. The Preds are not only blocking shots -- 61 so far -- but also know the 6-foot-5 Rinne is behind them, able to see over the "wall" of teammates in front him.
Just think of what that "wall" will look like on penalty kills if 6-foot-7 Nashville defenseman Hal Gill can return for Game 5 from a lower-body injury that's held him out of the first four contests. Detroit must not only find a way to break up the "wall" of Predators shot blockers, but also make Nashville pay when the Wings get a good scoring chance.
"A lot of times we're making [Rinne] really good," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "He's one of the best goalies in the League. We knew that coming into this series, [but] we have to capitalize on our chances, simple as that."
3. Patience is still a virtue: Their lack of scoring punch, especially in the last two games, is causing the normally disciplined Red Wings to abandon their hockey sense at key times -- which has led to most of Nashville's goals.
The Predators have lamented their own play after Game 3 and Game 4, but it looks like they're just waiting for the right opportunities to counterpunch and making each count.
Detroit's defense has been caught out of position on odd-man rushes several times, including a costly mental error to allow Kevin Klein's game-winning goal in Game 4 -- scored just minutes after Jiri Hudler knotted the game for Detroit 1-1 early in the third.
Erat slipped a sharp pass back to the uncovered Klein in the low slot and he scored into a wide open net for a 2-1 lead that stood up.
"I don't know why we had that many players going after the puck," said Red Wings captain Nick Lidstrom, who was one of the Wings who Erat initially split. "I know they crisscrossed in the neutral zone to create the chance they got. I think we got out of position. I actually have to watch the film to see how they got that wide open. I think we've got too many guys going after the puck instead of kind of staying in the slot and covering the guy in the slot."
"A lot of times we're making [Rinne] really good. He's one of the best goalies in the League. We knew that coming into this series, [but] we have to capitalize on our chances, simple as that."
-- Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall
It wasn't the only time Detroit's defense has suffered a glaring breakdown and if the Wings are going to get back into this series they need to fix them.
4. Give yourself a lift ... or several: It sounds a lot easier than it actually is, but the Red Wings must start lifting more shots when they get chances in close against Rinne.
He's tall and very athletic, so when he drops to his knees his pads virtually take away the entire bottom of the goal. He also happens to be fantastic with his catching glove. The Red Wings have scored against him, of course, but often it's been off roofed wrist shots over the blocker side.
That seems to be the hardest spot for Rinne to cover. In Game 4 on Tuesday night the Red Wings buzzed around the Predators net more than a few times trying to slip rebound shots past Rinne. They weren't lifting the puck, though, and often shot it right into his pads.
That needs to change, starting in Game 5.
5. Don't take the bait: Tuesday's game was the first one Detroit didn't hamper itself by taking a bunch of bad penalties. In fact, the Wings actually earned seven power plays to just three for Nashville -- but there's still an undercurrent of tension in this series because of several incidents.
The most publicized, of course, was the incident between Shea Weber and Henrik Zetterberg immediately after Game 1 ended, for which Weber was fined $2,500, the maximum allowable under the CBA, but several others have added to the tenor of angst between the Central Division rivals.
Tuesday's Game 4 didn't bring many extra-curriculars, but the Wings can't get sucked into taking silly penalties. They also need to keep their focus while defending and not put themselves in position to get called for stick penalties.
"I think it's huge," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of disciplined play. "It's well-documented. You go through all the penalties. You can blame someone else, [but] that's a waste of time. We got to look at ourselves and do a better job."