Mike Babcock and Randy Carlyle are coaches trying to keep their teams together despite growing adversity that is threatening to take down their once-promising seasons.
HBO's cameras captured the coaches and their teams, Babcock's Detroit Red Wings and Carlyle's Toronto Maple Leafs, in their most raw and exposed states and delivered the stunning real-life drama to viewers Saturday night in Part 2 of "24/7 Red Wings-Maple Leafs: Road to the NHL Winter Classic."
The final scene of the near hour-long episode depicts the vulnerabilities that the Red Wings and Maple Leafs carried into their game Saturday night in Toronto, a game that served as a preview for the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic that will be played Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC).
24/7: ROAD TO THE WINTER CLASSIC
Watch complete first episode of '24/7'The Maple Leafs and Red Wings are living life in front of the HBO cameras in anticipation of the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Check out the premiere episode of '24/7' as the teams began their journeys to The Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., for an outdoor clash on Jan. 1, 2014. WATCH NOW ›
The Maple Leafs were getting scolded by Carlyle for not working hard enough and not caring enough during a 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers. Carlyle's booming voice was picked up by the cameras stationed outside of Toronto's dressing room. He was ripping into his team, and he wasn't holding back.
"It's a [expletive] embarrassment," Carlyle yelled. "We're getting outworked, outexecuted, outpassioned, out every [expletive] thing. It is [expletive] unacceptable. We're [expletive] lazy."
Roughly 200 miles away at Joe Louis Arena, the Red Wings were getting blown out by the Anaheim Ducks. They were down 4-1 after the first period and Babcock, clearly fuming, walked into the dressing room and promptly kicked HBO's camera crew out of the room. He used some choice words to get them out and mentioned that he shut the door for a reason.
The buildup to the final moments of Part 2 also included unforgettable moments of candor from the coaches and players on these struggling teams.
Here are five scenes that led to the intense conclusion:
Babcock, the whiteboard and injuries
Babcock had his marker in hand, the whiteboard in his office in front of him, and he was making changes that he had no choice but to make because of the barrage of injuries that the Red Wings have been forced to deal with.
He wiped out numbers for players who were previously in the lineup but could no longer play. He rewrote those numbers on the right side. The list included 14, 65, 35, 40, 43, 90, 8 and 93.
Babcock raced through all of them.
Gustav Nyquist (14) has a groin injury. Danny DeKeyser (65) has a shoulder injury. Jimmy Howard (35) has a knee injury. Henrik Zetterberg (40) has a back injury. Darren Helm (43) has a shoulder injury. Stephen Weiss (90) has a sports hernia. Justin Abdelkader (8) has a head injury. Johan Franzen (93) has a head injury.
"Any way you look at it lots of guys are getting good opportunity," Babcock said.
He then pointed to Nos. 17, 41, 15 and 26, mentioning each of them were in the minors. That's Patrick Eaves, Luke Glendening, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco. He pointed at the numbers of the guys who won't play and said they don't matter. He motioned over to the numbers for the guys who were going to be in the lineup and said they do matter.
"When you're healthy you'll tell us and we'll play," Babcock said. "In the meantime, we've gotta find a way to do it. That's just a process of injuries in the league. So what, win a game."
Captains meet in Pittsburgh
The Maple Leafs were midway through a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins when Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby had a meeting with the officials in front of the penalty boxes to go over the discipline that was going to be doled out for the rough stuff that was going on in the game.
Viewers generally don't get an opportunity to hear what is said in these moments. HBO had fortuitously placed microphones that picked up the conversation.
Crosby complained to Phaneuf about Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri hitting him in the back even though Crosby was shown throwing a retaliatory elbow at the back of Kadri's head.
Crosby called Kadri "an [expletive] dummy."
Phaneuf didn't necessarily come to the defense of his teammate, but he yelled at Crosby for hitting him from behind. Crosby took umbrage with that thought, telling Phaneuf that not only did he not hit him from behind, but he doesn't hit anyone at all and hasn't all season.
Phaneuf, likely referencing a recent play in the game, said Crosby wouldn't like it if he pushed him from behind. Phaneuf detailed to Crosby that he has a job to do, and Crosby responded by calling Kadri "a joke."
Crosby then scored a few minutes later to put the Penguins up 2-1. An empty-net goal would cap a sour performance for the Maple Leafs in Pittsburgh, a performance that came on the heels of a 7-3 win against the Chicago Blackhawks, arguably Toronto's best game of the season.
Carlyle's assessment of his team's performance was blunt.
"We were not moving. We were not thinking. We were not playing to the level we are capable of playing. You could tell in the first period we were overwhelmed by the hockey game."
A coach telling it like it is to his players
BEST TWO QUOTES FROM EPISODE TWO
Randy Carlyle talking about Nazem Kadri:
"Well, Nazem Kadri is a young skilled player. He's got a very high level of skill. If we can surround him with the right environment and the right people, we think he has the ability to be a top-two center in the League. He thinks he's a top-one right now, but we have to tone him down every once in a while because he's got a very high opinion of himself. But that's a strength. I don't think you can ever reach the pinnacle as far as the highest level you can reach if unless you have that confidence in your abilities. He doesn't lack confidence. That's for sure."
Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk on his desire to be better during Detroit's losing streak:
"When we go through this losing streak for me it's a good opportunity to check yourself. I need to play better. I need to be more stood up, more be productive, more be shooting. I think it starts from me. If I step up and play better, everybody will follow."
Early in the episode, prior to Toronto's win against the Blackhawks, Carlyle spoke to his team on the ice at the end of the morning skate and told the players they weren't giving enough energy and emotion. He then called defensemen Paul Ranger and Mark Fraser over to him.
Carlyle did not mince his words when talking to blueliners.
"Right now you guys aren't playing tonight," he told them. "You're not giving us what we need. You guys gotta decide what you're going to do. I'm talking to you both because it's basically looking at you as a pair and if you're going to play on our hockey club your level of play has got to go up. Understand?"
They clearly did. The meeting ended right then and there.
Abdelkader's foggy night
The scene started with images of Abdelkader and Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith getting dressed to go to work. The Red Wings were playing the Penguins and the two young players, who live in neighboring apartments in the suburbs, were, as they do every day, driving to the rink together.
It was a snowy day in Detroit and they witnessed a pickup truck drive off the road. Abdelkader joked that it was "a hazard" and chided Smith by saying, "it looks like you on the ice."
Smith would need a ride home from someone else because during the game that night Abdelkader was hit in the head by a flagrant elbow thrown by Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland. Abdelkader sustained a concussion and Engelland would later get a five-game suspension for the hit.
Pittsburgh won the game 4-1 and Abdelkader's father had to drive him home. It was just another injury on Detroit's already-too-long list of players out of the lineup.
Introducing Ken Holland
HBO finally introduced the viewer to Detroit general manager Ken Holland 22 minutes into Part 2. It was not the type of introduction Holland would have liked.
He was calm, cool and collected as he told ex-Red Wings player and current special assistant to the general manager Kris Draper that the team would have to "regroup tomorrow" following a 3-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Franzen was injured in that game.
Holland made his way down to the dressing room area and into Babcock's office, where the two of them were shown having a discussion about what has been ailing the Red Wings lately.
"The way we're going right now we score a goal and it's a no goal," Holland told Babcock. "When things are going good it's a non-issue. Right now it's…
"It's an issue," Babcock interrupted.
Holland responded by saying, "The hard part is we make a couple mistakes …
"It's in our net," Babcock said. "We're not scoring."
"Well sometimes you score and those mistakes, they're not a factor," Holland added. "When you don't score, it's nothing-nothing, nothing-nothing, all of a sudden we get our hands on the puck, it's a turnover and it's in our net."
"I thought we did lots of good things," Babcock said, "but we find a way not to win."