After matching the Bruins step for step in Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series and coming out of it with a 1-0 win, they have dropped two straight — one at TD Garden and one at Joe Louis Arena. Suddenly, instead of answering questions about their excellent composure and the strength of their young players against Boston’s veterans, they are answering questions about how to keep their emotions in check heading into a critical Game 4.
“As a coach, you leave the rink and you say to yourself, Did we maximize what we had?” said Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock. “Last night, when I left the rink, I thought they were more — they played harder than us. That has nothing to do with skill. That has to do with having your guys ready to play and playing hard. We looked like kids the last game.”
The Red Wings intended to get off to a good start in Game 3. They were playing at their home rink, in front of their fans, and instead of coming out of the first period with a lead, they headed to their dressing room down 2-0 and hearing boos from the home crowd.
“I think we've got to be playing with a little bit more urgency,” said forward Darren Helm. “It’s an important game tomorrow — a game that we probably need to win at home, with our fans giving us some energy. So we even that game up, and the series turns around. It’s a different outlook. So a game that we want to win, and hopefully we show up with the right attitude.”
Babcock and his players were the first to admit that there were problems with their game on Wednesday. They took a bad penalty early for too many men on the ice, which directly led to Boston’s first power play goal. They committed a bad line change later in the frame, which directly led to Boston’s second goal. Instead of getting off to a good start, they made mistakes and put themselves in a hole early.
But as defenseman Brendan Smith said, the silver lining is that their mistakes are easily correctable, and in that sense, they knew exactly what they had to do in Wednesday’s practice at the Joe.
“If you think about their two goals, those are two goals that we can easily correct, and then it’s a 0-0 game,” he said. “So there’s things that we know we’re better at, and we can do better, and that’s what were going to try to do.”
Wednesday was about keeping everything in perspective. It’s just one game, and it’s not like the Wings find themselves down 3-0. It’s 2-1, and a victory on Thursday will mean they head back to Boston with an even series.
“Both teams played really structured, played good defensively,” said forward Justin Abdelkader. “So just cleaning up a few areas, and let’s not get ourselves — it’s only 2-1 right now. Series isn’t over, so there’s still a long ways to go, and we got a game here Thursday at home, so hopefully we get that win and send it back to Boston 2-2.”
Smith did not attribute Wednesday’s slow start to nerves, though he did say that as the pressure and intensity amplifies with each game, it would be strange if his teammates weren’t feeling the nerves.
“You think any of these games, you would not have nerves for? Like, it’s tough,” he said. “Yeah, I guess every game gets more intense, so you have more nerves every game. It’s tough. I mean, you’re always going to have nerves. If you don’t have nerves, then I don’t know whats wrong with you because I remember something that [Wayne] Gretzky said: If you’re not nervous for the game, you’re not ready. You’re not prepared.”
“Sometimes, if you’re too nervous or too hyped up or not hyped up enough, that can hurt you. So it’s good to have nerves, but then you have to funnel it in the right direction.”
Hearing boos from the home crowd on Tuesday night was no fun, but instead of getting down on themselves, Detroit is focused on giving the fans something to cheer about in Game 4.
“We don’t want to be booed,” Smith said. “We don’t want our fans to boo us, and I think it’s tough for them because we didn’t show up on time, and I understand that. We got to be playing better, but what we can do is, we can start putting some pucks in the net and we can start making some better plays. And then our fans are on our side, and we can use them.”
Kronwall, Datsyuk Miss Practice; Zetterberg Takes Part
There were two notable absences from the Red Wings’ practice on Wednesday: Both defenseman Niklas Kronwall and forward Pavel Datsyuk were out of commission because their significant others were either giving birth or about to give birth.
Both players are expected to be in the lineup for Game 4.
As a result, Henrik Zetterberg filled in on the Datsyuk line — and naturally, that got the speculation going about whether or not the captain might be in the lineup for Thursday’s Game 4.
Babcock didn’t say it was likely to happen, but he also didn’t rule it out as a possibility.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about it for the last eight weeks, so it doesn’t matter what I think about it,” Babcock said when asked about the possibility of having Zetterberg back for this round. “We have doctors here to decide that.”
Zetterberg said Wednesday’s practice was a positive step, but as for when he will be ready for game action, he is leaving that up to the doctors.
“I have to be ready to start playing, and today was a good step of practicing, but we’re still saying Round 2,” he said. “I can’t really say anything now — I’m just happy I had my first real skate, and we’ll see how I feel in the morning.”
While Zetterberg’s teammates said it would be a big boost to have him back, they were careful to acknowledge that they can’t rely upon — or expect — an early return.
“I think it would be a big help to this team, for sure,” Helm said. “But we just got to look at what’s in the lineup each night. Can’t change anything, so obviously, it would be a huge boost to get [Zetterberg and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson] back, but it’s just not in our cards right now. So we just got to do what we can.”
Added Abdelkader, “I’m not sure where he’s at, as far as where he’s feeling, but he looks good out there. I’m not sure what the doctors are saying, or how his symptoms are or how he’s feeling, but yeah, it would be a great addition. We can’t count on Zetterberg to be coming in — we’re not planning on him coming in in this series — so we got to get it done with the guys we have here.”
There was another new face on the ice for the Red Wings on Wednesday: defenseman Xavier Ouellet, who was recalled from Grand Rapids. Ouellet played in four regular-season games for Detroit this season, notching four shots and seven hits in 14:34 of ice time.
Offense A Priority
The Red Wings expected this series to be a grind offensively, and it has lived up to its billing. Through three games, Detroit has just two goals, and one of them was a bad bounce that got past Tuukka Rask in Game 2.
The other, of course, was the Game 1 game-winner, a beauty off the stick of Pavel Datsyuk. But the Wings know they can’t rely on Datsyuk to bring all of the offense. They need more of an impact from the young guns like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist that got them into the playoffs in the first place.
“Obviously, we need some other guys to generate,” Smith said. “We were lucky to get Nyquist and Tatar to step up huge at the end of the year. We need other guys to step up as well, for sure. If I was one of [Boston's] D, I’d focus on Pavel as well, and that means somebody else has more time and space, and then that guy has to put the puck in the net. And that could be any one of those guys I named.”
Finding offense has been easier said than done. Tatar’s line has been primarily matched up against Boston’s top line featuring David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla, and both coaches have been impressed with how well those two lines have checked each other through the first three games.
But whereas Boston’s role players have stepped up to put the puck in the net, Detroit has found a tough time finding new and unexpected sources of offense.
“We knew it was going to be tough to score,” Smith said. “I remember last year in the playoffs, it was really tough to score, and that’s how it is in playoff hockey. The styles that our teams play, it’s hard to score on both ends.”
Part of Detroit’s offensive struggles have stemmed from the fact that Rask has been “unreal,” in the words of Boston’s Dougie Hamilton. Rask was perfect in Game 3 and carries a 0.67 goals-against average into Game 4.
“He’s a great goalie — he’s making saves when he has to, [like] one-on-one on [Abdelkader] last night,” Helm said. “Their team’s doing a good job of keeping themselves to the outside, boxing us out, and when he needs to, he’s making big saves.”
When it comes down to it, though, Babcock said his players just have to find a way, plain and simple.
“Do you want to wait for next year or the year after, or do you want to just do something about it now?” Babcock said. “The way I look at it is, as detail, structure, work ethic — you control those things. I thought we were bad at them all last night.”
“What I ask everyone on our team is, Is there anything they’re doing that's making you compromise your game? If there isn’t, then do something about it.”