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Troubling stretch run continues for Red Wings

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- They've stormed into the playoffs before and lost in the first round, and then stumbled into the playoffs and won the Stanley Cup.
So does it really matter that the Detroit Red Wings aren't streaking to a great finish to the regular season?
Does Detroit need to rebound strong on Sunday in Chicago from a lackluster 4-2 loss to the visiting Blackhawks on Friday night at Joe Louis Arena -- and does it even bother them that they're now just 1-3-1 this season against the Hawks?
Maybe a little yes and no -- but this one definitely caught their attention.
"I've been through it a number of different times and a number of different ways," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "(We've been) on a roll, going in bad, going in wondering if you'll ever win again and my first (year) here we couldn't lose. Six games later, we were done. There's lots of different ways we've gone about our business here and obviously this isn't what you draw up. You don't want to be going into the playoffs the way we have. There's no question about it."
Babcock was clearly upset with the way this game turned out for a number of reasons. It was a sour way to end the regular season home schedule. It was also a stinging way to lose to a Central Division rival that needed the two points badly to keep hold of a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Still, what seemed to bother Babcock and his team the most was more internal than external as the playoffs approach next week. Detroit started the day third in the West, just one point behind the San Jose Sharks, but squandered an opportunity to keep up or even pass them for the second spot.
"You want to go in feeling good about yourself," Babcock said. "I don't think your roll has to be a month long or anything like that, but I think you want to go in feeling good. There's no way we can leave the rink tonight feeling good about ourselves."
This was the second time in the last 10 days the Red Wings were handled easily by a Central Division rival in front of their home fans. It continues a disturbing trend of inconsistent -- not to mention sloppy -- play on home ice.
Counting this loss, Detroit's record dropped to just 3-5-2 overall in its past 10 games and 4-4-2 in the past 10 games at Joe Louis Arena. The part that's most troubling is how they've played in several of those defeats.
There have been some close games, but the Red Wings have also been controlled far too easily in several recent defeats, including Friday. In those losses, Detroit has not looked like a team that's ready to contend for the Stanley Cup.
The Wings have also really struggled against the Blackhawks, having now dropped four straight games to the defending Cup champions after spoiling Chicago's home opener and banner-raising on Oct. 9 at the United Center.
"They're the defending Stanley Cup champs and they're a good team," said Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who was one of the few Detroit players without a minus rating on the stat sheet. "When they're playing the way they played tonight, you have to show up and play a lot better than the way we did tonight."
It was bad for the Red Wings right from the start. The Hawks came in with the mindset that they needed to sweep the Wings this weekend to qualify for the playoffs and played like it immediately.
Brent Seabrook potted his eighth goal of the season just 27 seconds into the game. Not long after, Chicago rookie Ben Smith scored his first career goal from the slot after Patrick Kane swiped at the puck in the Detroit zone and directed it to Smith in one fell swoop. Almost three minutes later Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell made it 3-0 at 8:45 of the first, and the boo birds started chirping louder.
Chicago's fourth goal, by former Red Wing Marian Hossa 6:44 into the second, was also unsettling for the Detroit faithful. Hossa was the recipient of a long stretch pass from Seabrook that actually deflected off Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart in the Detroit zone and set Hossa up for a breakaway.
Despite the Wings ultimately scoring twice, it just wasn't the way a team that's considered by many to be Cup contenders should be playing at this time of year.

"They’re the defending Stanley Cup champs and they’re a good team. When they’re playing the way they played tonight, you have to show up and play a lot better than the way we did tonight."
-- Nicklas Lidstrom on the Chicago Blackhawks

"You want to play better, that's for sure," Lidstrom said. "You don't want to play sloppy in your own zone by losing coverage and not taking care of the puck. That's something that's going to hurt us in the playoffs."
The good news for Detroit is that there is still a lot of talent on the roster -- including forward Henrik Zetterberg and defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who didn't play with minor injuries and won't play Sunday. Still, the question many are starting to ask about this team is simple: Can the Red Wings just flip a switch and get back to their old dominating ways once the playoffs start?
"I think it's very hard to just relax and all of a sudden think you're just going to turn it up when the playoffs come around," Lidstrom said. "It's very hard to do that."
Babcock couldn't agree more.
"The good thing about the playoffs is that it's only long for two teams," he said. "For us, we can be done in a heck of a hurry. And the sense of urgency that we've got to have and the change in our mindset that we've got to have obviously are very apparent in just watching this game tonight."

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