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Wings hit playoff form with a bang

by Mike G. Morreale
COLUMBUS - What is it about the Stanley Cup Playoffs that brings out the beast in the Detroit Red Wings?

En route to earning a 2-0 lead in their best-of-7 Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, not only have the defending Stanley Cup champions held All-Star forward Rick Nash pointless and their opponent's power-play powerless, but the club has certainly shown a propensity to play the body.

Now, according to the team media guides, the Wings' average of 6-foot, 196 pounds is a tad smaller in stature to the 6-foot-2, 212-pound average over in Columbus. That physicality is something Red Wings coach Mike Babcock hopes will continue on Tuesday in Game 3 when the first playoff contest in Columbus history takes place before what is sure to be a rowdy Nationwide Arena crowd.

"I think we're back to being as physical as we were last year at playoff time, so that means we're more physical than we were at any time during the regular season and that's just standard for our team," Babcock said. "The way our team is built, we have a skilled tempo team that is willing to pay the price to be successful this time of year. And, in order to be successful, part of that is engaging physically."

In two games, the Wings have outscored (8-1) and outhit (63-56) the Blue Jackets -- a sure sign the club is already in mid-playoff form.

"We never hit anyone the last couple of weeks of the season as soon as we knew we were out of the battle for the Presidents' Trophy," Babcock said. "We basically didn't engage physically at all and that's just part of a veteran group understanding what's going to happen next."

What happened next, once the playoffs got underway, was one mediocre period of hockey followed by five straight successful ones. In fact, the opening 20 minutes of Game 1 marked the only time in this series where the Wings were held scoreless, while allowing a period-high 13 shots.

"When you talk physical, you can't just run around with your head cut off, you have to take what you're given and play the game hard," Babcock said. "Part of toughness, in my opinion, is how bad you want the puck, and we have done a good job of wanting the puck over the first two games."

In Game 1, the diminutive one, Pavel Datsyuk -- all 5-foot-11, 194 pounds of him -- led the way with six body checks. In Game 2 on Saturday, Darren Helm (5-11, 172) exhibited his feisty side with five hits despite taking only 11 shifts.

It's that type of contribution, be it a top-line center in Datsyuk or a fourth-line pivot in Helm, that has enabled the Red Wings to establish control of this series.

"Everything is just taken to another level in the playoffs and the pace of the game is higher; the atmosphere around you is higher," said Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg. "We just want to play as good as we can, so if that means getting physical, then that's how we'll do it."

There's no question the spirited effort has also given Detroit added confidence on its penalty kill -- an area that was actually improving during the final weeks of the regular season.

The Wings finished 25th overall (78.3 percent) on the penalty kill in the regular season. Keep in mind, however, the team went 20-for-23 (87 percent) in the month of April and has rode that momentum into the postseason. Detroit has stifled the Blue Jackets on all seven of their power-play opportunities in this series, including five in Game 1.

Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, who, along with partner Brian Rafalski, has done a masterful job of shutting down 40-goal scorer Rick Nash in this series, has seen drastic improvement with his team down a man.

"As a group of four on the ice, we're not spread out because when we are, teams can find holes on us, so we've been able to play really tight as a group of four and we've been in shooting lanes," said the Detroit captain. "If the shot gets through, Ozzie (Chris Osgood) has been there making the saves."

"I think we're doing an OK job (on the PK)," Zetterberg said. "We made some changes in the regular season because we weren't doing so well. We just changed our structure and are now playing with a little more desperation to get pucks out of our end. Our face-offs have also been very important and we've had success."

While the face-off advantage could change slightly now that the series shifts to Columbus and the host team has the edge of seeing Detroit centers place their sticks down first, it won't matter much if the Blue Jackets continue to stall offensively.

The ferocity with which the Wings have denied the Blue Jackets in the defensive zone is one other area that has pleased Lidstrom.

"I think we're back to being as physical as we were last year at playoff time, so that means we're more physical than we were at any time during the regular season and that's just standard for our team." -- Detroit coach Mike Babcock
"Our defensive-zone play in our own end has been good and that was one other area that concerned me (entering the playoffs)," Lidstrom said. "We had too many letdowns of leaving players open and I think we've been playing a lot better in our own zone, without the puck, and that's going to be crucial for the remainder of the playoffs."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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