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Babcock defends his defenseman

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Brendan Smith was the fall guy after Wednesday's Game 1 loss at Chicago. He said he's learn from it and plans to have a better Game 2. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Red Wings had more jump in their practice on Friday, something that was missing prior to Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Having come off a grueling seven-game opening-round series with Anaheim – not to mention the five cross-continent trips that came with it – it’s understandable that the Red Wings would be a little fatigued in Game 1 with just two days of rest.

“We couldn't skate two practices ago. That's not a big surprise for us,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I think we knew that was a chance with our travel, with what had gone on and I didn't think it affected us much in the first period but I didn't think the ’Hawks skated as good as they could in the first period, they'd been off for a while. Then as they got skating, I thought they just skated, period. We weren't very good at any facet of our game. We expect to be way better tomorrow and look forward to it.”

Defenseman Brendan Smith, who seemed to take the brunt of criticism from national media for having a poor Game 1 performance, was defended by his coach on Friday.

“It's interesting. I heard all the stuff, I heard the emotion from some of our staff, too,” Babcock said. “I didn't see it like that. I saw a young guy trying to make a bunch of plays and no one there to accept the pass at the other end. So what I did today with Smitty, I showed him a bunch of good plays and I said, ‘Let me decide and you decide, nobody else decides.’ ”

Smith’s friends made the Red Wings’ defenseman aware of the avalanche of criticism that he received after Game 1. It was his turnover in the Wings’ zone that led to Marian Hossa’s power-play goal that gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead early.

There were other questionable breakout passes, but Smith isn’t the only culprit.

“There was no one for the D to pass to,” Babcock said. “We didn't play fast. We played fine in the first 20 minutes, after that we got skated into the ice. … In the playoffs, it's a bigger deal, especially when it's Game 1, it could be the series. But if you actually look at the facts and what's happened to us over the last while, they're only human. They can only travel so far and do so much and push so hard and we didn't have it in us. It was simple. So instead of me spending hours reinventing the wheel, we're going to do what we do and we're going to do it better and we're going to do it faster and we're going to make sure we got a good series.”

But at this point, all Smith can do is learn from the mistakes and move on to Game 2 Saturday afternoon at the United Center. As for the negative appraisals from Game 1, he disagrees.

“I have to make better plays, obviously,” Smith said. “It’s one of the things I want to do better at. But I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. There were a lot of good plays I felt that I made and there are some things that I have to build on.”

The majority of hockey prognosticators aren’t giving the Red Wings much of a chance in this series with the Blackhawks. But Smith has a contrasting opinion.

“We’ve been hearing that before the first game and everybody’s been counting us out,” he said. “I think everybody was counting us out against Anaheim as well. Hockey is an interesting game. Anything can happen. The parody is so close, you see L.A. win it last year and they’re doing a great job right now, but anything can happen. Our team has been very good at adapting to different games so it’s just something that we have to work on.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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