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Blashill: 'Series isn't over after two games'

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings have to find a way to slow Tyler Johnson and his linemates. They have accounted for 15 points in two games. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT -- The Red Wings have overcome 0-2 deficits in the playoffs before.

It last happened in the pre-salary cap days in 2002, when the Wings dropped the first two games to Vancouver, then won four straight to win the series en route to a Stanley Cup.

The captain of that team is the current general manager of the Wings' first-round opponent now, Steve Yzerman.

For Wings coach Jeff Blashill and some of his players, they need to look no further than last season in the American Hockey League.

In their first-round, best-of-five series against the Toronto Marlies, the Grand Rapids Griffins lost the first two games, leaving themselves no room for error.

"I’ve been in this situation a few times, certainly last year it was 0-2 in the best-of-five so 0-2 and you had no other life and we were able to come back and win it 3-2," Blashill said. "I was part of that in my junior career in Cedar Rapids. There’s been lots of ebbs and flows in all the series I’ve been a part of where it looked dire and I wouldn’t say that now.

"We lost two games that I would say were very winnable and close. We have to find a way to turn that tide in our favor the next game. It’s going to be our game. They’re going to come out and play real well. We have to make sure we have to make one or two plays better offensively and defensively than they do."

Andreas Athanasiou was a member of that comeback team.

"It was last year against Toronto in the first round, we lost the first two games in their arena and came back to Grand Rapids and won three straight there," Athanasiou said. "Obviously it was best three out of five. Your home games are definitely big here. You never know what can happen as long as you take care of your games at home."

Blashill said when he speaks to the team, he won't say they need to win four of the next five games to advance.

"My message to everyone is winning the hockey game tomorrow," Blashill said. "We want to learn from the mistakes we made and we want to accentuate the positives we’ve had and focus on winning the hockey game tomorrow. That’s it. The series isn’t over after two games so let’s focus on trying to win a hockey game."

The Wings finished 22-13-6 at home during the regular season.

One advantage to playing at home is having the last change.

"It makes it much easier in terms of match-ups," Blashill said. "We’re in discussions as far as we’re best matched, but it doesn’t matter how you match, guys have to go out and play. I think the biggest thing is execution once you’re in those match-ups."

Blashill did not rule out lineup changes, nor did he say there definitely would be some.

"What I would say we’ve given thought to everything and we’ll make lineup decisions tomorrow," Blashill said.

DAMAGING LINE: The Wings have had no luck matching up against Tampa Bay's Alex Killorn-Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov line, who have accounted for 15 points in the two games.

Johnson's dominance against the Wings is well-documented.

In nine postseason games against the Wings, Johnson has eight goals and five assists, including three game-winning goals.

In last year's series, Johnson had six goals and one assist in seven games and is on pace to easily eclipse that with two goals and four assists in two games.

"I’m not sure what our plan is yet, or what lines and D pairings we’re going to throw at them but obviously we’ve got to do a better job against that line because they’ve obviously had a pretty successful Game 1 and Game 2 and pretty much led them to wins," Justin Abdelkader said. "A playoff series, it’s kind of game by game and if we can come out and have a good start and take care of our home ice, we can turn this momentum around. There’s still a long ways to go. It’s a race to four. They haven’t clinched anything, they just took care of their home ice."

PHYSICAL SERIES: The end of Game 2 was not a pretty sight as the Wings and Lightning ended up in a massive scrum near the Lightning net.

Among the main combatants was Abdelkader, who described how it all started.

"It was kind of a play in front of the net where Richie (Brad Richards) had slashed (Andrej) Sustr's stick and then Sustr engaged with him. (Nikita) Nesterov kind of jumped in and put Richie in a headlock and that put Richards in a tough place with both those guys on him. I just went to grab Nesterov and before I could, I was jumped from behind on my back. I was on the bottom of the pile, which is always really dangerous there. I slid myself out and obviously there were some punches thrown. Obviously emotions run high at the end of a game. I wasn't looking to go out and fight anyone or to do anything, but sometimes altercations like that happen."

Tampa Bay's Mike Blunden was bloodied by Abdelkader and told reporters afterward that he needed nine stitches.

Cedric Paquette was asked if he expected there would be retaliation in Game 3 and Paquette said, "Probably."

Abdelkader said he was not expecting anything.

"I don't think so," Abdelkader said. "I think obviously emotions run high in the playoffs, end of the game there. It's been a physical series. I think each game kind of takes its own shape. I don't expect anything else. I think both teams are focused on playing hockey and winning games. Sometimes that stuff happens at the end but I think the major focus is to win the game."

The Wings finished the game with 68 total penalty minutes while the Lightning finished with 51.

"I thought both teams in the middle of last night’s game lost their focus a little bit," Blashill said. "The physicality and competitiveness got so amped up that at times both teams probably went out of their way for big physical hits as opposed to maybe making the right play. You saw it with us, we had an F-3 dive in, gave up a rush because of it, we got a big hit out of it. You saw it probably on the (Brian) Boyle penalty where he went out of his way to lay a big hit on Johnny (Ericsson). I think you have to measure physicality and having a big physical impact on the game you have to measure intensity with making sure to keep your focus on doing the job you have to do to be successful."

DOUBLE-A'S IMPACT: People watch Athanasiou and see him making an impact with very little ice time and believe he should be playing more.

Athanasiou played 8:45 in Game 1 and 7:33 in Game 2.

"This seems to be a hot topic," Blashill said. "I like Double A as a player. I think Double A is a good player. Johnson was the MVP of the American League. Kucherov’s numbers in the American League were off the charts. Double A wasn’t at that level in the American League. Double A is a good player who’s growing. Double A will prove whether or not if he can an elite player, but when he left the American League he was not yet an elite player so to think all of a sudden he’s going to come here and be an elite player I think is asking a lot of him.

"What I have thought he’s shown flashed of elite and that’s why we’ve used him in the minutes that we’ve used him. I got him out there late in the game last night in a critical moment in a shift with Pav and Z and in those moments he’s got to make sure he executes at a high level."

In 55 games with the Griffins this season, Athanasiou had 16 goals, 16 assists and was plus-17.

In 62 games with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch in 2012-13, Johnson had 37 goals, 28 assists and was plus-26.

Kucherov played in just 17 games with the Crunch in 2013-14, scoring 13 goals and 11 assists in just 17 games.

Athanasiou is not complaining about his ice time, just trying to stay ready.

"You have quite a few minutes in between shifts sitting on the bench," Athanasiou said. "You’re best to get the legs going, especially with my game being speed. I gotta make sure my legs are always going to be going whether that’s being on the ice during commercial timeouts or just moving up and down on the bench. So whenever I get to go out there I’m ready to go."

LIGHTNING WITHOUT BROWN: The Lightning lost another player to injury in Friday night's game.

Forward J.T. Brown blocked a shot and left with an upper-body injury.

On Saturday Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Brown would miss the rest of the series because of the injury.

However, the Lightning were already without star Steven Stamkos and defenseman Anton Stralman and have been able to overcome those losses.

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