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Consistency is key for Wings down stretch

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings

DETROIT -- The Red Wings know that in order to be successful, they will have to play a more consistent 60-minute game.

They have had excellent stretches, including the second period in Chicago last Sunday, allowing the Blackhawks just three shots.

Of course, that game ended up a 4-1 loss.

On Thursday, the Wings rebounded from a 2-0 first-period deficit for a 3-2 victory.

"In Chicago, I don't think the result was reflecting how the game was going," defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. "I think we had some really good moments there and they barely had a shot on net. Yesterday I think we played with a little bit more desperation in our game and more urgency and that's kind of what we have to do here. It's going to be like the playoffs here like it has been the last three-four years. It's going to be a playoffs just getting into the playoffs. We know that. It's time to step up. We've got to do it for 60 minutes, though. We can't just play for 40 or 30 or 50."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill doesn't believe the Wings are spending too much time in their own zone but he said there are some defensive issues that they need to sort out.

"Right now our chances against in our own zone are too big," Blashill said. "I don’t think we spend lots of time there but when we do give up a chance it’s way too big a chance. We’ve got to do a way better job of protecting our net front. There’s probably been a series of I don’t know how many goals, or even plays, where guys have ended up open in front of our net. So that’s on us to make sure we get that corrected."

Henrik Lundqvist

RANGERS LIKELY TO HAVE ALL HANDS ON DECK: New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault announced Friday that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will start Saturday in Detroit.

"Of course he's a good goalie," Ericsson said. "We know that we're not going to shoot from the blue line with no screening. It's not going to go in, we know that. So we got to do a good job in front of the net. I think we did a better job in front of the net last night. I think we got some second chances and sometimes the puck was just bouncing over a few guys' sticks. I think overall we did a better job of creating some more dangerous second chances.

Lundqvist has not played since March 3 due to neck spasms.

In 53 games, Lundqvist is 31-17-4 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

Vigneault also told reporters in New York that if Rick Nash feels good, he will also play. Nash has a left leg bone bruise and has not played since Jan. 22.

Marc Staal has been dealing with back spasms but could also be ready to go.

The only question mark for the Rangers is Derick Brassard, who missed Friday's practice with flu-like symptoms. Brassard may join the Rangers tonight or could fly to Detroit in the morning.

The Wings' last meeting with the Rangers was memorable in that it was a scoreless tie that the Rangers won in overtime with Kevin Klein scoring the winning goal.

Jimmy Howard made 29 saves and Lundqvist made 22.

"That 0-0 game in my mind was probably more of a 2-2 or 3-3 game really," Blashill said. "I thought that’s how it should have ended going into overtime. Both teams created chances and both goalies were really good, maybe some fortunate bounces both ways to keep the puck out of the net. I thought they did a really good job in the O-zone. You can see where they’re a hard team in the O-zone. I know their philosophy is get the puck out of their end as fast as they can and spend as much time in the O-zone as possible. And we want to do the reverse. We’ll have to make sure our D-zone coverage is better that he’s been here lately, in terms of big chances given up. But we’ll focus on that in tomorrow’s meeting."

Andreas Athanasiou
Center  - DET
Goals: 5 | Assists: 3 | Pts: 8
Shots: 31 | +/-: E
MAKING-UP SPEED: Andreas Athanasiou definitely brings an element of speed to the Red Wings’ lineup.

The rookie continues to exhibit blazing bursts though the neutral zone creating numerous scoring chances for the Wings this season. But Blashill would like to see the 6-foot-2 centerman use that speed more consistently as it relates to his defensive responsibilities.

It’s not the first time Blashill has voiced his concerns about the role for the rookie, who received less and less ice time as Thursday’s 3-2 win against Winnipeg played on.

Athanasiou skated 11 shifts worth 8:51 of ice time Thursday, but hopped over the boards only twice with the game’s outcome still in jeopardy in the third period.

“He didn’t get as much as the game went along,” Blashill said of his ice time. “I didn’t think he was quite as sharp defensively. Certainly the four-on-four goal against (in the first period) was at a time where it gave him an opportunity to be in a big moment and he didn’t execute to the level he needs to execute at.”

Blashill admitted that Athanasiou did do some good things too, like the back-door pass he made to Tomas Tatar. But the positives have to out-weigh the negatives every night and every shift in order to gain trust from the coaches and receive more responsibility.

“He’s got to make sure with added minutes come added opportunities and not added negatives,” Blashill said. “He’s been one of those interesting players that in 7 to 10 to 12 minutes can create lots of opportunities but then when it gets higher than that do you still continue to create more opportunities or do you give up more? Everybody ebbs and flows a little bit. There were moments of good and moments he needs to be better. He knows that.”

Since he was recalled from AHL Grand Rapids on Feb. 6, Athanasiou has produced four goals and seven points in 16 games.

DETROIT'S LINEUP: Blashill said he had made a decision on the starting goaltender and would announce it before the game Saturday.

Blashill said the rest of the lineup would remain the same, meaning Brendan Smith and Teemu Pulkkinen are in while Alexey Marchenko and Tomas Jurco are out.

DetroitRedWings.com managing editor Bill Roose contributed to this report.

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