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Key for Wings' win is to stay loose

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings third-line center Joakim Andersson continues to play very well, and physical, against the Blackhawks and Andrew Shaw. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – It’s no secret, the Red Wings are a desperate team. They’re the underdog in this Western Conference semifinal series. They are David to the Chicago Blackhawks’ Goliath.

After all, in January, nobody figured the Red Wings would be in the position that they’re in today, especially against a Blackhawks’ squad that rolled to the top of the regular-season standings as the best team in the league.

Now David gets a second shot at eliminating Goliath tonight in Game 6 of the conference semis, and in front of their own fans at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings need to play a desperate brand to avoid a trip to Chicago for a Game 7, and in order to do that they’ll need to maintain their structure and discipline, play within their systems, and play not to lose.

“We talk about it all the time. Do you want to be tight and tentative, or be loose and driving?” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Which one sounds like fun to you? Let’s play. There’s six teams left in hockey. Play. Let’s have some fun. The better you play, the longer you get to play. If you don’t play good, you get to go home.”

The Wings didn’t play very well Saturday in Game 5. The Blackhawks dominated from the opening faceoff and disrupted the Wings’ game plan. The Red Wings must return to what worked best between Game 2 and Game 4 of the series.

“I think it’s getting the puck out of our zone, battles along the boards, and you have to pinch down and take the body,” forward Drew Miller said. “We have to find a way to get the puck out. I think the offensive zone time, we didn’t have enough of it last game, so we have to find ways to get second and third chances instead of one-and-done.”

Playing loose in a series that has been incredibly tight is another tall order. Even the top end players like Henrik Zetterberg, Jonathan Toews, Pavel Datsyuk and Patrick Kane are finding it quite difficult to get any time in space to create scoring opportunities like they do during the regular season. So in some ways, the top six forwards on both teams have canceled one another out.

“You look at the stats in this round of the playoffs, nobody’s got eight points or nothing like that,” Babcock said. “I think we’ve got four guys with three points, and I think they’ve got three guys with three or more points. There’s not a lot of room, so you’ve got to create your own room. The reason we talk about players like those guys is because most guys can’t create any space. There’s no space when the game’s played well. Most guys can’t create any; they’re just out there nullifying the other group. … But we need everyone to be good.”

The Wings could definitely benefit from getting another solid game out of third-liners Joakim Andersson, Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist. The trio has accounted for six playoff goals, including three against the Blackhawks.

“That third line is supposed to win you the series. That’s what depth is all about,” Babcock said. “That’s what happened for Chicago and Anaheim in the regular season. Their third lines were better than everyone else’s. You get mismatches and you end up with your top group playing against somebody that’s not capable of playing against them. But because your third line’s good, the coach can play anybody against anybody.”

Setting the tone early in Game 6 can likely go a long way in deciding the outcome of tonight’s contest, Nyquist said.

“We have to come out hard and come out desperate. It’s a big game for us,” he said. “We’re playing at home and you know that they have to win to extend their season. We have a big game coming up, so it’s going to be a tight one, but we’re going to come out hard and get a couple of hits in and get the crowd going.”

If that happens, count on David advancing to the next round where he’ll assume another role as playoff underdog.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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