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Limiting penalties is a must for Wings

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Johan Franzen has a goal and four minor penalties through the first three games of the Wings' Western Conference quarterfinal series with Nashville. (Photo by Gregory Shamus)
DETROIT – The thing the Red Wings can least afford at this stage of the Western Conference quarterfinal series is to head back to Tennessee later this week down three games to one in their best-of-seven game series with the Nashville Predators.

In order to even the series at 2-2 before going back to the Music City, the Wings know that limiting penalties is a must and scoring first is crucial. The first team to score in this series has won, including the Wings, who grabbed a 2-0 lead in Game 2 en route to a 3-2 win last Friday.

“I thought someone told me it was like 80 percent of the time during the regular-season when you score first you win, so I don't think that's any different now,” said coach Mike Babcock, whose team went 32-9-3 when scoring first this season. “It's a priority for everyone, you want to get started on time. We lost the first four face-offs (Sunday), that led to forechecks … anyway you look at it that leads to momentum, that probably leads to you taking a penalty and more momentum, so you got to start on time for sure and it's a priority each and every night.”

While eight other playoff teams have collected a dozen game-misconducts or match penalties between them already in the conference quarterfinals, the Wings uncharacteristically are third among the 16-team playoff field with 19 minor penalties. Only Philadelphia and Vancouver has more with 20 minors each.

Their 6.3 minor penalties per game is their highest playoff total for the Wings since the 2006 playoffs. That spring, they averaged seven minors per game and lost to the Edmonton Oilers in a six-game opening round series.

“I think you see that in playoff hockey, where your intensity is a lot higher and your sense of urgency is up a little bit too,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Sometimes emotions take over. That's where you've got to keep your cool and not get sucked into some of the penalties. You can still react to it, but you have to be aware of it and you have to have that in the back of your mind that you can't do certain things now.”

Emotion took over late in the second period of Sunday’s Game 3 after Johan Franzen checked Ryan Suter in front of the Predators’ bench. From there, David Legwand reach over the bench and grabbed the back of Franzen’s jersey, to which he retaliated, spearing the Detroit native with his stick.

While both sides received minor penalties, the Wings gained the upper hand on the ensuing 4-on-4, which resulted in Pavel Datsyuk’s goal that cut the Wings’ deficit to 2-1 at 15:03 of the period.

“He held me. If he does it again, I’m going to do it again,” said Franzen, who is second in the playoffs with four minors penalties. “He got called for it and I’m happy for that. We’re a good team 4-on-4, so if he’s going to do that again, I’m happy to do it. Maybe I’ll drag him out onto the ice and sit on him.

“I would take that any day. If I could get Pav and Hank out there playing 4-on-4 instead of 5-on-5 you’d play like that all day if you could. A lot more room to create stuff.”

Franzen is one of the league’s top game-winning goal scorers among active players, having netted 12 in his career. But he has just one goal through the first three games, and while at times he seems frustrated out there, he said that’s not the case.

Clearly disheartening by the cut on his nose and his blackened right eye – the resulting a cross-check in Game 1 and an elbow from Predators forward Mike Fisher in Game 2 – Franzen is frustrated by the inconsistency of calls.

“You know what’s a penalty,” he said, “but it gets called sometimes and sometimes it’s not getting called.”

Though the Predators owned the league’s best power play during the regular-season, the Wings have limited them to 1-for-16 on the man-advantage through the first three games.

But without two of their top penalty-killers – Darren Helm (lacerated forearm) and Lidstrom, who isn’t playing on the unit with his sore ankle – the Wings can’t continue to provide opportunities for the Predators’ specialty team to grab gifts.

“It is called a little tighter but at the same time we have to be more disciplined, can't be taking stick penalties or undisciplined penalties, we just got to be smarter,” center Justin Abdelkader said. “They have a good power play, we can't keep going on the kill and waste time 5-on-4 when we could be playing 5-on-5.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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