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Puck-protection key for Wings' success

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Protecting the puck has been a key ingredient to the Red Wings’ recent playoff successes.

Despite leaving Arizona with a split in their Western Conference quarterfinals series with the Coyotes, the Red Wings actually did a solid job of possessing the puck through the neutral zone.

So then what happened Sunday when the Wings had 13 turnovers in a 4-2 loss to Phoenix?

“You can’t turn the puck over,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

The Wings had difficulties with penetrating the offensive zone in Game 3 of the best-of-seven series. The Coyotes seemed faster at getting to loose pucks and raised havoc in the neutral zone for the Wings.

“There are lots of different ways to get into their zone,” Babcock said. “You can carry it in. You can lay it behind them, you can self-chip and go get it. There are a whole bunch of different options. You just have to make sure that you execute, and I don’t feel that we did a very good job of that. I though their neutral zone play was very good in the second and third last night. There are always two parts to the equation, and we didn’t respond, and turned it over too much.”

On the flip side, the Wings didn’t give goalie Jimmy Howard much help. Certainly, the neutral zone turnovers didn’t help, and Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said Monday that he thought Howard was “hung out to dry”.

Wings’ turnovers led to three of the Coyotes’ goals on Sunday.

Howard, who is living his first career Stanley Cup playoffs as a starter, can find comfort in the fact that there is plenty of experienced players in the Red Wings that he can lean on for support.

“There’s nothing you can do about the ones that went in, and that’s the whole key,” Babcock said. “If he spends anytime worrying about the rest of the stuff, that’s an issue for him.

“Now it’s new stakes. It’s playoff time and you have to respond. We’re real comfortable that he’s going through that and it’s not a concern for us at all.”

There’s no doubt that the Coyotes out-played the Red Wings in Game 1 and Game 3. They have been more physical and much faster in transition through the neutral zone.  But for Babcock, he knows what must transpire Tuesday in Game 4.

“I think they have been the better team in two of the games,” Babcock said. “I don’t think we can be disappointed in the results so far. We can be disappointed in our execution and be disappointed in our battle level in spots. So it’s a clear statement to us that we have to be better. We’re not making any excuses. We have to be better and we understand, totally.”

Babcock was asked Monday if he felt pressure heading into Tuesday’s pivotal game at Joe Louis Arena.

“Oh, I feel pressure,” he said. “I feel pressure because I want to win. That’s what we do here … we win. You can talk about skill level all you want, in the end we normally have real good structure and we out-determine you in the end and we keep on coming. So far in this series, they’ve done a better job in that part of the game than we have. Simple.”

HOWIE’S DOING: On Monday, Howard said that he spent time with his wife and family following Sunday’s disappointing loss, but he noted that he’s ready for Game 4.

“Being a goalie you have to have a short-term memory,” he said. “You have to go back out there and do your job.”

Howard worked awhile Monday with goalie coach Jim Bedard, just to fine tune some things.

“(We) went over everything that I was doing good out there and just re-enforcing everything positively,” Howard said.

Brian Rafalski did not practice on Monday. Babcock said the veteran defenseman “had a maintenance day today, and he’ll play tomorrow.”

Rafalski left Game 3 for a short period of time Sunday, but did return. He finished the game with 23-minutes of ice time.

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