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Red Wings refocus for Game 4

by Michelle Crechiolo / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – The Red Wings know their defense must improve in order to win Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals and avoid a 3-1 deficit to the Phoenix Coyotes in their best-of-seven series.

Detroit was never able to pull ahead in Game 3, always either tied or trailing. That led them to make some offensive gambles they wouldn’t normally make to try gaining the lead, in both the game and the series.

Because of that, Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said Detroit’s defensemen let goaltender Jimmy Howard out to dry in Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.

“They had some three-on-twos late in the game, where we’re gambling a little bit, trying to create some chances offensively,” Lidstrom said. “And by doing that, we’re losing our third guy high and they have three-on-twos or even two-on-ones against us. We kind of let (Howard) out to dry on a couple of chances like that.”

Howard allowed four goals on 29 shots, and he said he would liked to have “three of them back.” Of those three, it was the fourth goal scored by Radim Vrbrata on a rush with Matthew Lombardi that stood out for Howard.

“I just couldn't reach for it,” he said. “Just an untimely goal. In the playoffs, those kill you.”

The Wings know they have to limit the odd-man rushes that Phoenix had on Sunday. They also know that they must do an all-around better job of taking care of business in their own end.

But Lidstrom pointed out that overall, it was a combination of the Wings’ defensive play and the intense effort the Coyotes put forth.

“You want to do a better job helping (Howard) out, clearing players out of there or getting the rebounds out of there,” Lidstrom said.

“But it looked like they were shooting the puck a lot more, going to the net a lot harder than they did in Game 2.”

Wings coach Mike Babcock said he didn’t consider replacing Howard, a likely finalist for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie, with veteran netminder Chris Osgood.

“Never thought about it all,” Babcock said.

The Wings came to play in the first period, but it was the second period that was the turning point of the game. Once the Coyotes gained the lead for good halfway through the third period, they were able to contain all the offensive pressure the Wings could muster.

“They kind of set the tone in the second period. We didn’t respond well,” Lidstrom said.

“In the third period, they were backing off a lot more, not really forechecking hard, but having five guys in the neutral zone slowing us down.”

Despite Sunday’s loss, the Wings have put the game behind him and are ready to come out Tuesday with a better effort. A Game 4 win would even the series at two, and Detroit will be playing in front of their home crowd at Joe Louis Arena.

“We just got to refocus and get ready for Game 4, and approach it like we did in Game 2,” said defenseman Brian Rafalski.

Rafalski, who makes up the top defensive pairing with Lidstrom, briefly left Sunday’s game with lower back pain. He returned to play 23-minutes, but sat out Monday’s practice.

“Raffi had a maintenance day, and we expect him to be fine,” Babcock said.

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