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Wings expect physical Jackets in Game 3

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The inexperienced Blue Jackets struggled through the frst two games of the Western Conference quarterfinals at Joe Louis Arena. The Jackets really seemed rattled by the end of Game 2 when they took nine of their 13 penalties in the third period. 

“This has been a real eye-opener for a lot of our guys,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “As a group, we’ve never experienced this, and it’s been a little while for guys who have played in the playoffs.  The challenge for us is how much knowledge have we gained in the first two games?”

Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said that they expect more physical play from the Blue Jackets when they take the ice Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena.

“It think it’s been an important part of the series so far for us,” Stuart said. “We expect more from them, being in front of their home crowd and being energized, so that would be an important part.

“Our focus is to not get involved in the extra stuff after the whistles, because that serves us no benefits, to be involved in all that stuff. If they want to do that, it’s going to be our responsibility to stay away from it. We can’t control what they’re going to do, but we control what we do and don’t get involved.”

Hitchcock said that the Wings were able to wear down the Blue Jackets in the first two games.

“In the first two games, we’ve played better in the first 35 minutes then we have ever played against them, at any time since I’ve been here,” he said. “But we weren’t able to sustain it, they wore us down, they wore us down with their competitiveness and their maturity.”Stuart said that the Wings won’t allow the Blue Jackets to throw them off their game tonight.

As the Red Wings headed into the playoffs, experts asked if they could ‘turn on the switch’, and play at their highest level. Hitchcock used that same analogy following Tuesday's morning skate, but he wasn’t talking about the eight goals the Wings have scored in this series.

“I think Detroit makes you the pay a price to score,” Hitchcock said. “They don’t get the credit. They don’t dial up the offense in the playoffs, they dial up the defense, and they dial it up better then anybody.”

As the series pulls into Columbus, Hitchcock’s main concern is generating more offense. The Blue Jackets recorded only one goal in the first two games, and they have never held a lead.  Hitchcock said the Wings’ defense is playing better than it has all season.

“Their stick positioning is perfect, their angling is great, their one-on-one confrontation, which was not great sometimes during the regular-season, is excellent now,” Hitchcock said. “They are competing at a high level, it’s their defense that gets dialed up.”

Forward Dan Cleary said that the Wings focused on improving their team defense as they jumped out to a 2-0 series lead at home.

“I think everybody realizes how important defense is, and how important it was for us last year,” Cleary said. “We’ve always been a good team of not allowing a lot of shots, and keeping our goals-against down, special teams. This year some of these areas haven’t been as strong. 

“But I think we really made a focus in Games 1 and 2 to be good defensively, be disciplined, not give them an opportunity to hurt us, so we’ve been able to eliminate their quality chances.”

ERICSSON FEELING AT HOME NI PLAYOFFS: The Wings are known throughout the hockey community for their experience and poise on the blue line. But the youngest member of the Detroit defense has been fitting in with his experienced peers, if not excelling.

“And I think the addition of that (Jonathan) Ericsson has helped them tremendously,” Hitchcock said. “He’s given them a big body back there, that can play against other teams’ big bodies … their checking better then I’ve ever seen them check, and we’re going to have to find a way to break through.”

Ericsson, who played in 19 regular-season games this season, had the game-winning goal in Game 1, and helped the Wings defense shutout the Blue Jackets in Game 2.  Still, he said that the playoffs are a bit different then a regular-season game.

“I would say it’s different,” the 25-year-old rookie said. “I would compare it to the last five minutes of a game, that’s how it is all 60-minutes.”

Coach Mike Babcock had lots of words to describe his young defenseman.

“Size, skill, composure, first pass, good shot, good player, he’s just a good player for us,” Babcock said. “We feel real fortunate to have him. When you look at him as being the last pick in the draft, you’d be thrilled to death if he was the first pick in the draft.”

Babcock was quick to give credit to Hakan Andersson, the Wings’ director of European scouting.

“Obviously Hakan Andersson did a real good job,” Babcock said. “And there’s been good development in the minor leagues over the last few years, and he’s done a real good job.” 

Babcock started with size, because it’s hard not to notice. Ericsson is 6-foot-4, and weighs over 200 pounds.  Ericsson said he’s not surprised with the physical play in the playoffs.

“I’m not surprised at all,” he said, “you know how it’s going to be in the playoffs, you just look at a game sheet after a game, you see how many hits there are through all the playoff games compared to the regular-season games it’s a lot different. “

However, he said that it’s more important to have good positioning, rather then big checks, against players like Columbus captain Rick Nash.

“For skilled offensive players like that, I’m not trying to be that physical out there, you just try to keep them on the outside,” Ericsson said. “You don’t want to go too hard on them, or try to run them too hard, because if they get a step on you, they’re going to take advantage of you.  You better keep them on the outside, and don’t let them use their talents as much.”

But make no mistake, Ericsson does like the physical side of the game.  When asked if he likes the physicality of the playoffs more than the regular-season, he laughed.

“Yeah, I enjoy it, it’s a lot more fun.”

GAME NOTES: Cleary confirmed that he will be dressing tonight. Babcock said injured defenseman Andreas Lilja could still return during the playoffs.

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