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Notes: Wings focus on first game, not three in a row

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the March 26, 1997 brawl with the Avalanche

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner /

DETROIT -- In a season that can be characterized as irregular compared to the previous decades of Red Wings hockey, the Wings find themselves playing three games in three days in two different cities.

After this afternoon's game against the Minnesota Wild at the Joe, the Wings travel to face the Carolina Hurricanes for games Monday and Tuesday in Carolina.

Because of poor ice conditions, Detroit's game on December 19 in Raleigh had to be canceled, which led to this scheduling quirk.

Though it's unusual for an NHL team to be playing three games in three days, Detroit coach Jeff Blashill has done it before in the American Hockey League and has developed an approach to this odd circumstance.

"The biggest thing I learned in my time in the American League is you try to win Game 1 and then you try to win Game 2 and then you try to win Game 3," Blashill said. "You can't worry about the outlook of all three games.

"You've got to do everything you can to win this game. That means if somebody plays 25 minutes or if a forward plays 22 minutes, that's what you do to win the hockey game and then you regroup tomorrow and you re-attack tomorrow.

"I don't think two games in a row or three games in a row is a barrier to success at all. I think that's been proven out from us, at least from our back-to-backs, whether it was us winning the back side of the back-to-back or losing when teams come in here tired. I don't think those are barriers to success so let's just try to win today's game."

GOALIE ROTATION: As usual, Blashill didn't reveal this afternoon's starter in goal, but he did tell reporters that he's happy with the play of both Detroit goaltenders, Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.

"I think just from an evaluation standpoint from where we sit, it's important to continue to get a chance to give both of them a good size body of work," Blashill responded when asked about the pending expansion draft where the Wings can only protect one goalie. "Obviously, Jimmy was out for a while. The other thing is I think both guys have played very well. I thought Petr was playing excellent before Jimmy came back.

"Since Jimmy came back he's played excellent. So might as well continue to play both of them and put them in a position of confidence if possible."

YOUNGSTERS LOOK TO IMPROVE: The Wings have been playing a lot of young players, especially on defense and Blashill has been encouraged by the play of the young rearguards, but he stressed that there is still room for improvement.

"Ultimately we need guys all our young players, we need some young players to become elite or great and that's the challenge for all our young guys," Blashill said. "That will be what we'll continue to watch, if we were worried or not whether they could play in the league, I think they've proven they can play in the league.

"Now, the next step is proving if they can really help you win, not just them, that's our young forwards, that's all our players - who's going to help you win. I think there's tons of guys both at the NHL level and the American League that can play in the league, but can you really help the team win; I think that's the thing they're trying to prove every day."

HOW TO BEAT THE WILD: Minnesota won the only game played this season between the Wings and the Wild, a 6-3 victory back in February at the Xcel Energy Center.

Blashill thought the Wings played well in that game, but a breakdown in specialty teams was the difference.

"The game 5-on-5 was very, very even. I thought we played well. I thought we played a good road game on the back half of a back-to-back. We lost it on the penalty kill, period. They scored three specialty team goals where I thought we were absolutely fine in the game, if anything I thought we had better chances 5-on-5.

"So, we have to make sure that - one, as always, we're disciplined; two, our specialty teams give us a better chance to win the game. I think that's what the league comes down to tons, we're going to need really good goaltending and they usually get it. We're going to have to make sure we limit their transition offense."

MARCH 26, 1997, A FADING MEMORY: It may be 20 years ago today that the Wings and the Avalanche squared off in an epic donnybrook on the Joe Louis Arena ice and if you expect Blashill to remember where he was 20 years ago, you may be a bit disappointed.

"What was I doing? I don't remember, I don't remember yesterday to be honest with you," Blashill said. "I'm trying to remember, man that was a long time ago, I saw it on television, but again, I have a tough time remembering the kids' game I was at yesterday."

Blashill does feel the impact of the game had a positive effect on the Wings, but we may have blown it up just a tad.

"I remember the flack they used to catch; I remember people used to question Steve Yzerman's leadership. I remember all those things that happen before you actually win. I absolutely remember that," Blashill recalled. "Certainly it's a galvanizing moment, maybe not to the degree the media wants to portray it, but there are some galvanizing moments. I've had those on certain teams that we've had success with as well. I'm sure that was a really galvanizing moment for the hockey team."

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