Having spotted the Sharks a 3-0 series lead in their Western Conference semifinal, the Wings find themselves in an unenviable position as the hunter instead of the hunted.
The unfortunate fact for the Wings is that in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs, only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders have ever recovered from a 0-3 series deficit to win a series. In the Wings’ case, they have started nine different best-of-seven playoff series in a 0-3 hole. The eight cases, the Wings lost Game 4 to complete the series sweep.
Wings coach Mike Babcock experienced the same daunting mission when he coached in the Western Hockey League. Then he led Spokane to four straight wins over the Portland Winter Hawks in the 1996 conference quarterfinals.
“We beat them in Game 7,” Babcock said. “I think it was the ’42 Leafs and the ’75 New York Islanders, we can talk about all that stuff. That’s how hard it is to do, because that’s how few times it’s been done.
“I figure every 33 years or so you’ve got to be due, so it must be our turn. But the reality is you don’t want to look at anything. … We have to win a period, we have to win our first shift, and put it in small blocks and get on with it just like you do each any every night.”
A concern for the Wings is that they’ve been outscored, 6-1, in third-period scoring in this series. The Sharks have claimed third-period comebacks in the last two games, including Tuesday’s overtime game where they overcame a 3-1 deficit in the third.
“It’s frustrating because we had two of the games going into the third period with a lead, and the opportunity to win the game,” Wings defenseman Brad Stuart
said. “And in both instances, we found different ways to give up the lead and ultimately lose the game. At the same time we have an opportunity to win a game and put ourselves in a position to move on from there.”
Now the Wings find themselves up against the Sharks who roll two solid offensive lines and a potent power-play, which is sensing blood and only the second conference finals in franchise history.
“Against a team like that, that has as many weapons as they do, you can’t stay back and you have to stay on the attack,” Wings forward Kris Draper said. “And I don’t think we did nearly enough last night. Fatigue, whatever is going on right now, we just have to find a way and rally around everybody in this dressing room, and we believe that we can do that.”
For many of the Wings, who spoke following Wednesday morning’s practice, the best solution to solving the Sharks isn’t too over-analyze Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena.
“We have a challenge in front of us, for sure,” Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg
said. “But we can only take one game at a time. We have to win tomorrow and after that we’re going to re-group. That’s how we’re looking at it now.”
It’s a far cry for a team that has reached at least the conference finals in three straight years, including the Stanley Cup finals the last two springs.
But Stuart summed it up best.
“Let’s not worry about what’s happened, or what might happen. Let’s just go out and get ready for the next game.”IN HOWIE WINGS TRUST:
Draper was asked if the Wings continued to be confident in rookie goalie Jimm Howard.
“We went into another team’s building about a week ago in a Game 7 and Howie was unbelievable for us," said Draper, referring to the Wings' Round 1 win over Phoenix. "We have nothing but confidence in Jimmy Howard
and that he’s going to step-up.”