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Young Wings experience growing pains

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Five different Red Wings, including Damien Brunner (24), made their Stanley Cup playoff debuts Tuesday night in Anaheim. (Photo by Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – For a group of guys making their Stanley Cup playoff debuts Tuesday night, none of them seemed out of sorts in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals at Honda Center.

“You’re going to have to ask them if they were nervous because it didn’t look like they were,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “They were impressive. They kept it simple, and it’s a good thing moving forward now.”

Despite dropping the series-opener to the Anaheim Ducks, 3-1, the Wings’ quintet of Brendan Smith, Jakub Kindl, Danny DeKeyser, Joakim Andersson and Damien Brunner played admirably in what was their first taste of NHL postseason action.

But now that they’ve experienced Stanley Cup hockey first-hand, the hope is that they’ll know what to expect in Game 2 on Thursday night.

“I think everyone just gives everything that they have right off of the bat,” said Gustav Nyquist, who was playing in just his fifth career playoff game. “You want to be ready. You want to be on your toes. I thought it was a tight game all the way through, and it’s going to be that way all series long.”

The intensity of Tuesday’s game was considerably higher than even the last four games of the regular season when the Red Wings were battling just to qualify for the playoffs.

The Red Wings understood that the big, more physical Ducks were going to come out charging with an abrasive style. The key for Detroit was to match them, something that Wings coach Mike Babcock didn’t think happened, particularly among the young players.

“It was their first playoff game, it's good to get it out of the way,” Babcock said. “I think when our group sees it tomorrow they'll understand we weren't as good as we need to be or are capable of being. I didn't think anyone was special for us tonight.”

Babcock likened Tuesday’s performance to that of the first half of the season when he was juggling the defensive pairings just to find someone who could consistently retrieve the puck from their own end and start the break out.

“We couldn't move the puck on the back, we weren't efficient, we weren't a five-man unit,” he said. “We didn't look organized in that way and we weren't relentless in the offensive zone. … When you spend so much time in your own zone, you don't spend much time in the offensive zone.”

The Wings managed to get just 22 shots on goal, their lowest shot total since more than dozen games. Half of their shots came in the third period, when out of desperation, they tried to pull even with the Ducks who grabbed a 2-1 lead early on the third power-play goal of the game.

“We couldn't really sustain any pressure and time in their end,” Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “When we got in there we were mostly one and done. It's tough to get any quality chances. There was nothing on the rush. There haven't been chances on the rush the whole year. We have to work hard in their end and create chances like that and we couldn't do that today.”

However, the all-rookie third line of Andersson, Brunner and Nyquist played with a lot of energy, particularly in the first period when they had a few good scoring chances.

“I thought we had some pretty good jump from the beginning and kept the puck away from our net,” Brunner said. “Had some good plays down low, but we couldn’t score. That’s the bad thing. Overall, I think we have to – not only our line, but all of us – we have to get more pucks to the net and create some chances. I think we only had 10 shots, or something, in the first two (periods), so it’s hard to score with that few shots. But I thought that we had some good chances in the end, but we couldn’t score.”

DUCKS DOMINANCE: The Ducks made the waters murky for the Red Wings’ top two scorers in Game 1, slowing down Pavel Datsyuk in the neutral zone while playing ultra-physical on Zetterberg.

“You look at Zetterberg and Datsyuk and the way that they’re able to come through the neutral zone and create things out of nothing is pretty impressive,” Ducks forward Bobby Ryan said. “But you take away time and space and make it as hard as you can for them. But you’ve got to contain them more than shut them down.”

Zetterberg and Datsyuk entered Game 1 having combined for 18 points in the last five games of the regular season. But the Ducks managed to shut down the Red Wings’ Euro-Twins, holding them to a combined three shots against goalie Jonas Hiller, who made 21 saves.

“They’re such a puck possession team they want to enter the zone with the puck and not dump it,” Ryan said. “You want to make them chase it down and come 200 feet and go back and get it back from behind their goal line. It makes it tough on them.”

NO BIG DEAL: Late in the second period, Ducks agitator Corey Perry earned a minor penalty for goaltender interference for running into Howard in the crease. As the Ducks’ right wing skated through the crease he fall forward, his left leg came up, and his skate struck Howard’s mask.

“His skate just hit me in the face,” Howard said. “I was trying to get out of the way. It was nothing, it was harmless.”

PENALTY-KILL: Each team scored a power-play goal in the first period Tuesday night. The difference in the game, however, is that the Ducks scored a second special teams goal early in the third period, which wound up being the game-winner.

Despite allowing two power-play goals, Babcock has been relatively satisfied with his penalty-kill units, which prior to Tuesday had killed off 19-of-20 penalties over the last eight road games.

“We scored a power-play goal, which is good for us,” Babcock said. “The bottom line is I'd like our penalty kill to be better. I thought we did lots of good things on the penalty-kill. … The bottom line is our penalty kill's been great. I'm not very concerned about it.”

Tuesday was just the second time since early February that an opponent scored two power-play goals against the Red Wings.

GAME 1 ROAD BLUES: The Red Wings have not won Game 1 of a playoff series on the road since 1999. That spring, goalie Bill Ranford earned a victory in the Red Wings’ 3-2 double-overtime win at Colorado in a second-round series with Avalanche.

Since then, the Wings have lost six consecutive series-openers on the road. All but two of those games were decided by one goal.

THREE STARS: 3. Saku Koivu, ANA (2 SOG); 2, Jonas Hiller, ANA (21 saves, W); 1, Teemu Selanne, ANA (game-winning goal).

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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