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Abel to Yzerman

Red Wings-Bruins set-up: redemption versus, well, redemption

When the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings face off for a matinee tilt today (12:30 PM, NBC/WXYT), shortly after NBC skips airing the Red Wings’ official ceremony recognizing Chris Osgood’s 400th win (golf trip to Scotland and Ireland included), the national spotlight will shine upon two teams looking for redemption.

For the Boston Bruins, Sunday’s game is about avenging their 6-1 loss on Friday and proving that they’re a force to be reckoned with; for the Red Wings, Sunday’s game is about proving to their fans that their 3-4-and-1 home record of late is something their paying fans should expect to witness on a regular basis, and it’s about simply taking care of business against a revenge-minded team whose Michigan ties (Tim Thomas, Steve Kampfer, Tyler Seguin) simply mean that a few hundred Bruins fans will leave Joe Louis Arena disappointed.

The Bruins and Wings engaged in Saturday practices which involved bluster galore, and while as a Wings fan, I’m used to quite a bit of my team sounding borderline arrogant at times, I’m admittedly taken aback by the Bruins’ level of proficiency at navel-gazing.

ESPN Boston’s Joe MacDonald’s deemed Sunday’s game a “must-win” for the Bruins, and coach Claude Julien seems to agree with that assessment, at least in spirit, when naming Sunday’s theme from a Bruins perspective:

“Bounce back,” Julien said empathically. “I think it’s pretty obvious what we have to do. We need to play much better. We were just flat. We weren’t on top of our game.”
“It’s not so much going into the dressing room and saying, ‘This is a must-win.’ It’s going into the dressing room and saying, ‘We must play our game and we must play it well.’ When you do those things and you focus on that, you put the results in your favor. There have been times when you play a really good game, but you don’t get the bounces. That will happen during the course of a season, but the biggest focus is going in and playing our game, and playing it well.”
“If I were a betting man, I would bet our team is going to bounce back,” Julien said.

The Bruins’ players all but insisted that today’s game will prove that they’ve got the moxie to compete with anyone by exacting a little revenge for Friday’s thrashing…

“It shows character in our locker room,” said Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “We have character and everybody knows that. Usually when we play flat like that, the next game we usually come out and we’re a lot more focused. Hopefully, you see that [Sunday].”

And one Bruin even bit on the, “You’re going to be sending a message for June, right?” question:

“We could. That’s 100 percent and there’s no question about it we could,” said Boychuk said. “The way we played [Friday] wasn’t the way we wanted to play. We want to bounce back [Sunday] and let them know that if we do meet in the finals, we’re not going to be the team they saw last game.  If we put our minds to it, we’re unstoppable,” added Boychuk. “If everybody shows up and plays, we know we’re a special team. Our potential is to win the Stanley Cup and it’s not even an overstatement to say that, it’s something we feel we can do.”

According to Gregory Campbell, the playoffs essentially began on Friday…

“We try to look at this as a two-game playoff series,” said Bruins forward Gregory Campbell. “It’s a good measuring stick for us as a team because they are a good team. It’s tough to look too far ahead and think this could be a potential matchup, but they’re a good team in the Western Conference. We consider ourselves a good team and that’s our goal to make it that far, but to look that far ahead is foolish. There’s a lot in front of us and we have to take it game-by-game.”

And Andrew Ference agreed,  telling the Nashua Telegraph’s Tom King that the Bruins can and will re-set mentally…

“You do the same thing you do after a big, emotional win,” Ference said. “It’s just the same kind of preparation that you need to learn from the games. … So especially when it’s against the same team.”

“I imagine we’re looking to get a modicum of respect back, from the Red Wings, too,” Thomas said. “Probably the way we played (Friday), they don’t have too high of an opinion of our game, either.”

But Mark Recchi offered a dissenting opinion:

“That’s not our team, we know that,” said Bruins veteran Mark Recchi, always the voice of reason. “We’ll be fine. It’s so funny, everybody talks about how we don’t score goals and we’re one of the top teams now. We let goals in and everybody is going the opposite way.  We’re fine, we know how to play defense and we’ll crack down in those areas and sharpen up. The bottom line is when we play good as a team we don’t allow much anyways.”

Second, the back-to-back games in the playoffs are always emotional. So is this a warning sign that they can’t channel that emotion and spread it across consecutive nights? Hogwash, says Recchi. Apples and oranges.

“It’s a lot different in the playoffs,” he said. “If you’re not engaged in the playoffs, then something’s missing. You can understand losing focus in one of 82 games.”

Several Bruins players told the Boston Globe’s Barbara Matson that the team will play match Detroit’s skating stride for stride today:

“We have to have our feet moving,’’ said Gregory Campbell. “We can’t sit back. But at the same time, their defense is so good at stretching you back and pulling you back, and then just making that one good pass that beats one or two forwards and makes you look foolish.’’
“You’ve got to be able to skate and play well in the position game and be on top of our game,’’ said defenseman Zdeno Chara. “You’ve got to stay with them, something we didn’t do last night. We gave them more time and space than we wanted to.’’
“We have to act rather than react,’’ said Dennis Seidenberg. “We have to anticipate a little bit more and be more a team that takes initiative. We were flat, down the line, so it’s a good challenge for us to show how we respond. Everybody’s up for it.’’

“We’re happy we get them again,’’ said Campbell. “Obviously, we don’t want to sit on a loss like that.  I think it’s a good challenge for this team. We can see what we’re made of, how much character we have in this dressing room. Everybody’s excited.’’

Tim Thomas, who may or may not start in front of 42 family members and friends today (Steve Kampfer expects to entertain a similar number of supporters, but former Plymouth Whaler Tyler Seguin probably won’t play per Saturday’s Bruins practice lines), suggested to the Boston Herald’s Rich Thompson that the B’s face a unique challenge in playing against the Wings’ particular brand of puck possession hockey:

“I was studying their style as much as that can help, but I guess my point is you can try to make it help, but there is no guarantee about anything,” said Thomas. “They are very skilled in a weird way; they kind of slow it down and then speed it up at the same time.  It’s hard to put into words actually. They hold the puck and hold the puck and then when they made passes, they were hard, crisp passes, and they release their shots really fast.”

That’s exactly what the Wings do when they’re on—they capture possession of the puck, stifle the opposition’s forecheck, push the pace of play back down to a manageable level, and then get to work in establishing an up-tempo game that utilizes one-touch passes by defensemen to forwards streaking through the neutral zone and frequent shooting-as-forechecking to assault the opposing team’s net and generate secondary scoring opportunities.

Thomas also studies his opponents’ stick-taping tendencies, but as this is a Red Wings blog, not a Bruins blog, I’ll suggest that you can read Stephen Harris’s hockey notes on your own.  Ditto for a video of Julien’s post-practice comments via the Bruins’ website.

Again, Julien suggested that the Bruins’ style of play will win out, as did Kampfer:

“It’s not about going into the dressing room and saying this is a must-win; it’s about going into the dressing room and saying we must play our game and we must play our game well,” said Julien, who emphasized those points with frequent huddles during the workout.  When you do those things and focus on that, you put the results obviously in your favor. The biggest focus with us (is) going in there and playing our game and playing it well.”

“We just didn’t play our game. We didn’t stick to our game plan and that was our Achilles’ heel,” said Kampfer. “By not playing our style of game they really were able to dictate the tempo, and that was something we had talked about beforehand. . . . In Detroit we will be a different team.”

According to Comcast Sportsnet Northeast’s Danny Flynn, the Bruins’ lineup should look something like this:


Recchi usually plays on Bergeron’s right wing with Marchand on the left side, and Hamill centers the following line:


Chara, Seidenberg, Ference, Boychuk, Kampfer, McQuaid, and Stuart on the blue line.

For the Wings, I’m assuming that the lines will look like this:



Howard’s starting for the Wings.

NHL.com’s Corey Masisak sets up today’s game as follows:

Big story: How will the Bruins respond to getting blown out at home two nights ago when they travel to Joe Louis Arena for the return match in a home-and-home?
Red Wings [team scope]—As the forward corps gets closer to be being back at full strength, the offense was eventually going to come around. The trip to Boston proved to be the spark the Red Wings needed. Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary and Tomas Holmstrom—all guys who missed time with injuries recently—combined for 2 goals and 4 assists against the Bruins. Detroit had been held to 1 goal or fewer in 3 of the previous 4 games.

Who’s hot—Bruins rookie Brad Marchand is creeping into the fringes of the Calder Trophy discussion. He has 9 goals since Jan. 10 and is seventh among rookies with 29 points. Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg has averaged less than a point per game the past two seasons, but has 60 in 55 contests this year. His career high is 92 in 2007-08 and Zetterberg is on pace for 89 this campaign.
Puck drop—Boston has been one of the top teams in the League at preventing goals, which makes the past two games pretty alarming. The Bruins have allowed 6 goals in each after they hadn’t yielded more than 3 goals in two consecutive contests all season. Vezina Trophy favorite Tim Thomas should be in net for Boston. He’s allowed 2 goals or less in 9 of his past 11 appearances. The other two games he yieded 5 and 6 goals, but won both anyway. How Boston’s defense and Thomas rally after two suspect performances will be huge against a Detroit offense that might be primed for sustained success.

NHL.com’s Brian Hedger duly noted that the Wings, who received good news about Mike Modano (he expects to return from torn flexor tendons and nerve damage in his right wrist on the 24th or 26th and is considering playing for another season) and not-so-good news about Valtteri Filppula or Chris Osgood (Filppula hasn’t been cleared to skate and is uncertain as to when he might come back from a sprained knee, and Osgood hasn’t been on the ice in his goaltending equipment yet), simply plan on giving fans their money’s worth after delivering a stinker of a performance last Wednesday vs. Nashville:

“The fans deserve better,” Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who made 25 saves in a win Friday night win at Boston’s TD Banknorth Garden. “They stick with us through thick and thin, and when we go out there with a lackluster effort … it’s inexcusable and they deserve better.”
“You’ve got a pretty high standard here and I like that,” [Wings coach Mike] Babcock said, following a short-but-tough Saturday practice at Joe Louis Arena. “You don’t play good, you should get booed. When people pay their money, they expect you to work hard.”
“I consider us a blue-collar town and I consider our fans to be knowledgeable and expect us to compete hard,” Babcock said. “We’ve lost many games over the years that I’ve been here, and if you play hard … it’s not a big deal to them. You don’t play hard, they should boo you. And we earned the right to be booed the last couple outings here. That’s what fans are supposed to do.”

[Wednesday night’s booing] was a bit of a wake-up call for the Red Wings (33-16-6), who normally get plenty of adulation at home. This season, though, Detroit’s play has been inconsistent on home ice—despite a 16-8-4 record at Joe Louis Arena.

Kris Draper agreed while speaking to MLive’s Ansar Khan...

“They have that right, we deserved it,” forward Kris Draper said. “We all heard it, and we should have heard it. (Their play) was unacceptable. One of the things we really pride ourselves in is our work ethic, and that wasn’t nearly good enough.”

Babcock suggested that the Wings have to finally back up their talk about “getting started on time” by showing up at 12:30 instead of waiting until 7:30 to worry about defeating their opponents, as is the Wings’ usual afternoon game custom:

“We haven’t been good at home, we haven’t started good at home, we haven’t worked hard enough at home, haven’t executed at home. We’ll have a very hungry Boston team that’s not used to losing coming to our building.”

The Red Wings are 16-8-4 at home. But they haven’t led after one period at Joe Louis Arena since Dec. 22 against Vancouver (1-0).

“Our starts at home have been awful, so we got to make sure mentally, physically and emotionally we’re ready to get this game going,” Draper said. “When we’re skating, playing at a high tempo, we’re a tough team to play against.”

That means that the Wings have to put on a show for their fans by specifically not getting too cute, and by worrying about playing sound defense first and foremost:

“We got to get back to keeping it simple at home, doing what we did (Friday),” Howard said. “We kept a third man high and caught them by the red line and made their life miserable and got on top of their D.”

As the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted, the Wings made some pretty damn good points about said simplification after Friday’s game, too:

“We haven’t been playing Red Wing hockey for a while now,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “We realize that. Sometimes you care so much you dig in a little too hard.  We all needed to take a step back, relax a little bit.”

Said Todd Bertuzzi: “Everyone needed to go out and play and stop thinking. We’re at our best when we’re relaxed and calm. We were just letting the play happen instead of overthinking it and trying to do too many jobs out there.”

Again, the team meeting on Friday made a difference:

“What I’ve done with this group over the years is normally let them solve their own problems,” Babcock said. “You let them take control and normally they do it all. Nick is an unbelievable leader and (Kris) Draper, Zetterberg and Datsyuk.  This is one of the first times in a long time we actually have talked about stuff like we did the other day and they really responded, which is important for us.  We think we have a good hockey team but we weren’t playing like a good hockey team. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. If you don’t work, you don’t have a chance to be successful.”

The only mention of any sort of playoff atmosphere came from Draper, who was recalling the last time the Wings were booed off the ice after consecutive games, not talking up Sunday’s game as a be-all-end-all message-sending super-must-win, as the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness noted:

The last time Kris Draper recalled being booed in back-to-back games at Joe Louis Arena occurred during the 2002 playoffs after the Wings dropped the first two games of their opening round series against the Vancouver Canucks.

“I know Game 2 especially it wasn’t a happy feeling skating off the ice,” Draper said. “We were able to turn it around, but in the regular season it’s been a long time. It happens once in awhile, but not like this.”

So, for the Wings, talk is cheap.  It’s about going out and delivering on their promises…

“Our home record here hasn’t been very good over the last couple of games,” Draper said. “Our starts have been awful. We finally put a full 60-minute game together (Friday) now we have to build on it. Good thing is we realize we can do it.”
“The fans deserve a lot better effort from us,” Howard said. “The product that’s been on the ice the last couple weeks here has been unacceptable.”

And, as Babcock told the Free Press’s George Sipple, proving that Friday night’s game was the start of a winning streak instead of a blip on the Bruins’ radar screen:

“We haven’t been good at home. We haven’t started good at home. We haven’t worked hard enough at home, haven’t executed at home,” said Wings coach Mike Babcock. “We’ll have a very hungry Boston team, that’s not used to losing, coming into our building tomorrow.”
“I would say the only time I could ever think that that happened was ’02 in the playoffs when we lost Game 1 and Game 2 to Vancouver,” Draper said. “Game 2 especially, it wasn’t a happy feeling skating off the ice. But obviously ’02 was pretty special, we were able to turn it around.  But regular season? It’s been a long time. Once in a while but not two in a row. They have that right. We deserved it. We all heard it and we should have heard it. It’s unacceptable.”
“I was shocked my first year here when we got a power play and we didn’t execute on and they booed us then,” Babcock said. “They’ve got a pretty high standard here. I like that.  We don’t play good, you should get booed.… I consider this a blue-collar town and I consider our fans to be knowledgeable and expect us to compete hard. We’ve lost many games over the years … and if you play hard it’s not a big deal to them.  We earned the right to be booed the last couple outings. That’s what fans are supposed to do.”

As the Free Press also notes, the Nashville Predators are only five points behind the Wings in the Western Conference standings, and the Dallas Stars, who signed Jason Williams on Saturday, are only four points behind the Wings. 

Substance over semantics.

Pleiness posted videos of Mike Babcock’s off-day presser…

And Chris Osgood talking about his golf trip to Ireland and Scotland and his declining skills at the game.


Two game-related notes: First, according to the NHL’s media website, Kyle Rehman and Kelly Sutherland will referee today’s game, and Johnny Murray and Tony Sericolo will work the lines;

Second, I’m going out for a belated birthday dinner after the game, so a recap/wrap-up that will progress as the media weighs in over the course of the evening/night/Monday morning won’t be penned until later in the evening. My apologies for any inconvenience caused by indulging in Ethiopian food in Ann Arbor.

Wings notes/overnight report: My off-day report covered most of the notes I mentioned during the preview, but the Free Press’s Steve Schrader earns a gold star for this “news quiz” quip:

Which quote from last week is Mike Babcock’s, describing the Wings’ effort in a loss to Nashville?

A) “Beyond ridiculous!”

B) “This is the Motor City and this is what we do.”

C) “I’ve got a lot of people rolling their eyes, looking like they smelled a [passing gas].”

D) “I almost felt like Andy Dufresne in ‘Shawshank Redemption.’ You look through 300 yards of the foulest-smelling crap you can imagine ...”

• Pro Hockey Talk’s Joe Yerdon suggests that the Wings can send a message to their Western Conference foes by getting back on track after battling through Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Mike Modano, Valtteri Filppula, Chris Osgood and Brad Stuart’s injuries (Stuart hoped to return by the end of this week):

Datsyuk has been the guy that makes it all go. That’s not to downplay the work Henrik Zetterberg also does for the Wings, but with Datsyuk you have a player who’s just as dangerous when carrying the puck as you do when he doesn’t. His ability to steal the puck away from opponents is reaching the level of urban legend with the ways he can do it. He’s multiple time Selke Trophy winner for best defensive forward all while also being one of the team leaders in points.  When Datsyuk missed 19 games with a broken hand this season, the Wings went a pedestrian 10-7-2. Getting points in 12 of 19 games is good, but with those nine losses in the mix, the distance between them and the Nashville Predators was made to be a bit uncomfortable. Being without the likes of Dan Cleary (who was tops on the team in goals scored when he was hurt) as well as goalie agitator and net presence Holmstrom, the offense sputtered terribly.

Homer’s the puck-retrieving straw that stirs the drink, especially on the power play.  Underrated at his advanced age?  Yep.

Lately, the Wings’ issues have come defensively, something that captain Nick Lidstrom was willing to shoulder the blame for. Not having veteran Chris Osgood to spell the heavily worked Jimmy Howard with Osgood and having to rely on journeyman Joey MacDonald has made life in goal tough. Being without Brad Stuart on the blue line has made things difficult as well and youngster Jakub Kindl is getting a trial by fire.

The Wings aren’t without their problems. The rate they’ve been giving up goals of late is unacceptable, especially for coach Mike Babcock who demands tough defensive play from his blue liners. Nick Lidstrom is having a tremendous offensive season, but it’s a bit jarring to see him with a -1 plus/minus rating. We know that that comes with having to play a ton of minutes (Lidstrom averages 23:41 of ice time a night) but having him paired up with Niklas Kronwall for most of the season means he’s got to play a bit more heads up.  That said, if those are the tweaks that Babcock has to make to get the Wings to turn it on and get ready for the playoffs his job is a little easier than one might think. As long as their forward units stay together and healthy, Detroit can continue to lay in the weeds while the Canucks snag the accolades they’ve earned.

• Mitch Albom penned an article discussing Tom Gores’ beating of Mike Ilitch to own the Pistons, praising Gores for “breaking the mold” of Detroit sports owners’ personalities (whatever);

• Speaking of basketball, the Detroit Free Press’s Jo-Ann Barnas noted that injured Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko calls Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall friends;

• In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins lost to the Lake Erie Monsters 2-1 in a shootout.  The Griffins’ website, the Monsters’ website (which posted a Flickr photo gallery), the Grand Rapids Press and Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Dennis Manoloff all posted recaps, and the Grand Rapids Press’s recap explains the significance of the loss:

The loss means Grand Rapids falls seven points behind Lake Erie for the last guaranteed playoff spot in the North Division with 27 games left. Grand Rapids has 53 points to 60 for Lake Erie.

With 53 games, Grand Rapids does have three games in hand over the Monsters,who have now played 56 games. Lake Erie has won three of the five games between the teams this season.
Grand Rapids has a chance to pick up additional ground on the Monsters as well as put distance between itself and seventh-place Rochester with a win over the Americans on the road Sunday.

• In the ECHL, neither Willie Coetzee nor Sebastien Piche registered a point in the Toledo Walleye’s 4-1 win over Wheeling;

• Red Wings prospect Gustav Nyquist continued his late-season renaissance with the University of Maine Black Bears by scoring two goals in Maine’s 4-2 win over the University of Vermont;

• According to the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson, the Wings decided not to go after another goaltender when Evgeni Nabokov was plucked off waivers by the Islanders:

The Detroit Red Wings don’t have much cap room, but they are still looking for goalie insurance for Jimmy Howard while Chris Osgood (sports hernia surgery) remains out. They struck out on Evgeni Nabokov, but they took a pass on Tampa’s Mike Smith when he was on waivers ($2.2 -million salary, and they’re lukewarm on his ability).

• Again, I think that Bruce Garrioch is crazy for suggesting that the Wings want to add Tomas Vokoun, never mind suggesting that the Wings could move Patrick Eaves or Ruslan Salei in order to sell the barn for a horse;

• The Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma both raves about Mikael Samuelsson and insists that Patrick Roy kicked Chris Osgood’s butt when the two fought in 1998;

• On Saturday, Chris Chelios and Darren McCarty attended WXYT’s SportFest in Novi, and likely headed up I-96 to watch his son Jake scored two goals as his Michigan State Spartans lost 6-5 to Northern Michigan University in Lansing;

• And of all the times to interview Grand Rapids Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Mike Palm spoke to Paek about his back-to-back Stanley Cup wins with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992 today:

On what it was like to hoist the Stanley Cup:

“It was lighter than a feather, I’ll tell you. All of those years, the blood, sweat and tears, playing out on the street and pretending there’s a seventh game, winning the Stanley Cup — and everything comes true. There’s just like all the emotions and everything that you’ve gone through. Then, you think of your parents and all the support and everything that they have given you, and your family. It’s just a very emotional time. Just thinking about it now, you still get goosebumps, and that was how many years ago? So, it’s just a moment that you’ll never forget, and it’s just an absolute dream come true.”

On recognizing the difficulty of winning a Stanley Cup:

“You know it’s never easy. I was in the right time and the right situation, I guess. The Penguins took a long history to get where they were at that point. The city, the whole team, especially Mario and he first was drafted there, they built to become that championship team, that was a lot of hard work. So, you knew it wasn’t easy to repeat, but you look around the dressing room and say, ‘Why can’t we do this every year?’ All the talent and character that we had, but every team is like that, too. Everybody is shooting for that one trophy, so they’re all thinking the same thing. It’s very difficult to win a championship.”

On the nature of his career:

“You can’t write the story any better, to tell you the truth. All the years in the minors and all of a sudden getting an opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, scoring your first NHL goal, assisted by Mario Lemieux in a Stanley Cup Final game, and then you get to hoist the Cup. So, you can’t write the story any better than that. It’s just absolutely fantastic.”

Update 12:23 PM: Pro Hockey Talk’s Joe Yerdon Broke down today’s match-up and James O’Brien both discussed the Bruins’ style of play and the styles the two teams play;

And NESN’s Douglas Flynn noted that Nicklas Lidstrom and Tim Thomas are in a mutual fan club.

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Welcome to Abel to Yzerman, a Red Wing blog since 1977.  No other site on the internet has better-researched, fact-laden and better prepared discussions than A2Y.  Re-phrase: we do little research, find facts and stats highly overrated and claim little to no preparation.  There are 19 readers of A2Y. No more, no less. All of them, except maybe one, are juvenile in nature.  Reminding them of that in the comment section will only encourage them to prove that. Your suggestions and critiques are welcome: wphoulihan@gmail.com