The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/18/12 at 07:41 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings’ 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators didn’t exactly leave me—or you—speechless in the quick take, but as fans like you and me ponder what’s going on with a clearly wounded animal heading into Friday night’s game (yes, it might be Nicklas Lidstrom and/or Tomas Holmstrom’s last games as Wings, and yes, we may have already witnessed our last game on JLA ice until mid-September) in Nashville…
The Red Wings, at least, will take Wednesday off before regrouping and hoping to rally from a 3-1 deficit for the second time in two seasons, against perhaps the most perplexing playoff goalie opponent since Dwayne Roloson back in 2006 in one Pekka Rinne,
Knowing that, should they not match or exceed the Predators’ desire to win on Friday, instead of spending their springtime days and nights preparing to make a difference every other evening in a quest for nothing less than the Stanley Cup, never mind their pride and the earned right to skate for another two days, they will instead become quite familiar with icky pollen, heat and humidity and the uncomfortable shuffle that is instead heading to and from Joe Louis Arena to clean out their lockers, engage in exit interviews, perhaps receive treatment from the medical staff or book operating room time, and then simply go home and watch their opponents play on while Detroit’s players wait and wonder what could have been, had they “gotten started on time” and actually delivered on their promises to play like the team we witnessed dominate the NHL prior to the middle of February, through four uncertain summer months—summer months that may very well involve no longer playing for Detroit come September for several Wings who’ve underperformed during the playoffs, and for the Wings that remain, a particularly anxious wait as Nicklas Lidstrom decides whether he wants to continue playing hockey.
After Wednesday night’s game, Predators coach Barry Trotz sounded like a coach who knew his team was on the cusp of slaying a self-made dragon in their arch-rival Wings, as NHL.com’s Brian Hedger notes…
“Along the road of being a franchise, you go through a lot of hard lessons,” said Nashville coach Barry Trotz, the only coach in the 13 seasons the Predators have existed. “I know Detroit, a number of years [ago] when I was a lot younger, really went through some hard lessons when they had some really good teams and they learned from that and they’ve been a real strong franchise ever since. They’ve won some Cups and did all those things that we aspire to do.”
If Predators goalie Pekka Rinne and the defense in front of him keep playing this way, Nashville might just have a chance to do some of those same things in these playoffs. Gabriel Bourque, Kevin Klein and David Legwand scored the goals in this game, but it was Rinne and his 40-save performance that left everybody shaking their head afterward. Simply put, if it wasn’t for the 6-foot-5 Rinne’s dazzling performance in goal, the series would almost surely be evened up at two games apiece.
“We were on our heels way too much and it definitely showed in the shot total,” said Klein, whose team was outshot by a 41-17 margin after being outshot 43-22 in Game 3 on Sunday. “I mean, I think we only had 10 shots after two periods and you’re not going to win too many times [that way] without a goalie like [Rinne]. He did it all tonight. Thank goodness we have him.”
And while Rinne was the main story, Hedger suggests that Rinne’s experience yielded some Trotz-like philosophizing about experience adding up in a positive vein…
Rinne, who was sharp right from the get-go after Detroit came out flying, was also in the goal for the Predators back in 2010 in Chicago. He allowed Patrick Kane’s goal with 13 seconds left in regulation to force overtime and also allowed Marian Hossa’s overtime game-winner. Neither he nor the smattering of other Predators who were on that team and experienced the feeling afterward have forgotten the experience. In fact, they’ve used it as a learning lesson and appear to be gaining confidence the more they play these type of closely-contested playoff games. Rinne led the Preds to a six-game first-round series win last year against Anaheim—the first in franchise history—and now has a chance help Nashville take another step by ending this series on Friday night.
“They always say the closing game is the hardest,” said Rinne, who only allowed Jiri Hudler’s goal off a deflection of a point blast by Niklas Kronwall that tied it 1-1 3:14 into the third. “We don’t have too much experience with that. We won the Anaheim series last year, but I remember that sixth game at home [last year] and that was a hard battle. Guys really wanted it and we were ready for it. It’s going to be the same way again.”
And you could say the same for one Martin Erat, who’s spent his entire career driving the Red Wings nuts:
“We got our two wins, but we have to close it and focus on the next game already,” said Erat, who was on that 2010 Predators team that coughed up the late lead against the Blackhawks. “You saw in the last couple minutes of the game. That is what we didn’t have when we played against Chicago ... that experience. Guys stepped up and have learned from the past and you can see the experience coming out.”
The Tennessean’s Josh Cooper took note of the Predators,’ “We’ve been here and done that, and we’re going to do it again” post-game bent…
“That’s what this team does, learning from the mistakes and learning from experience,” forward Martin Erat said. “We have good enough leadership in here, it’s not going to happen again and we did a great job out there.”
Erat notched the game-winning assist when he drew three defenders and the goaltender to him, then fired a pass to a wide-open Kevin Klein in front of the goal. All Klein had to do was shoot the puck into an empty net with 13:35 left in the third period to put Nashville up 2-1.
The victory gave the Predators a stranglehold on the series against a team they were unable to beat in two previous playoff meetings. And before this series, the Predators had never defeated the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena in the postseason. They now have two such wins.
David Legwand scored the game-icing goal with 38.9 seconds left on a power play. It was a similar situation to Game 5 in Chicago two years ago when the Blackhawks scored shorthanded in the final 15 seconds to force overtime. The Hawks went on to win that game and then the series. This time Nashville played to win.
“Along the road with any franchise you go through a lot of hard lessons,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We learned our lesson. This is sort of a new group. Well done by Legwand and the group on the power play.”
The Red Wings out-shot Nashville 28 to 10 over the first two periods, and had a wide advantage in terms of puck possession and “zone time” in Nashville’s end, but the Predators—as Red Wings fans who have long memories already know—have all but perfected the art of lurking in the weeds and playing “rope-a-dope” hockey (to borrow a phrase from the Predators’ broadcasters), and Nashville’s players told ESPN’s Scott Burnside that they played their game plan, to some extent, to a tee:
“To get the win when we didn’t play our best, we definitely got away with one tonight,” said defenseman Kevin Klein, who scored his second goal of the series, a game-winner on an incredible pass from Martin Erat.
After two ugly periods, captain Shea Weber said the message in the Nashville dressing room was about opportunity. They knew they hadn’t played their best hockey of the series and yet, they were entering the third period tied with the Red Wings. The Predators were determined not to let their goalie’s incredible effort disappear into a Red Wings win that evened the series.
“We knew we had a chance to win,” Weber said, and then he relayed the message that was discussed among the Predators. “We’ve got to be better to help Pekka out and help ourselves out.”
When you look at the third period and see who dug deep and found a way to win, it’s the guys who have been through the battles before in Nashville who raised their game the most. It was David Legwand, the Predators’ first-ever draft pick in 1998, scoring a pair of third-period goals after an otherwise inconsistent two games in his hometown. One of the goals actually counted, when he snapped the puck away from Danny Cleary to beat Jimmy Howard. The other didn’t, a whistle blown before Legwand beat Howard from a shot behind the goal line. It was a moment that looked like a huge break for the Red Wings.
Instead, Gabriel Bourque scored a goal on what was alll but the next shift, and the Predators went from there, yielding talk of “lessons learned” from Custance, too…
This Predators franchise has been through adversity when it looked like they were on the verge of breaking through. They should have beaten the Blackhawks in the year Chicago won the Stanley Cup, but didn’t know how to finish. They gave the Canucks a run last season in the playoffs but couldn’t match their talent. Especially Ryan Kesler. It’s those playoff disappointments that teach you how to win games like Game 4.
“You know it’s not about how you play the game, it’s how you finish,” Erat said.
And he believes this team now knows how to finish—games and a playoff series.
“For sure. For sure,” he said. “I’ve been here for a long time. We went through the good times and rough times. Right now, we learned from the past and guys know what to do on the ice the last couple minutes in the game.”
But in terms of “lucky breaks,” the Detroit News’s David Goricki notes that the Predators got one when the game was scoreless, too—a break when the Wings had all the momentum in the world, and perhaps a break which, like the Franzen no-goal in Game 3, gave them the confidence to try and literally and figuratively “get away with” defeating the Wings:
In a mad scramble in front of Rinne five minutes into the second period, Legwand jumped into a pile in front of the net and put his glove on the puck which should have given the Wings a penalty shot. Rinne quickly covered the puck to force a face off.
To a very understandable extent, the media spent the vast majority of their digital ink singing the praises of Pekka Rinne and his 40 saves, but it’s worth noting that, as Cooper points out, that the game-winning goal came from both two usual suspects and a stunning, staggering mistake on the part of the Red Wings’ defenders:
The subtleties of Martin Erat’s game sometimes make him unnoticeable on the ice. So it was somewhat odd when the Predators forward drew a Red Wings quartet of Nicklas Lidstrom, Ian White, Jiri Hudler and goaltender Jimmy Howard on a rush in the third period. Erat saw the crowd — as well as an open player in a white jersey in front of the Detroit net.
“I was just reading the goalie more than the players,” Erat said. “I just saw that he went to the right, so I made the pass.”
Erat found Kevin Klein in front for the game-winning goal — a typical Erat pass and maybe the biggest play by a skater in Tuesday’s 3-1 Nashville victory.
“He was really good,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Tonight our top players were our top players in those key situations. Marty is one of those guys.”
Klein and his Mohawk hairstyle have become quite the postseason story. With the game-winning goal, Klein is tied for the team lead in playoff scoring. What was Klein thinking when he took Erat’s pass?
“Don’t miss, or else you’ll hear about it for a long time,” he said.
The Red Wings’ players had to admit to MLive’s Ansar Khan that everything that could go wrong did on that particular play…
Three players – Jiri Hudler, Nicklas Lidstrom and Ian White – chased puck-carrier Martin Erat into the corner. Erat’s pass to the middle deflected off Hudler’s skate to a wide-open Klein, who was following up on the play. He buried it into an open net, as goaltender Jimmy Howard over-committed to Erat and couldn’t get back in position.
“I think we got out of position,’’ Lidstrom said. “I actually have to watch the film to see how they got that wide open. I think we’ve got too many guys going after the puck instead of kind of staying in the slot and covering the guy in the slot.”
“Well, (Erat) had a (partial) breakaway, so (White) is trying to take away Marty, and Marty made a great move and then he made a great pass,’’ Klein said. “It’s tough to see everything. I was staring at an open net. Marty had almost a semi-breakaway, so they all went to him.”
“I was playing Erat,’’ Howard said. “Erat made a nice play to two guys coming right down the center. He’s good with his stick. He found the wide-open guy.’‘
Said Weber: “Obviously, that was a great play, and almost everyone on their team was in one spot.’‘
And while the man, the myth, and the legend that is Pekka Rinne earned due praise from his teammates, via the Tennessean’s Cooper....
“He’s into the game and he’s able to make the saves, and he seems to be on top of the game when he gets a lot of shots,” defenseman Shea Weber said.
Weber may be onto something. During the regular season, Rinne notched a 14-0-2 record when stopping at least 35 shots. In Games 3 and 4 of this playoff series against the Red Wings, Rinne has faced 43 and 41 shots, respectively. He stopped 81 of those 84 total attempts.
“Usually, the game gets a little bit easier when you face more pucks,” Rinne said. “They’re trying to create those rebounds, and that’s probably an area in my game I feel comfortable in, picking up pucks and making that type of save.”
“He steals a lot of games; we’re relying on him a little too much right now,” defenseman Kevin Klein said. “He’s battling for us every night, and you don’t want to give them that many shots and opportunities. He’s doing a great job weathering the storm. We just have to step it up and be better for him.”
Although Rinne has played well, he has covered up many Nashville mistakes.
“There are a whole bunch of mistakes on the other side,” Detroit Coach Mike Babcock said. “You don’t know who made them because the goalie put his pad down.”
Rinne himself told the Detroit Free Press’s George Sipple that the Predators, again, sort of “got away” with winning despite being dominated at times by the Wings…
They always put a lot of pressure in net,” Rinne said of the Wings. “We weren’t really happy with our first and second (periods). We were a little sloppy. I thought in the third, they had some shots. They didn’t have too many scoring chances. We made some big defensive plays.”
Predators coach Barry Trotz expected the Wings to have a better start than they’ve had in previous games.
“We knew, obviously, Detroit’s going to come out and we’re going to have to weather some storms early,” Trotz said. “In the second period ... it wasn’t a real good period for us. In the third we sort of stabilized it again.”
“Through the whole game he saved us,” Klein said. “As a d-man, it keeps you into the game for sure. You’re just playing d-zone. Can’t say much more about Pekks. Without him tonight we wouldn’t have pulled that off.”
And, going forward, the Predators believe that they absolutely, positively have to surpass their previously-golden standard idols on Friday, and only on Friday:
“If you give them Game 5, a 3-2 series, I mean, Game 5 is huge,” Klein said. “It’s in our building. You don’t want to come back here.”
Rinne certainly doesn’t, and he told the National Post’s Michael Traikos that, despite his team’s less-than-stellar effort, his team won for a simple reason:
Rinne admitted that the first two periods were not “how you play playoff hockey.” But as the Predators headed to the dressing room for the second intermission, he said there was a quiet confidence knowing that the game was scoreless after having weathered the storm.
“We had a lot of gas,” said Rinne. “We felt like we could make a push in the third.”
Or, as Rinne told the London Free Press’s Morris DallaCosta:
“(The Wings) take a lot of shots and they shoot from all over,” Rinne said. “As a team we really did a great job making those blocks and getting in the passing lanes. We’re playing desperate hockey defensively.”
“There’s some things we have to clean up,” he said. “We can’t be too happy with our first two periods. But in the third we locked it down.”
Instead of shifting right over to the Red Wings’ perspectives, we’re going to move slowly but surely toward the Wings’ locker room while taking away some, well, somewhat disturbing observations, if you’re a Wings fan who’s worried about your team playing past Friday, anyway, from NashvillePredators.com’s Jay Levin...
Shots Don’t Tell The Story – Detroit held a major edge in shots on goal, but the scoring chances were fairly even through the game. In the first two periods, some of Nashville’s best scoring chances didn’t end up in shots on goal, while the overwhelming majority of Detroit’s shots on goal were from low percentage areas with an unobstructed view for Rinne.
Thus, the whole, “George doesn’t feel like suggesting that Pekka Rinne is the next Dominik Hasek, despite the fact that the Preds’ goalie coach used to be Hasek’s goalie coach, because of the Red Wings’ “Dwayne Rollson” effect upon opposing goaltenders in the playoffs…
Exorcising the Demons of Playoffs Past– When Nashville went on the power-play with under a minute left in regulation holding a one-goal lead, it had to trigger flashbacks to Game 5 of the 2010 series vs Chicago. This time the Preds – with a similar grouping of players on the ice – managed the puck better behind the Detroit net and ended up with an insurance goal to seal the win. Martin Erat commented in the locker room after the game that this is what this year’s team has been all about, learning from past mistakes and making the most of the current moment.
As well as the well-aforementioned Cooper’s “Postgame ponderings”:
Can we say that Pekka Rinne is stealing this series for Nashville? We can’t simply because the Predators are too talented and skilled to fall into that category. Normally a goaltender steals a series when he plays for a team that’s a little lower on the talent rung. But we can say that Rinne stole these last two games at Joe Louis Arena. He made 81 saves on 84 shots. That’s a .964 save percentage. They say your best penalty killer has to be your goaltender. The Red Wings went 1-for-7, and their one score came on a double — maybe triple — deflection past Rinne. It’s almost laughable to say he has been the difference-maker against the Red Wings just because that’s the biggest understatement of the series.
How badly did the Predators want this win? Shea Weber played 31:20. Ryan Suter played 30:40. It felt like they were both on the ice for the entire third period. You may not see those numbers next game, with the likely return of Hal Gill. Over his career, Gill has averaged 20:09 in the posteason. Suter and Weber will probably get a day to rest off the ice. And when they return, on the ice their burden may be lifted by Gill.
One could very well argue that the Red Wings’ inability—or perhaps unwillingness—to go to the front of the net and say there to generate rebounds and secondary and tertiary scoring chances has left them in a particularly difficult position, as the AP’s recap suggests, but the AP’s recap also takes good note of the fact that the Wings really shot themselves in the foot, late in the game, in an incredibly ironic manner:
“Now we’re in a tough situation,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We’ve got to go down to Nashville and win one game.”
Predators rookie Gabriel Bourque broke a scoreless tie 1:55 into the third period. Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall tied it 1:19 later with a power-play goal that was waved off on the ice but reversed by video review.
The Red Wings pulled goalie Jimmy Howard to add an extra skater with 1:31 left, but had to put him back in the net because Henrik Zetterberg was called for high-sticking with 55.8 seconds left. David Legwand’s power-play goal sealed the win with 39 seconds left.
Nashville put the Red Wings on a power play 50 seconds after Klein’s goal, just as it did after the first goal, but they couldn’t take advantage. Detroit failed to score on another power play that expired with 4-plus minutes left in the game.
Six-plus minutes in, the Red Wings looked as though they might score when Pavel Datsyuk set up Danny Cleary, but Cleary couldn’t take advantage. Zetterberg later made a cross-ice pass to put Kronwall in a position to score, but he couldn’t get his stick on a backhanded attempt to test Rinne.
“We had a lot of chances that we didn’t score on,” Lidstrom said. “We finally got one on the power play, but we needed another goal and we couldn’t get it. We hit the post there late in the game.”
If you don’t mind, I’d like to get the bombast and “spirit of the thing” columns out of the way first (we’re going to end with one, too, but you’ll understand why when you read or skim down to the end of the recap), and no one in Detroit can do “spirit of the thing” columns the way one Mitch Albom can:
How does a team that has seven shots in one period, three in the next, and seven in the last wind up winning 3-1?
The answers: 1) That’s hockey. 2) That’s goaltending.
Right now, the Wings are up against an im-Pekkable opponent. And as long as Rinne is this perfect, a Detroit win is unlikely. Maybe he goes flat next game. Maybe, on the brink of winning the first round, the Preds get a little cocky.
“That’ll be our mindset,” Lidstrom said in the locker room. “Just go down there and steal a game.”
Of course they’ll need to steal two more after that. But one thing at a time. We hope there is more. We hope—like last year—there is a three-game postseason win streak. But with the Pistons a non-factor, fans left the Joe knowing Detroit could essentially be one game away from baseball season—and only baseball season—for the rest of the spring and a long, lonely summer
The Detroit News Gregg Krupa provides us with something of a bridge via his slightly more precise bombast (because he, to put this delicately, actually covers the Wings and actually watches hockey on a regular basis). Krupa very, very astutely notes that the Wings did a rather terrible job of generating chances on the “inside” of what was a nearly impenetrable Predators slot, but he also found Wings coach Mike Babcock’s post-game demeanor somewhat startling, and that’s important to mention…
The Red Wings were so much better in nearly all facets of Game 4 that it is almost inconceivable they lost. They got off to perhaps their best starts of the series in both the first and second periods. They stayed out of the penalty box. They won a lot more faceoffs, beating the Predators 58 percent to 42 percent.
And yet they lost. Babcock seemed incredulous, facing the media after the game. Holding up the score sheet, with all of the gaudy statistics in favor of the Red Wings, except the score, he simply said, “I think the big things with our guys is you just keep showing them what they’re doing right.”
Babcock can’t believe his team is playing as well as it has three games — and lost them.
And we’ll conclude the heavy bombast with the Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski, who can toss off the occasional Albom-ism while, well, again, having the whole, “I watch hockey pretty regularly” background as well.
They’ll see this game in their off-season nightmares, especially if the series ends Friday night in Nashville. They’ll certainly see visions of Rinne, because he was everywhere he needed to be. It was as if the Red Wings could penetrate most areas of the ice — like a football team that gets into the red zone —but not close enough to solve the goalie.
This game was lost late, and also lost early. Story of the series, so far. In the first period, Dan Cleary was stopped at point-blank range. Then Valtteri Filppula dribbled a shot that nearly, tantalizingly, crossed the goal line. Then Pavel Datsyuk right in front, and then Kronwall all alone, and, well, we’re getting redundant here.
“Bottom line is, we spent a ton of time in their zone and had the puck a lot, and we gotta find a way to get it past them,” Mike Babcock said. “They hung in there, hung in there, but we made two mistakes. Now, there’s a whole bunch of mistakes on the other side, but they’re nullified because the goalie put his pad out.”
This may look like a shocking turn of events, but it really isn’t. Yes, the Red Wings won 23 straight home games during the regular season, but these playoffs are ridiculously tight. The road teams were 14-8 in all series before Tuesday night, and the Predators are learning how to play this way, after years of trying under coach Barry Trotz.
The Red Wings were in a huge hole a year ago, trailing the Sharks 3-0 before reeling off three straight victories and forcing a Game 7. They know that, but so do the Predators, and so does Rinne. It’s not quite hang-back-and-hope for Nashville, but it does feel like the old Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope
“It’s kind of the way they’ve been playing for many years,” Zetterberg said. “So there’s a good chance that’s their game plan.”
It’s working, at least when it matters and where it matters, right in front of that big, nasty goalie.
And it’s working because the Wings are making terrible, horrible, no good very bad mistakes, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James notes:
With Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena tied at 1-1, Jiri Hudler fired a puck that hit a post. Martin Erat picked it up and took off, using his speed to gain Detroit’s zone. Nicklas Lidstrom, Ian White and Hudler all followed Erat into the left corner, and with goaltender Jimmy Howard also playing Erat, that left Kevin Klein with a wide-open net when he got a pass in the slot from Erat.
“We had three guys back; all end up chasing the puck for no reason,” coach Mike Babcock said.
Howard said, “I was playing Erat, and Erat made a nice play to two guys coming down the slot.”
Lidstrom said the Wings “got out of position. I’ll have to watch the film to see how they got that wide open. I think we had too many guys going after the puck instead of staying in the slot and covering the slot.”
Klein’s goal, his second of the series, gave the Predators the lead about three minutes after the Wings had finally broken Pekka Rinne. They weren’t able to recover, and now find themselves trailing the first-round series, 3-1.
The Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell, who doesn’t pull any punches in his quote-less recap, took note of something that is also very worrisome going forward: the Wings were angrier about and more frustrated with their catastrophic defensive miscues than they are about the fact that they can’t seem to score a “dirty” goal on Rinne:
“We got 40 shots and a lot of them are quality chances,” Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “It’s tough when we’re getting chances and chances and chances and then they go up and they score. The momentum really goes over to their side and it’s tough to fight back.”
Rinne was particularly tough in the first two periods as Detroit outshot the Predators 28-10. However, you could sense Detroit’s patience was starting to waiver. As time slipped away and the Predators continued to succeed in keeping it scoreless, there was a sense Detroit was leaving its season vulnerable to one mistake heading into the third period. Those mistakes did come.
“I think we’ve been patient for most of the time, but then we have some breakdowns when we were going offensively and slipping a bit at the back,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “They get those odd-man rushes. They’re very good at reading those and jumping out to get those chances.”
Howard looked like he’d fallen asleep early in the third period when he allowed David Legwand’s trickler from behind the net to beat him at 1:28 only to be saved by a quick whistle. However, Detroit never got the puck out after the faceoff and Gabriel Bourque scored at 1:55. Detroit’s Jiri Hudler tied it with a power-play goal at 3:14, but the Wings gave away the game with some atrocious defending.
Ian White was on the wrong side of the ice and then joined Lidstrom and Jiri Hudler in chasing Martin Erat, who posed no danger going off to the left corner. Howard overplayed Erat leaving Nashville’s Kevin Klein with an empty net to shoot the puck into at 6:25.
“We played well enough to win,” defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “We’re making some huge mistakes and giving them freebies.”
The Wings didn’t sound any alarms while speaking to DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose about unsuccessful attempts to dent Rinne’s armor…
“We’ve had our good opportunities we just have to capitalize on those,” Wings forward Drew Miller said. “If we score on those goals and get those good chances next game it’s going to be big for us.”
While Kronwall, Hudler and Valtteri Filppula all had quality scoring chances early on, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne was up to the challenge – again – and made several big saves, while getting help on occasion from teammates and the goal post.
“Their goalie is making saves,” Miller said. “We just have to find a way to score. We’re out there working hard and it shows that we want to win. We just have to keep putting shots on net and eventually they’re going to go in. It’s do or die. We have to go in, play our game and get a win.”
“I think just in that third period, once they scored that first goal, I think both teams kind of got going again,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I think we got a little more desperate. I think we played solid from the start, from the get-go but we didn’t score any goals. Finally the power play got one for us to get back in the game. They counterattacked and got another one pretty quick right after.”
During the regular-season the Wings led the Western Conference in scoring in 5-on-5 situations. But in the playoffs, Detroit has scored just three of its eight goals 5-on-5.
“You can’t keep playing like this, having the puck all the time, and have the other team beat you,” coach Mike Babcock.
And that’s the problem, because the Wings are playing an opponent that’s been built and overbuilt, via trade deadline acquisitions both last year and this year, to lurk in the weeds against teams like the Wings, and it’s these kinds of defensive, trap-happy, predatorial teams that the Wings find themselves struggling to beat, both in the regular and post-seasons. So they’re in a win-or-see-you-in-September situation…
“Yeah, everybody’s disappointed to say the least,” forward Danny Cleary said. “Down 3 to 1 now. We go back to Nashville here Friday and get ready. Our focus now is we’ve been in this position before so we really can’t look to far ahead. We have to focus on one game and get a win. It’s not over yet.”
Wings fans like myself certainly hope so, and to avoid elimination, as the Detroit News’s John Niyo suggests, there’s one player who has to do a little bit better in terms of bailing his teammates out when they inevitably make impatient mistakes:
Once again Tuesday, they fired shot after aimless shot at Rinne, only to come up empty. (Go ahead and name your price on July 1, Zach Parise.) And once again, we watched a tight game decided by the first goal—that’s zero lead changes in this series through four games, by the way.
Babcock laughed when he was essentially asked after the game if the Wings were getting rope-a-doped through four games this series. He asked rhetorically — and sarcastically — if anybody really thought the Predators were trying to spend most of the game in their own zone. But then Babcock, to my ears, made a subtle point with his next comment. Before the series he’d said Howard needed “to look at the guy (Rinne) across from him head-to-head and outplay him.” And thus far, he obviously hasn’t.
“Now, there’s a whole bunch of mistakes on the other side,” Babcock said Tuesday night, noting the Predators’ own glaring defensive lapses. “But they’re nullified. You don’t even know who made ‘em. Because the goalie put his pad down.”
Again and again, Rinne has done exactly that, with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage. The Wings aren’t going to beat him low, and they haven’t managed to beat him high nearly enough. Even Howard, whose series statistics (2.79 GAA, .879 save percentage) are far less flattering, had to acknowledge that after Tuesday’s loss.
“He’s a good goalie,” said Howard, who was caught off-guard on the Predators’ third goal on another Detroit turnover in front of the net with 38 seconds left. “You’ve gotta give him credit. He’s doing a great job down at the other end. But we’ve got to keep battling, keep going and remain positive in this dressing room. It’s definitely disappointing. But, you know, they still have to win one more game. I’m not the type of person to just roll over. I’m gonna give you whatever it takes next game.”
And Howard did promise to re-set himself and do better, as he told MLive’s Brendan Savage:
Howard, who blanked the Predators during for the first 41 minutes, 55 seconds of Game 4, faced just three shots in the second period. That’s not exactly the best way for a goalie to stay sharp.
“I’ve been in that situation before,” he said. “I know how to handle it. For me, it’s coming back here to work tomorrow and remain positive for the guys and try to get a win on Friday.”
While admitting that Martin Erat’s play and the Red Wings’ defensive errors, his own over-commitment on the play included, baffled him, the Red Wings’ captain suggested that there’s something to be said for not giving the Predators the kinds of scoring chances the Wings seem to only be able to dream of:
“I have to watch the film and see what happened,” he said. “I don’t know why we had that many players going on one (guy) after the puck. I’d have to see what happened. They criss-crossed in the neutral zone to create the chance that they got. We have to be better in front of Howie. I think Jimmy has been real solid for us. He’s been playing really well. We haven’t been able to help him out defensively on some of the odd-man rushes they’ve scored on.”
So what else should the Red Wings try to accomplish in Nashville on Friday? Lidstrom had a few ideas, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan notes:
“You’ve got to continue to get pucks at the net,” Lidstrom said. “You can’t shy away from that. We’ve got to get even more traffic in front and get some of those second chances. We talked about that but he’s playing real well for them. We have to score some goals.”
Said forward Henrik Zetterberg: “They’re good as standing in front of him and blocking shots. We’re getting pucks in there (close), but we can’t get it past him.”
The power play was particularly galling for the Wings, who were only able to get one goal on seven power play opportunities. Twice late in the third period the Wings had power plays, with Nashville leading 2-1, and couldn’t get a tying goal.
“It’s kind of a problem on the power play,” forward Pavel Datsyuk said. “We can’t score on the power play. We had shots but we can’t score. We have to score more than one goal.”
The Red Wings had seven power plays to Nashville’s two, though the number of power plays versus time spent on said PP chances was hacked down to 9:52 (instead of something closer to 12-14 minutes) thanks to the fact that even-ups ruled the day,
Datsyuk reiterated that point to Kulfan in his main recap...
“We need to score more goals than one or two,” Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk said. “With our power, we need more.”
And the Free Press’s Helene St. James took note of that point...
Standing in the Red Wings’ locker room minutes after their third loss of the series, Pavel Datsyuk kept coming back to the same conclusion.
“We need score more goals,” he said, after a 3-1 decision Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena to the Nashville Predators left the Wings one loss from leaving the playoffs in the first round.
Easy to say, hard to do: They got 41 shots on Pekka Rinne in Game 4, and only dented him once to drop behind, 3-1, in the best-of-seven series.
“We needed another goal, and we couldn’t get it,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We couldn’t capitalize on our chances. We had a lot of chances that we didn’t score on. We finally got one on the power play but we needed another goal and we couldn’t get it. We hit the post there late in the game.”
While also registering Babcock’s frustration with his players…
“Their goalie was good,” coach Mike Babcock said. “I don’t think it was their plan to play as much in their zone as they did. I mean, let’s be honest, they hung in there, they hung in there. I think the big thing with our guys is, show them all the good things they’re doing. You can’t keep playing like this, having the puck all the time, and the other team beating you.”
And revealing how Babcock plans on remedying his team’s situation, for one day, anyway:
Babcock said the Wings will take today off, use the opportunity of a two-day spell before Friday’s Game 5 to catch their breaths. As Datsyuk repeatedly said, the Wings know what they have to do: Break Rinne, one game at a time now.
Scoring, by any means necessary, is the plan, and that’s what the Wings told Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji...
“We’re not scoring,” said Niklas Kronwall, who assisted on the Hudler goal. “You’re not going to win any games if you’re not scoring. The way we’re giving them some freebies. … You got to give them credit. They’re making good plays too, but at the same time I thought they didn’t have to fight that hard to get their goals. Hopefully we can clean that up and go get them on Friday.”
Captain Nick Lidstrom said the Wings have to keep shooting, have to try to get even more traffic in front of Rinne.
“It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to push past that,” Lidstrom said. “You’re in playoff hockey now, you’re not going to get the breaks all the time, you’ve got to fight for it and battle for it. Now we’re in a tough situation, we’ve got to go down to Nashville and win one game.”
The good news for the Wings, if there is any, is that they have been in this situation before. Last year, they trailed the San Jose Sharks 3-0 and came back to tie the series.
“I think every season’s different, but you can learn from that, you can learn that you can make it back,” Lidstrom said. “We tied that series up. The way we looked at it last year was just going out to win that fourth game. We won that and then you move onto the next one. Kind of just focus on the next one. That’ll be our mindset, too, just go down to Nashville and get ready for that game and try to win one game down there.”
As Henrik Zetterberg somewhat defiantly told the press, as noted by the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...
We won three in a row last year.”
And that’s just what the Wings and Henrik Zetterberg will have to do this year in order to extend their season.
“We’ve got to win one or it’s over,” Zetterberg said after Detroit’s 3-1 loss Tuesday night to the Nashville Predators in Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena of the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal.
“It’s do or die,” Drew Miller said. “We have to go in play our game and get a win.”
Last season the Wings dropped the first three games in the Western Conference semifinals with San Jose before winning the next three and eventually falling in Game 7.
“Everybody’s disappointed to say the least, down 3-1 now,” Danny Cleary said. “We go back to Nashville here Friday and get ready. Our focus now is we’ve been in this position before so we really can’t look to far ahead. We have to focus on one game and get a win.”
Babcock likes to say that frustration is a waste of time, and Zetterberg seemed to at least attempt to embrace that mantra while speaking to Pleiness…
“It’s easy to blame (no puck luck), but we just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” Zetterberg said. “I think you create your own bounces. We had 41 shots again tonight, a lot of them are quality chances,” Zetterberg added. “It’s tough when you keep getting chance after chance after chance after chance and then they come up and score a goal. The momentum goes to their side. It’s tough to fight back.”
I see a lot of similarities between this year’s team and the 2006 team that lost in the first round, playing against an Oilers team on a mission, an Oilers team that loaded up on playoff performers over the course of the previous summer and then the trade deadline, and a Red Wings team whose mix of raw youngsters, veterans and core players just didn’t seem to quite have that mix of leadership and scoring panache that Ken Holland accentuated with the additions which led to the team’s Conference Finals run in 2007 and Cup in 2008. Michigan Hockey Now’s Michael Caples brought up that team while speaking to Lidstrom about the endless slate of bad breaks and self-inflicted wound that all portend an Wings-Oilers-like short spring:
Now, The Red Wings are on the brink of being eliminated from the NHL playoffs in the first round for the first time since 2006. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom said he can’t remember the last time it felt like everything was going the opposition’s way to this extent.
“I can’t think of one right now, but that’s playoff hockey,” Lidstrom said. “Sometimes that happens in the playoffs, where you’re not getting the bounces or you think you’ve had enough chances to win, but you didn’t win. And that’s the bottom line, we didn’t win the game.”
Three Red Wings chased Martin Erat into the corner. He passed out front to Klein, who buried it into an open net, as Jimmy Howard also over-committed to Erat.
“I think everybody overplay it,” Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk said. “Everybody want to help each other. They make a nice play.”
Said Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall: “It was obviously a bit of a communication issue, looked like we had three guys going to the same guy and another open net.”
Their levels of frustration with themselves…
Kronwall said it felt like his team played “a pretty good game,” but added, “It’s tough when we keep giving them freebies; it’s three pretty much open nets.”
“It is tough,” Zetterberg said. “Once again, we created a lot of stuff, we created a lot of chances and we can’t really get the puck behind him.”
And that ever-present bottom line for a team on the brink:
Said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock: “The bottom line is we played a ton of time in their zone and we had the puck a lot, but their goaltender was good and we got to find a way to get past him and that’s it.”
But George, you might say, why do you always try to wrap these things up on a positive note? The Wings are down 3-1 and it’s highly unlikely that they’re gonna rally. Where’s the realism?
Because the Red Wings are indeed in dire straits, I’d like to give the last word to the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff, who believes that this iteration of Ken Holland’s Red Wings are in fact “Done Like Dinner,” and need to receive some additions in the form of unrestricted free agent signings to exploit the CBA and more resemble the 2001 Wings than the 2006 version (and, for the record, the London Free Press’s Morris DallaCosta and the Hockey News think the Wings need tweaks, too):
We’re not talking about blowing the thing up, but certainly, a controlled burn is in order. Not so much a rebuild as a remodeling.
Opportunity, just as it was in the summer of 2001, is knocking to quickly revamp this team once more into a serious Stanley Cup contender. Two significant unrestricted free agents and close friends – Nashville defenceman Ryan Suter and New Jersey Devils left-winger Zach Parise – are likely in the market for a new home. Parise, in town earlier this month with the Devils, made no attempt to hide his fondness for Hockeytown.
“I feel like they’re always the best in the West,” Parise said of Detroit. “They’re always the team you have to go through if you want to win the Stanley Cup.
This thing started going south long before the spring thaw, and don’t go blaming it all on late-season injuries. As the games got tighter, it grew more apparent that this team wasn’t going to be able to get it done come playoff time. Generally, good teams get better as a playoff series continues. The Wings only get further away from the goal, both literally and figuratively.
How many times, even when they were short-handed, have the Predators beaten the Wings to a loose puck in the Nashville zone?
“You can’t keep playing like this, having the puck all the time and they beat you,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
The Wings aren’t done yet, but soon, they will be. Then it will be time for them to be undone, and reassembled into a team once more capable of contending for it all.
Given uncertainty regarding the shape of the salary cap to come, I don’t think that the Red Wings are going to go out and add Suter and Parise, but if they lose on Friday? Damn right, they need reinforcements and some—please, for the first time since the Wings signed Rafalski—less than subtle tweaks to bolster both their scoring from the blueline and their firepower up front, and Holland will have to shop wisely, starting, really, at the Entry Draft, aggressively attempting to not just sign free agents, but also beat other teams to the punch by acquiring the signing rights to UFA’s-to-be while they’re available.
If they lose on Friday. If.
Highlights: The CBC posted a 1:30 highlight clip;
NBC Sports posted a 1:50 highlight clip;
ESPN posted a 3:07 highlight clip;
And the Red Wings website’s highlight clip is narrated by the NBC Sports crew.
Post-game: The CBC posted a 1:56 clip of Kevin Weekes and Mark Lee’s post-game takes;
And I don’t know who this person is, but RedWingsFeed has found a YouTube user named Currich5, and he or she posted clips from the post-game scrums of Nicklas Lidstrom, Jimmy Howard and Henrik Zetterberg, as well as two separate clips of Drew Miller speaking to the press.
Photos: The Detroit News posted a 48-image gallery;
The Detroit Free Press posted a 42-image gallery;
MLive posted a 10-image gallery;
Michigan Hockey Now posted an 18-image Flickr gallery;
The Tennessean posted a 23-image gallery;
Yahoo Sports posted 42 images from the game in its Red Wings gallery;
NHL.com posted a 45-image gallery;
The Predators’ website posted a 48-image gallery;
And the Red Wings’ website posted a 48-image gallery;
Shots 41-17 Detroit. Detroit out-shot Nashville 11-7 in the 1st period, 17-3 in the 2nd period and 13-7 in the 3rd period.
The Wings’ power play went 1 for 7 in 9:52 of PP time; the Predators’ power play went 1 for 3 in 1:39 of PP time (the PP times were low because of several 4-on-4’s due to intermeshing penalties).
Pekka Rinne stopped 40 of 41 shots; Jimmy Howard stopped 14 of 17.
The 3 stars, per the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness, were Kyle Quincey, Kevin Klein and Pekka Rinne.
The Wings’ goal: Jiri Hudler (1) from Niklas Kronwall (2) and Kyle Quincey (2), PPG.
Faceoffs 45-33 Detroit (Detroit won 58%);
Blocked shots 16-8 Nashville;
Missed shots 17-4 Detroit (that’s a total of 74 shot attempts for Detroit and 29 for Nashville);
Hits 28-20 Detroit;
Giveaways 10-6 Detroit;
Faceoffs: Datsyuk went 20-and-8 (71%); Zetterberg went 11-and-8 (58%); Abdelkader went 7-and-6 (54%); Filppula went 6-and-4 (60%); Emmerton went 0-and-5 (0%); Bertuzzi won his only faceoff; Cleary and Miller lost their only faceoffs.
Shots: Lidstrom led the team with 6 shots; Zetterberg had 5; Abdelkader, Datsyuk and Quincey had 4; Cleary, Bertuzzi and Filppula had 3; Franzen and Holmstrom had 2; Miller, Stuart, Hudler, Emmerton and Kronwall had 1.
Blocked attempts: Lidstrom and Kronwall fired 4 shots into Predators players; White and Bertuzzi had 2 attempts blocked; Miller, Hudler, Quincey and Filppula had 1 attempt blocked.
Missed shots: Quincey and Zetterberg missed the net 3 times; White, Hudler, Kronwall, Franzen and Holmstrom missed the net 2 times; Datsyuk missed the net 1 time.
Hits: Cleary led the team with 6 hits; Abdelkader had 3; White, Quincey, Ericsson, Kronwall, Franzen and Holmstrom had 2; Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Nyquist, Stuart, Zetterberg, Bertuzzi and Emmerton had 1.
Giveaways: Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Ericsson had 2 giveaways; Lidstrom, White, Hudler and Filppula had 1 giveaway.
Takeaways: Zetterberg had 2 takeaways; Lidstrom, Cleary, White, Hudler and Filppula had 1 takeaway.
Blocked opponent shots: Kronwall blocked 3 shots; Lidstrom, Nyquist, White, Miller and Quincey blocked 1 shot.
Penalties taken: Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Bertuzzi took minor penalties.
Plus-minus: The Red Wings finished at a collective -10. Lidstrom, Abdelkader, White, Miller, Stuart, Hudler, Zetterberg, Bertuzzi, Filppula and Kronwall finished at -1.
Points: Hudler had a goal; Quincey and Kronwall had assists.
Ice time: Lidstrom led the team with 25:47 played; Zetterberg played 23:42; Datsyuk played 21:47;
White played 21:35; Filppula played 20:19; Hudler played 20:10;
Quincey played 19:53; Kronwall played 19:42; Franzen played 18:33;
Ericsson played 17:14; Stuart played 15:49; Cleary played 15:05;
Bertuzzi played 12:11; Abdelkader played 11:58; Miller played 11:04;
Holmstrom played 10:40; Nyquist played 6:06; Emmerton played 4:50.
Part II: Dear Gord, please don’t tell me we’re gonna lose this: The Tennessean and the Free Press have a friendly bet as to which team’s fans are “better,” per a simple click and vote PollDaddy.com poll. And Detroit is not winning by a significant margin despite the fact that we need neither cheerleaders, college chants ripped from Yost nor team-sponsored sales encouraging fans to turn in jersey X for something in red and white.
I’m not about to suggest that any team’s fan base is “better” on an inherent basis, but geez, I’m a Wings fan, and if we’re talking about winning a bloody online poll for bragging rights…
Part III: I hate to say it’s true, but...I omitted Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s mostly Rinne-based article from the recap mix (ditto for USA Today’s Kevin Allen’s recap as it offers nothing unique), but I agree with him
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.