The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/24/14 at 04:23 AM ET
Ahead of tonight's slightly-late-starting Game 4 between the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins (8 PM EDT on FSD and NESN locally, and NBCSN and TSN nationally, as well as 97.1 FM), the tenor of the series has started to shift.
While the Bruins' press kept reminding us again and again on Wednesday that the Wings' 3-0 loss in Game 3 signals a series heading toward a 5-game conclusion, the voices of the Bruins' media who chose to stay home (I'm starting to wonder whether they'd argue that they simply chose to save on airfare for the second round) have been supplanted by those of the people who will probably be following whichever team advances to play Montreal next week.
National writers, new newspaper or online outlets and head correspondents showed up on Tuesday stuck around for Wednesday's practice. Today, they're preaching the same chorus: wouldn't it be a great story if Henrik Zetterberg returned from his back surgery to rally the struggling Wings?
I was unfortunate enough to be driving the mom across town to various appointments during practice, when baby watch was breaking and Zetterberg was skating but not speaking, and it was a bash-Franzen-and-also-Franzen-and-sometimes-Howard-but-mostly-Franzen fest (as Detroit sports talk radio is still not very hockey-centric, and when it is, it's not fantastic, I've become an NPR person).
That changed in a hurry both locally and nationally once Zetterberg made his post-practice comments--after all, is there a "better story" than a captain's return from an injury for the sake of his team's playoff chances, especially in Red Wings lore? As Tuesday afternoon gave way to Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, those in attendance for this series posted Zetterberg-related stories.
USA Today's Kevin Allen weighed in...
Zetterberg has a long history of picking up the flag and leading the charge. He is always been hard to play against, with a knack of finding soft areas of the most hardened defenses. Even if he's rusty, he might be able to help the Red Wings figure out how to penetrate a Bruins defensive fortress that has allowed two goals in 180 minutes.
"He'd be a big power boost for us," said Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar. "That would be really good and really helpful, but I don't know how far away he is. I don't have any updates. I just know he looks really good out there."
Zetterberg hasn't played since Sweden's opening game of the Olympics. Afterward, his chronic back problem flared up and surgery was deemed the best option.
The forward was artfully non-committal about when he might be ready to play.
"Still taking it day by day," he said. "This (practice) was very nice. In the playoffs, you rarely have any practices. … Hopefully I can get some more of those in."
As did NHL.com's Dan Rosen...
"I have to feel ready to play. Today was a good step in practicing," Zetterberg said. "We're still saying round two, but we all know we gained a couple of days. I can't really say anything now. I'm just happy I had my first real skate and now we'll see how I feel in the morning."
Zetterberg skated on a line with Todd Bertuzzi and Justin Abdelkader in practice, according to Detroit coach Mike Babcock. Forward Pavel Datsyuk was absent, tending to his wife, Svetlana, who recently gave birth to a baby girl.
Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall missed practice because his girlfriend was in labor. Datsyuk and Kronwall are expected to play Thursday, according to Babcock.
"The good thing is [the decision] is not in my corner, I've got to be cleared by the doctor," Zetterberg said. "I've got to do all those exams. I'm just preparing myself to get into better and better shape, try and get as much game-like situations as I can in practice. Today was a good day of that. As soon as I get the go-ahead that I'm healed and the disc is good, then I'll think about coming back."
With the Red Wings' scoring struggles -- they have just two goals in three games -- it's become abundantly clear that they're going to need Zetterberg at some point to pull off the first-round upset. As it stands right now, the Bruins have two legitimate top lines they're comfortable playing against anyone. Detroit spent part of Game 3 trying to come up with the right combination for one.
Adding Zetterberg into the mix gives coach Mike Babcock the ability to anchor two lines around Datsyuk and his captain. Even if he's rusty and working himself back into shape, it makes the matchup more balanced than it is now.
"Him and Pav take two lines away, it's up to the third and fourth [lines] to contribute," said Todd Bertuzzi, who skated with Zetterberg at practice. "Usually those guys go status quo, get a goal or two. It's up to three and four to take care of business."
Said Brendan Smith: "I think he looks amazing ... he's one of the guys that we feed off of, he's a leader, he's our captain and he does everything right. He plays both ends of the ice. Obviously, if we can get him back it would be huge for our squad and that would be awesome."
The vagueness of the timeline from the Red Wings may simply be an attempt to create another thing for the Bruins to prepare for as this series shifts into its second half. Either way, with its depth up front, Boston is ready for it.
"We have a lot of guys, a lot of lines that can take care of business no matter who is out there. That's the element of trust we've built in our team," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. I haven't been told he's in. If he's in, we'll deal with it. We know he's a good player and certainly would be a great asset to their team."
The Toronto Sun's Rob Longley (amidst a longer column in which the, "It's over" theme is strong)...
If there’s one thing that could boost the Wings’ fight, it would be the return of captain Henrik Zetterberg, who had to leave Team Sweden in Sochi to have back surgery. On Wednesday, the Detroit captain was a full participant in Wings practice for the first time since then, leading to a flurry of speculation that he would return for Game 4 on Thursday night.
With the Wings trailing the series 2-1 and witnessing the Bruins bulking up by the game, the prospect of Zetterberg’s return has big implications. Babcock immediately poured cold water on the idea, suggesting Zetterberg was just taking the place of Pavel Datsyuk, who was absent while his wife was in labour. At best, he’s a game-time decision.
“It felt good out there, but I’ve got to get cleared by the doctor,” Zetterberg said. “I’m just preparing myself to be better and get in better shape and try to get in as many game-like situations as I can in practice.”
Zetterberg’s Wings teammates are obviously hoping that return is imminent, based on what they saw on the ice Wednesday.
“I think he looks amazing,” defenceman Brendan Smith said. “It’s hard for me to tell (he’s hurt.) To get Zee back would be huge, it’s like getting an ace in your hand when you are playing cards. We’re hoping for that.”
Speaking of facing the Habs next round, Julien had no interest in biting on that one. “Last time I looked, we are up just one game. Our minds are a long, long way from that."
And the National Post's Michael Traikos:
The Red Wings obviously miss Zetterberg’s offence, his puck-possession skills and his ability to play a shutdown defensive role. His leadership would also be invaluable on team where six players are participating in their first NHL post-season.
“Just his presence out there is great to have on the ice,” winger Gustav Nyquist said. “He’s our leader. It would mean a lot to the team.”
“Hank is for sure one of the best players in the league,” winger Tomas Jurco said. “When you see your leader come back, it gives you more energy. We’re all excited he’s close.”
Zetterberg had scored 48 points in 45 games this season before being sidelined with a back injury after one game at the Olympics. He underwent surgery on Feb. 21, and he had eyed the second round as a potential return date. But the way that the Bruins have been manhandling the Red Wings, who are also missing Jonathan Eriksson, Daniel Cleary, Stephen Weiss — and new for Game 3, Daniel Alfredsson — the Wings might not get that far.
Without Zetterberg, the onus falls on a less-than-100% Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and a team of youngsters who are still navigating through their first Stanley Cup playoffs. So far, it has been a steep learning curve. Nyquist, who scored 28 goals in the regular season was was on fire at the end of the season, is still searching for his first playoff point. So are Tomas Tatar and rookies Jurco and Riley Sheahan.
“We have a lot of young guys. They carried us [in the regular season], so now we expect them to perform,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “The Stanley Cup playoffs are for men. Each year, that’s where you earn the right to be a good player in the league. Not in the regular season, in the playoffs. You want to wait around for next year or the year after? Or do you want to do something about it now?”
The Bruins' press took note, too, with the Boston Herald's Steve Conroy...
Perhaps giving it away, Zetterberg said he isn’t expecting to see the doctors today, but you can never really know what to believe at this time of year. Babcock wasn’t about to provide illumination.
“We haven’t talked about this at all. I put him where he was (in practice) because I thought his number looked real good where Pavel was suppose to be,” Babcock said.
After getting beaten badly here in Game 3 by the Bruins, Zetterberg’s practice participation at least gave the Red Wings a positive spin.
“I don’t know where he’s at right now, where he is strength-wise and how he feels,” winger Drew Miller said. “But I think just having his presence in the locker room and out on the ice is something good for our team.”
And the Boston Globe's Nancy Marrapese-Burrell weighing in:
Considering that the Red Wings trail two games to one in the first round of the playoffs after losing two straight, they could use an infusion of some sort, but it seems the buzz around Zetterberg Wednesday morning was extremely premature. After all, this isn’t Bruins captain Ray Bourque coming back in Game 7 against Hartford to help Boston eliminate the Whalers in April of 1990. Bourque had only missed three games.
Zetterberg said a decision to return will be a collaborative process between player, coaches, trainers, and doctors. One of the challenges during the postseason is that there are few opportunities for a full practice. Center Pavel Datsyuk, whose wife gave birth to a baby girl, had the day off, as did defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who was also scheduled to become a dad on Wednesday.
“I appreciate that Pavel took the day off so I can actually have a skate today,” said the 33-year-old Zetterberg. “It felt good. I still take it day by day. I have to do some skating, this was nice. That’s the problem with the playoffs, it’s tough to get game-like practices. Today was a good day of that and hopefully I can get some more of that in.”
In terms of the Bruins' side of the story going into tonight's game, however, the team "took an optional," and as such, more opinion hit the wires than actual news, save a few over-played narratives...
And if I may say this:
I think that I've come to figure out the Boston Bruins, at least from a Red Wings fan's perspective. Because they've both drafted well (thanks in no small part to tanking hard), made some really superb trades (and gotten lucky, as anyone does) and made wise free agent signings (though Zdeno Chara was kind of a gift-wrapped present), the Bruins are a team that does indeed "have everything"; they're like the kid in high school who was a jock, but got good grades, was popular and well-liked by everybody...
And still went around beating people up, just because he could.
The Bruins do in fact play a puck possession game, just as the Wings do, but they approach the task from the other end of the spectrum. For the Bruins, it's about size, strength, aggravation and intimidation yielding puck movement and stifling defense.
The "optional" only yielded the following news, per the MetroWest Daily News's Dan Cagen...
Bruins winger Daniel Paille took part in an optional practice at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday, the off-day between Games 3 and 4 of Boston’s first-round series with the Red Wings.
Paille wore a green no-contact practice. He hasn’t played since April 12 when he suffered an apparent head injury in the penultimate game of the season. He began skating April 19, but hasn’t taken contact.
“He hasn’t been cleared, to my knowledge,” Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters. “He can skate right now and he’s following protocol.”
Otherwise, do you want to read a profile of Dougie Hamilton, from the National Post's Traikos? Or another profile of Hamilton from the Boston Globe's Amalie Benjamin? How about the Boston Herald's Conroy telling us that Shawn Thornton is more than an enforcer?
Thornton has been good in all three games of this series by doing the simple things he does, like getting a shot on net or dumping a puck into a retrievable spot for a teammate.
“The thing that Shawn doesn’t get credit for is his hockey ability,” B’s coach Claude Julien said. “People see him as an enforcer, and he can take care of himself and defend his teammates. But he’s a smart player. He makes smart plays, he gets pucks out, he can flip the puck into the neutral zone, he learns to play with his teammates. . . . Even the way he drove to the net (in Game 3) to create the opportunity for Jordan to pounce on it. I think he should get a lot more credit for his hockey than he does.”
What about finding out that Milan Lucic found his status as the target of boo birds amusing, also per Conroy?
The Detroit fans gave Milan Lucic a welcome Tuesday that was about as pleasant as his stick to Danny DeKeyser’s groin in Game 1, chanting “Lucic sucks!” loudly in the first period.
Lucic got a kick out of it.
“I didn’t expect it at all, but it’s part of playoff hockey and it’s one of the things that makes the game great,” Lucic said. “When the fans are into it, it definitely makes it a lot more fun to play and the crowd was great here yesterday, and we expect it to probably go up another notch for tomorrow’s game.”
Lucic said the crowd just gets him going.
“You want to use it in a positive way and try to get it to fire you up. That’s how I react to it,” he said.
Or Brad Marchand? You know, the guy who everybody found to be the source of many quotes the day after he may or may not have been kneed by Brendan Smith, may or may not have subsequently dove, and then definitely "chirped" at anyone who questioned whether he dove online?
Marchand and his battle with Smith took center off-day stage, as noted by the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness...
“It was funny when he was putting all his weight on the leg that got hit (leaving the ice),” Smith said Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena. “It’s interesting when I saw the picture.
“That’s Marchand, he’s going to try to create some stuff, that’s the kind of player he is and he’s kind of lived off that for a long time, that’s why he’s great. It’s kind of funny when you get caught like that and you go down on your left leg and you got your right leg up. That’s how he is. That’s how he plays. It’s worked for him.”
Marchand has been trying to get under Smith’s skin the entire series, but he insists his ploys to do so aren’t working.
“For me I just keep playing,” Smith said. “I’m hoping the refs will start seeing a little more but it’s playoff hockey, that’s what goes on.
“That’s what he does, he’s an antagonizer, he’s kind of like a pest type of guy but he’s one of the best in the league at that,” Smith added. “It’s good that the refs can understand that.”
The Boston Herald's Matt Kalman...
“In playoffs, it’s so emotional and the tension’s really high and guys are laying everything on the line,” said Marchand. “And when you do that, things get chippy and guys are playing aggressively, and I think it just comes out in the playoffs a little more. When you know what’s on the line and what you’re expected to do, it just comes out.”
Marchand hasn’t let bloodlines get in his way. Many of his spats have been with linemate Reilly Smith’s brother Brendan, a Detroit defenseman.
“Well, I think just with him, we’ve been playing against each other a lot and he’s a physical guy. And whenever he can take a run at me he’s taken a run at me. And I want to do the same to him,” Marchand said. “So it’s just in a series like this you want to try to wear each other down and whenever he gets a chance to hit me I’m sure he’s going to.”
Marchand finished the regular season with 25 goals after he scored only four times in the Bruins’ first 31 games. Although there was talk he’d have to be more of a brat to get the rest of his game going, he battled through, and avoided punishment from the league. Basically, he was disciplined enough to avoid discipline.
“Yeah, if I followed you right, then yeah. It was good,” he said. “I think a pretty decent year over all. I think I behaved myself and I’m definitely happy about that.”
Who penned a second Marchand article for CBS Boston...
On the other side, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock wants his players to “ignore him.” That usually proves easier to say than do.
Marchand think he’s up for the challenge of getting Red Wings players to violate Babcock’s orders.
“I mean they don’t want to do anything stupid after the whistle and anything like that. But when you go after guys enough and you hit them, it’s human nature they’re going to want to hit you back,” he said. “I think you can see that out there, guys just taking runs and that’s just how it goes. They might skate away and not chirp and stuff like that. But guys are going to run out of position to hit and stuff like that and that’s what you want.”
And just about everybody else made Marchand their off-day headliner for the same reason they talked about Zetterberg's return:
It's a classic playoff storyline, the shift disturber, the kind of stuff that's interesting for writers to write and the kind of stuff that tends to draw page views and sell newspapers.
The Boston Globe's Benjamin played up the Marchand storyline while noting that Marchand defines the Bruins' way of playing hockey, and he defines their blueprint from the management on down:
The Bruins — coach Claude Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli, in particular — were not happy with Marchand’s actions in that Vancouver game [in 2011], when he mimed kissing the Stanley Cup and a Cup ring in a game they were losing badly. But that doesn’t mean they want him to tone it down entirely. They know it can help him and help them.
“We don’t want him to cross the line,” Julien said. “He’s got to play his game, and he’s got to be, again, respectful of the rules. The only time he’s ever gotten in trouble with us is when he crosses the line. Right now I think he’s being the Brad Marchand that we know. As long as he stays within the rules, I have no issue.”
And maybe he’s learned. Maybe.
“I’m trying to cut out the stuff that I don’t need to do, like starting a lot of scrums after the whistle, stuff like that,” Marchand said. “I think I’ve cut down a lot on that. Hopefully refs will see that a bit and give me a bit of a break.”
He added, “You want to set a tempo. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against. You want to play in [their] face. I think that’s kind of our style. When you do that sometimes guys come back at you and they want to try and play our style of hockey. We kind of suck guys in like that and get them off their game a little bit. It makes us play better, and that’s all I really want to do.”
That is indeed Boston's style of hockey, and while BostonBruins.com's Caryn Switaj noted that Wednesday was a R&R day for the Bruins...
During the playoffs, with intensity ramped up and the "whatever it takes" commitment level reaching a new high, players take the days in between games to do what they think is best for their bodies and minds. Unless there is considerable work to be done on the ice or in the video room, the Bruins go about their business.
For one group of Bruins, including Brad Marchand, Reilly Smith and Patrice Bergeron, that often consists of a spirited game of two-touch soccer wherever they can find a piece of open real estate near the locker room.
Usually a hefty group of Bruins take the option of skating, often led through drills by the assistant coaches. The top minute-loggers like Zdeno Chara and Jarome Iginla often opt to stay off the ice.
"During the game, it’s always on. There’s no pacing it - you’re just going as hard as you can with each shift," said Iginla. "During the series, these are the days that it’s 'get what you need personally.' Some guys want to go out and skate, some guys stretch or however you’re feeling, so you kind of monitor that and it’s just about loading up for the games and giving everything you have on game day."
The "Frustrate the Wings" theme popped up...
With a 2-1 series lead after their 3-0 win on Tuesday, the Bruins aren't letting themselves feel any sort of comfort. They've done that song and dance before. This game can change quickly, and they are well aware.
The Red Wings may be feeling some frustration on their part, only being able to get two pucks past the Bruins' defense and Tuukka Rask so far in the series (he's put up a 0.67 goals-against average through three games).
"Not worrying about it," said Johnny Boychuk, when I mentioned Detroit's frustration. "You have to go into the next game and do the same things you’ve been doing the last couple games. Even in the first game, we played well but you didn’t get the outcome. You just have to try to play stingy D and take one game at a time and try to get that next win to go back home."
The Bruins praised their own depth while speaking with the Detroit News's David Goricki...
It doesn’t matter to the Bruins who scores — as long as someone does. In their first-round series against the Red Wings, the Bruins have scored seven goals, and two have come from players on their top two lines.
Smith and Florek scored their first career playoff goals in Game 2, and Hamilton and Caron scored their first goals in Game 3.
“It speaks a lot about our depth,” Bruins first-line center Patrice Bergeron said.
Caron, in particular, is an interesting case. He was expected to have an impact after being selected in the first round in 2009.
This year, however, he had one goal in 35 games with a minus-8 rating. Now, the Bruins are hoping he continues to grow as they look to take a 3-1 series lead in Game 4 tonight.
“He got his chance and now he’s taken it and he’s playing well and scored a big goal for us,” Bergeron said of Caron.
And while the Free Press's George Sipple noted that the Bruins aren't looking ahead per se...
NEXT? The Montreal Canadiens finished off the Tampa Bay Lightning in a four-game sweep. While the Bruins are ahead, 2-1, in the series against the Wings, Julien isn’t thinking yet about the next round.
“We’ve got a series that we’re in right now,” Julien said. “The last time I looked, I think we’re just up by one game. Before we start thinking and talking about (the next round), we’ve gotta do our jobs here. Our minds are a long ways away from that.”
BRIEFLY: The Bruins have liked the way they’ve started in the series, and Milan Lucic said the Wings are going to want to have a big start in Game 4. “For us, we have to have the same mind-set,” Lucic said.
The MetroWest Daily News's Cagen talked about the Bruins' stifling defensive style...
Through three games of their first-round series with the Bruins, the Red Wings' engines have been stuck in neutral, their wheels spinning in quicksand.
Detroit has scored two goals in three games. Tuukka Rask picked up a breezy 23-save shutout in Tuesday's 3-0 shutout win at Joe Louis Arena. Rask hasn't allowed a score in 86:40, dating to the second period of Sunday's Game 2. The Bruins have cruised to consecutive victories to take a 2-1 series lead.
The Bruins are hardly kicking themselves over either goal Detroit has scored so far. Pavel Datsyuk went all world-class on them for the only goal in Game 1, then Luke Glendening's score bounced off his shoulder and glove before going in Sunday.
As for all that speed the Wings were supposed to bring? The Bruins will let them be as fast as they want chasing the puck.
As did the Patriot Ledger's Mike Loftus:
It's all but impossible to win even the close, low-scoring games the Red Wings favor without some offense, though, and not only have they scored a mere two goals through three games, they can't make the "only a matter of time" argument as convincingly as the B's.
Scoring has been an issue in Detroit for much of the season. The Wings' offense ranked 16 of 30 teams, with the post-Olympics absences of star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg being major causes. Gustav Nyquist came up from the AHL to lead the team with 28 goals in just 57 games, but the only teammates with more points than his 48 were 41-year-old winger Daniel Alfredsson and Niklas Kronwall, a defenseman. The were the co-leaders with 49 points.
Datsyuk scored the only goal of Game 1, but only three weeks into his return from a knee injury, he hasn't reached full speed. Nyquist leads the Wings with 10 shots in the series, but very few have been threats, and he hasn't scored a point.
So how does this change?
For the Bruins, they hope that nothing changes, especially in terms of keeping the Wings out of their slot and out of Tuukka Rask's sightlines. The Boston Herald's Stephen Harris suggests that Rask's play has been "under the radar," but the B's press corps' suggestions that he's unbeatable certainly doesn't mesh with Harris' take.
However, Harris does let Julien and Rask himself tell the Bruins' defensive story...
“I think he’s had a wonderful playoff so far,” Julien said yesterday, a day off the ice for Rask and most of his teammates. “I’m happy with the way we’ve played, the way we’ve backchecked and come back. But that doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes in a game. (Rask) has had to make some pretty good saves for us. That’s what you want your goaltender to do. He stays focused throughout the whole game. He’s got to maintain that in order for us to have a chance.”
Of course, the Bruins have done a great job executing their team defensive system against the Red Wings, taking away time and space and allowing limited scoring chances.
Still, Rask noted after facing just 24 shots, few of them real scoring chances, in Game 1 that even though he wasn’t seeing a lot of rubber, it was not an easy game. He knew he had to stay very ready.
As he exited the Joe yesterday, nothing had changed for the goalie.
“Yeah, the whole series has been like that,” Rask said. “They’ve had moments, but it hasn’t been like constant shots. I’ve been lucky enough that our team has played such good defense, and I’ve been able to make those timely saves to keep a lead.”
Does he think his mates can continue to smother the Wings and limit their chances?
“I think so, I can’t see why not,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve done anything spectacular out there. We’ve just played our game. That’s how it goes when we play our system and don’t try to do too much. Things are easy for us.”
And it's with that--the concept that this has been an easy series for Rask and the Bruins--that we'll shift our perspectives.
If you wish to enjoy the Boston Globe or Boston Herald's Bruins practice galleries, NESN's Game 4 preview video, CSNNE's 5:04 off-day video in which it's suggested that nothing less than "domination" of the Red Wings would be a disaster, blather about the "tripping debate" from CSNNE and Joe Haggerty, or ESPN's Joe McDonald's praise for Marchand, you may most certainly do so on your own
I would suggest that you take a look at Haggerty's assessment of Babcock's "State of the Series," and Babcock's comments about the playoffs being a place "for men" made both CSNNE's reels and TSN's off-day report, and all the Wings stuff is in the practice post...
We make the shift via the New York Times' Joanne C. Gerstner's suggestion that the "Red Wings' Speed [is being] Trumped by Bruins' Brains and Brawn" sums up the out-of-towners' takes going into Game 3...
“You know nothing comes easy in the playoffs; it’s about continuing to do the hard work and being smart,” Bruins left wing Milan Lucic said. “We’re playing smart right now, and we know what we have to do against a team as talented as Detroit. We’re taking nothing for granted; we’re only up, 2-1.”
While Detroit has found its speed neutralized, with Boston winning every key matchup, the Red Wings know they are only a win away from sending the series back to Boston on Saturday tied at 2-2.
“It’s one of those things where they’ve done a good job; give them credit,” Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader said. “They’ve done a good job of trapping it, boxing out and getting bodies in front. We’ve got to make a few adjustments, and we’ll be fine. We’ve got a few guys who can get the job done,” he added. “As a playoff series goes on, it’s about adjusting to what the other team does.”
Bruins veterans, such as right wing Jarome Iginla and defenseman Zdeno Chara, the captain, are stalwarts. Younger players, like defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Kevan Miller and right wing Jordan Caron, are growing more confident by the game.
“A lot of people talk about us in how we play physically or how we’re bigger, but we can do a lot of things right out there,” said Hamilton, 20, who scored his first career playoff goal in Tuesday’s 2-0 win at Joe Louis Arena. “We’ve got speed, too. We’ve got the skill, too. We know it’s going to take all of us together to win in the playoffs. It’s obviously good when that is all working.”
The AP's Larry Lage noting the following...
BLACKOUT D: By design, the Bruins are really good on defense. Claude Julien coaches them to clog the middle of the ice, blocking shots with bodies and sticks, and to be physical at times and patient when opponents stay on the outside with the puck. "It's up to us to work hard without the puck," Julien said. "We've done a good job of backchecking and that has been a big help. The defensive game is not just about the goaltending."
With two goals through three games, the Red Wings are off to their worst three-game start in any playoff series since getting shut out in the first three games of the 1945 Stanley Cup finals.
IN THE NET: Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard has a tough task, attempting to outplay Rask. He seemed to fall short when Boston scored its first goal in a 3-0 win Tuesday night on what looked like a relatively weak wrist shot. Howard, though, bristled when he was asked if it was "a soft goal," the next day. "When your defenseman goes to throw his stick in front of him, he's trying to do his best to deflect the puck away from the net," Howard said. "That can cause a split hesitation where you don't know where the puck is going to go for a second and just like that the puck is in the net."
And NHL.com's game preview, which reads as follows:
Red Wings [team scope]: Datsyuk was limited to one shot on net Tuesday for the second straight game. He needs to get going, and that might require Babcock doing more to keep his star away from Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. It might also help if he has more firepower on his line, and slumping wing Gustav Nyquist might need to continue playing with Datsyuk and Justin Abdelkader like he did in the third period of the past two games. Forward Johan Franzen has also struggled to get chances.
Who’s hot: Rask is coming off a shutout for the Bruins and has stopped 80 of 82 shots for a .976 save percentage. Center Patrice Bergeron has three points in three games. … Red Wings defensemen Niklas Kronwall and Brendan Smith have done well limiting the damage done by the Bruins' line of David Krejci centering Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla.
Injury report: Boston forwards Daniel Paille (head) and Chris Kelly (back) remain out. … Detroit did not have forward Daniel Alfredsson (back) for Game 3 and he did not skate Wednesday. Forward Henrik Zetterberg (back) skated Wednesday and Babcock said he's waiting to hear if the center will be cleared. Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (hand) is out.
Per the NHL's media website's game notes, Brad Watson and Justin St. Pierre will referee tonight's game, with Brad Kovachik and Scott Cherrey working the lines.
In terms of the Wings' fate, as you know, I will readily admit that I'm as big a Wings fan as you are, but I do not believe that this series' fate lies with Henrik Zetterberg's status, nor does it depend upon Mr. Kicks Shoe After Soccer Ball's instigating. As I stated in the Game 3 wrap-up, the team really does "Need More From Everybody," and the Wings need to slow down their game and get back to the fundamentals of playing sound defensive and then neutral zone hockey while establishing puck possession to earn the right to start thinking about offense...
And when they do, everybody has to step up, from number 2 to number 93.
It's easy to blame Franzen. I know. I'm starting to believe that there is a possibility that Franzen will be bought out or traded this summer, even with his cap hit of $3.95 million till the tenth of forever and Ken Holland being a stubborn GM.
He's been terrible since he ditched his Warrior gloves for Eastons a month ago, and without Franzen or Justin Abdelkader going to the net, the Tatar-Sheahan-Jurco line looking anything less than overmatched, with Nyquist not skating to follow the pucks he shoots, with Datsyuk at 75% at best and with David Legwand having disappeared from the face of the earth--and with no Daniel Alfredsson to calm everybody down (maybe Bertuzzi draws in as a result given Wednesday's lines?), the seasoned support guys in Miller, the aforementioned Abdelkader, Helm and Glendening unlikely to provide much in the way of secondary scoring in this series...
The pressure on the power play has been to ask Niklas Kronwall, the somewhat jittery Danny DeKeyser or the up-and-down Jakub Kindl (who takes a lot of shots that hit the net but few that do any sort of damage) to score for the forwards, and when things break down at the other end, Smith has been clearly distracted by playing against his brother, Lashoff, Kindl and Quincey have struggled, and Howard's been fine save the fact that he's been terrible on the game-deciding goals.
"Baby Duty" yielded the following quip from Babcock, as noted by the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan...
Both Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall didn't practice Wednesday, with Datsyuk celebrating the birth of a daughter, and Kronwall's family expecting the arrival of a new baby at any time.
Any chance of either player missing Thursday's Game 4?
No chance, according to Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who believes his players aren't really doing much work in this process.
"I would assume both would play," Babcock said. "Why wouldn't they? They're not giving birth, the wives are."
And Pavel Datsyuk did weigh in in his own way:
Sans the dads, MLive's Ansar Khan had the Wings' icing these lines--new ones, save Riley and the Slovaks and the 4th fandango:
Todd Bertuzzi-Henrik Zetterberg-Justin Abdelkader
Tomas Tatar-Riley Sheahan-Tomas Jurco
Johan Franzen-Darren Helm-Gustav Nyquist
Drew Miller/Joakim Andersson-Luke Glendening-David Legwand
Xavier Ouellet-Brendan Smith
Danny DeKesyser-Kyle Quincey
Brian Lashoff-Jakub Kindl
And Xavier Ouellet told MLive's Brendan Savage that he was told to report to the Joe before the Grand Rapids Griffins left for Abbotsford, BC, but not to expect to play per se (and Savage continues his conversation with Ouellet):
The Red Wings haven't shared their plans with Ouellet.
"Actually no," he said. "I got a call, they just asked me to be there at practice today so that's what I did."
Coach Mike Babcock didn't address Ouellet's situation during his press briefing Wednesday.
Niklas Kronwall didn't practice because his girlfriend is expecting a child so it's possible Ouellet was called up to give the Red Wings a full defensive corps for practice.
Or, he could on the verge of making his NHL playoff debut, perhaps replacing Brian Lashoff in Thursday's lineup.
Maybe, maybe not. Regardless of their personnel on Thurdsay, as the Wings told DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose, their goal is to finally skate the puck up the middle ice and to penetrate the Bruins' slot...
“A lot of times you're not going to score on the first opportunity on any goalie in this league, especially him,” Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said. “Just get more opportunities, get screens, get tips, just get into that area.”
Trailing 2-1 in their best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series, the Red Wings have struggled to get pucks past Rask, scoring just twice in three games so far. But Jimmy Howard believes short-term amnesia would do some good heading in to Thursday’s game at Joe Louis Arena.
“It's already over and done with and there's no sense in dwelling on the past right now,” Howard said. “We've got to get to the middle of the ice. They're controlling the middle of the ice and that's forcing all of our shots to come from the outside. We've got to find a way to get to Tuukka and get traffic in front of him. He's a great goalie, who is going to stop the shot when he sees it.”
The Red Wings have gone without scoring in the last four periods, and their power play has been powerless, going 0-for-9 in this series, including a stretch that lasted nearly 3 ½ minutes during the second period of Tuesday’s 3-0 loss.
“It’s one of those things where they’ve done a good job, give them credit. They’ve done a good job of trapping it, boxing out and getting bodies in front,” Abdelkader said. “We’ve got to make a few adjustments and we’ll be fine. We’ve got a few guys who can get the job done. As a playoff series goes on, it’s about adjusting to what the other team does.”
And Babcock made an almost dersive comment about the Bruins' goaltending while pushing the Wings along literally and figuratively, as the Free Press's Helene St. James noted:
“He looks great in warm-ups,” Babcock said of Rask. “That’s where he’s getting his most shots.”
Babcock was joking — sort of. The Wings haven’t really tested Rask, not since Game 1. His Bruins teammates consistently have pushed the Wings to the perimeter. The Wings, on the other hand, have let the Bruins maul them — giving them power plays, giving them turnovers, giving them space via a bad line change, as was the case on the second goal Tuesday.
“We’ve been behind so fast the last two games, you don’t even get to test Boston because they’re just ahead,” Babcock said. “You’ve got to have them down to find out if they’re any good, and you’ve got to get on the inside to find out if Rask is doing anything for them. We haven’t gotten to him, I guess is what I’m saying.”
Most ignominiously, the Wings haven’t gotten to Rask even when they’ve had the man advantage, even when they’ve had a two-man advantage. Maybe that changes if captain Henrik Zetterberg can return for the series; he was glowing after his first full practice Wednesday, and no one on the team would completely rule out the possibility he’d be back sooner than later. It would help if Daniel Alfredsson, the team’s best right-handed shot, could play again, but he has been off the ice since Sunday.
To the ones who have been, and are, playing, this is the question Babcock posed: “What I asked everyone on our team is, is there anything they’re doing that’s making you compromise your game? If there is, then do something about it.”
That’s the message for Johan Franzen, who has eight shots on goal but no goal. It’s the message for Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan, none of whom has a point yet in the playoffs. The kids who carried the Wings all spring have gone silent. That’s not uncommon for young players, because “the Stanley Cup playoffs are for men,” as Babcock put it. “That’s when you earn the right to be a good player in the league.”
Babcock had a simple message for #93, as the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness noted...
Wings coach Mike Babcock made one simple statement when asked about Franzen’s struggles,” Get on the inside.”
In his last 21 games, playoffs and regular season, he has one goal, seven assists and a minus-5 rating. In the previous 23 games, he had 13 goals, 16 assists and a plus-14.
Franzen is third on the team in shots on goal through three games with eight.
And Babcock continued while speaking with MLive's Ansar Khan:
“You got to give [Rask] credit, he made some big saves,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s had light nights against us so far. I really thought with the exception of Game 1, they did an exceptional job of pushing us out of the middle; we’ve been on the outside. You got to be way harder and you got to be on the inside and you got to make the goalie work way more.”
This responsibility falls on all the forwards. Gustav Nyquist, who led the team with 28 goals, and Tomas Tatar, who notched 19, haven’t scored in nine games. Daniel Alfredsson, who’s been bothered with a bad back that forced him to miss Game 3, has one goal in 13 games. David Legwand has one goal and one assist in his past 10 games, playing mostly on the fourth line.
Others can step up, too. But Franzen is capable of dominating. The problem is, he’s notoriously streaky, and he’s currently in a downturn, with one goal, seven assists and a minus-5 rating in his past 21 games, regular season and playoffs. In the 23 games prior to that he had 13 goals, 16 assists and a plus-14 rating.
Franzen’s reputation as a big-time playoff performer continues to fade. He was a force between 2008 and 2010, with 31 goals (including nine game-winners), 59 points and a plus-29 rating in 51 games. Since 2011, he has seven goals, 11 points and a minus-8 rating in 30 postseason games.
Yup, and as Franzen didn't talk to the media on Wednesday, his coach and teammates did, talking about the power play's struggles--or perhaps the lack thereof due to the players' struggles penetrating the slot...
“I thought our power play (Tuesday), we had entries, no problem,” Babcock said. “I look up and they got four guys on the inside and we got one guy standing at the net and four guys on the outside. You’re not scoring like that, so let’s get involved in the game.”
Riley Sheahan said the Bruins have done a good job of keeping the Red Wings “out of Rask’s eyes.”
“That’s one of the biggest things, getting shots through and being there for rebounds and scrums,” Sheahan said. “They have some big D-men. I have to spin off them and get around them, make sure you’re in front of them.”
Said Legwand: “Pucks have been coming off (Rask) a little bit. We got to get more pucks to the net and create more chances and get to those pucks.”
And as Justin Abdelkader discussed the team's task at hand with the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan...
“We need to get more opportunities, get those screens and tips and try to get to those areas,” Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader said. “We need to get more traffic, get more pucks on net.”
A better start wouldn’t hurt, either. The last two games — 4-1 and 3-0 losses — the Bruins have put the Red Wings into early deficits they haven’t been able to of overcome.
“We have to get off to a better start,” Abdelkader said. “We kind of put ourselves into a hole the last few games. They’re a good team and you can’t spot any good team two goals like that.”
Kulfan found out that one thing was troubling Brendan Smith more than the Bruins have frustrated him:
Defenseman Brendan Smith talked aboutbeing booed off the ice after the first period in Game 3.
“That can be a little frustrating. We don’t want to be booed. We don’t want our fans to boo us. It’s tough, but (fans booed) because we didn’t show up on time and I understand that.”
Babcock told the Detroit News's Bob Wojnowski--penning a "spirit of the thing" article--that the Wings have to believe that they can turn and burn with the Beasts of the East...
“(The Bruins) are really good players, but we got some good players, too,” Babcock said. “What I ask of everyone on our team is, ‘Is there anything they’re doing that makes you compromise your game?’ If there is, do something about it. This thing about us standing around on the outside (away from Tuukka Rask), you ain’t scoring like that.”
After the 3-0 loss in Game 3, which dropped the Wings into a 2-1 series hole, Babcock looked bewildered. He had no inkling such an awful effort was coming, which suggests he’s not sure what to expect tonight.
The young players looked anxious and jumpy at the start of Game 3, and some of that is expected, if not excused. This part is inexcusable: The Wings’ experienced players have done little to compensate. Pavel Datsyuk is playing injured and still has his scintillating moments, no complaints there. But Johan Franzen supposedly is here for these moments, and has one point. David Legwand and Daniel Alfredsson (if he can stay healthy) were brought here for these moments, and have zero. Jimmy Howard and Niklas Kronwall are steady veterans who haven’t yet raised their games.
The Bruins posted the best record in the NHL for a reason, and play methodically disciplined defense. But before anyone crowns ’em, the Wings at least should challenge them.
“We’ve been behind so fast the last two games, you don’t even get to test Boston,” Babcock said. “You gotta get on the inside to find out if Rask is doing anything. We all know he’s a world-class goalie. He looks great in warm-ups — that’s where he’s getting his most shots.”
And while Wojnowski focuses on Franzen's incredibly disappointing performance, the Red Wings' leaders, both in and out of the lineup, made more impactful remarks:
“We know we can play with this team,” Gustav Nyquist said. “I don’t think we feel like the media does, saying they’re the big bad Bruins. We just gotta play a little faster.”
It’s less about pep talks and more about pep in the step. Babcock is a masterful motivator, and he has a big task here. It would be more manageable if he had his captain on the ice, but from a unique vantage point, Zetterberg sees the same thing the coach sees.
“We just gotta be smart,” Zetterberg said. “You can’t give them anything because they don’t give you anything. If it’s a really boring game, that’s a good game. You just gotta be patient.”
We can beat the Zetterberg story to death--the Free Press's Jeff Seidel almost did so before saving his story...
When you see Zetterberg back in the dressing room surrounded by reporters, talking about when he might come back, it’s a stark reminder of what this team has accomplished without him. How all these young players came through to help this team get to the playoffs.
“We have a lot of young guys,” Babcock said. “They carried us. Now, we expect them to perform. The Stanley Cup playoffs are for men. That’s where you earn the right to be a good player in the league, not in the regular season.”
That’s why fans are clinging to the hope that Zetterberg can return in this series. Because he already has been through the wars. Because, to borrow Babcock’s term, Zetterberg is a man who has proven himself in the playoffs.
“We just have to be smart,” Zetterberg said. “You can’t give them anything because they don’t give you anything. If it’s a really boring game out there, that’s a good thing.”
Would he love to play? Of course. Will he? We’ll have to wait and see.
“It is tough not to play playoffs,” Zetterberg said. “That’s the best time of year, and you want to be out there. It was tough enough to watch the regular season. The playoffs are even harder.”
And I'm not going to re-post the Windsor Star's Bob Duff's Zetterberg story or MLive's Khan's Zetterberg story for emphasis' sake, because he can't be expected to do more than take today's morning skate and tease us, as Justin Abdelkader told Khan:
Justin Abdelkader said, “It would be a great addition, but we can’t count on Zetterberg planning on coming in during the series; we’ve got to get it done with the guys we have here.”
And Babcock had this medial report for the Macomb Daily's Pleiness, about Zetterberg, Alfredsson and the baby daddies:
“I didn’t ask anybody today on purpose,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said when asked if he inquired about the status for those three for Game 4 Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena. “I figure by not asking anybody it buys me until tomorrow to decide what I want to do first and then I would assume that they’re both playing (Datsyuk and Kronwall. They’re not giving birth. Their wives are. One has and one is.”
Zetterberg said this to the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan, and it's the truth:
Zetterberg, who skated on a line with Justin Abdelkader and Todd Bertuzzi Wednesday, was asked when he might be able to return.
"I have no idea," he said. "I have to feel good and this was a good first step of practicing. I can't really say anything now. I'm just real happy I had my first real skate and I'll see how I feel tomorrow. If I don’t feel any setbacks and don’t feel anything bad, that’s when I’ll probably start having conversations (with team doctors). The more I amp stuff up in the gym and ice, we have to wait and see reactions.”
It would be amazing if he could return, but he wouldn't be at even Datsyukian strength, so the guys who are in the lineup have to get it done.
Two of the Wings' "support players" weighed in on the playoff grind, and then the coach had something smart to say to the Canadian Press's Stephen Whyno, and this is as good a place to end upon as any:
“What I asked everyone on our team is, is there anything they’re doing that’s making you compromise your game? If there is, then do something about it,” he said. “Let’s get involved in the game.”
That's been the Wings' biggest problem--they haven't "gotten involved" in playing their game--and it's upon the Wings currently-skating players to rectify that situation, starting tonight, at 8 sharp.
MLive's David Mueller reports that the neighborhood advisory board that will oversee the non-rink development in the Cass Corridor got off to a proper though quiet start;
Mickey Redmond spoke with Detroit Sports 105.1 FM's Drew Lane on Wednesday evening...
And I'll see you in six hours.
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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.