The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/20/12 at 07:22 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings will hope to stave off elimination against the Nashville Predators tonight (8 PM EDT, FSD/SportSouth/CNBC/97.1 FM), and after two days to rest and recover from Game 4, the Wings’ players, executives and media have sort of prepared their fans for what could be the team’s last game until September:
• GM Ken Holland, executive Kris Draper and Mike Babcock have made the media rounds, and 97.1 Jamie Samuelssen gave fans a forum with which to criticize their decision-making, as well as make suggestions of our own as to what the management and coach might need to do should the team not join the 8.73% of NHL teams and 1987 and 1992 Wings in successfully rallying form a 3-1 series deficit;
• By the time Nicklas Lidstrom actually had to go through the usual motions in telling the press that he won’t decide whether he wants to continue playing until a few weeks after whenever the Wings’ season ends, fans had talked it through
• And after the “off-day’s” worth of quips and quotes and Thursday morning columns gave way to the predictable, “We’ve got to keep doing what we doing” comments from the Wings and the, “The fourth win is the hardest” comments from the Predators, we knew what was coming.
What Wings fans never want to become used to what has become two years of questions about proper celebrations should the “Gold Standard” in Detroit be defeated by yet another one of its emulators, as posted on Twitter by the Nashville City Paper’s David Boclair:
OK Predators fans, quick question in the interest of top-notch journalism: What are the good places in town to buy a catfish?
With the Wings staring first-round elimination in the face for the first time since 2006, the Predators, like the Sharks, both last season and the year before, believe that they’re on the cusp of finally defeating and surpassing a team they’ve modeled themselves after and attempted to catch up to since their inception, and Predators coach Barry Trotz suggested as much—while complaining to none other than NHL commissioner Gary Bettman about purported goaltender interference on Pekka Rinne—on the NHL Hour (you can watch the 21-minute interview here, and yes, Bettman coos over the Predators’ progress like a commissioner who helped “save” a pet project franchise, proud of his baby’s growth):
The Nashville Predators made franchise history a year ago when they won a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time. They now stand one victory away from perhaps an even more significant accomplishment: winning a series against the Central Division rival Detroit Red Wings, who have won four Stanley Cups in the past 15 years. But even as the Predators return to Bridgestone Arena for Game 5 on Friday (8 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC) with a chance to wrap things up and buy themselves some rest before the second round, the only coach the team has ever had feels there are improvements still to be made. Appearing as a guest Thursday on “NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman,” Barry Trotz expounded on that thought process.
“We have to spend a little bit more zone time,” he said. “We’ve been on our heels a little bit, playing a little too safe at times, and therefore not playing the game that we need to play against Detroit, because Detroit’s very sound defensively. Everything about Detroit is about numbers. They play a little different system than some teams in the National Hockey League, so it’s making that translate into production for us.
“We’ve been able to score on them and a lot of them have been on counter plays with them trying to do a lot of stuff—they’ve been really trying to crowd the net with [goalie] Pekka Rinne, obviously. My biggest issue is in the blue paint, and knocking players into your goalie all the time, those types of things. We all have our beefs. But our series has been really hard in a sense that everybody’s fighting for inches. It hasn’t been a nasty series where anything’s gone really over the line, but it has been a very, very hard-fought, grinding series.”
Nashville, which won its first-round series against Anaheim last year in six games, lost both of its previous playoff matchups against Detroit. Trotz understands nothing has been decided yet—especially considering the Red Wings nearly rallied from a 3-0 series deficit against the Sharks in the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals, forcing a Game 7 before being eliminated.
“We have a lot of respect for the Detroit Red Wings, their players—they’ve got some great players—the coaching staff and also the organization,” Trotz said. “When we came into the NHL, I always said at some point I want to thank the Detroit Red Wings because they made us better, because we had to play them a whole heck of a lot in the Central Division and they forced us to raise our game to a different level. This is an opportunity to do something special in Nashville, but at the same time we know how difficult that will be and how proud that organization is in Detroit.”
Trotz also, as you might assume, assured Bettman that Brendan Shanahan made the “right decision” in not suspending Shea Weber, as the Detroit Free Press’s Steve Schrader noted in his “Octo-ticker”...
“Obviously I’m biased to Shea Weber, but I know Shea Weber is not the kind of guy that’s going to try to do something very maliciously,” Trotz said. “He knows that’s against the rules, he’s right on the edge. And I thought it was the right call. I really took exception, a lot of people around the league said, well, if he would have suspended him everything else would have been calmer. That has nothing to do with any game in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or anything like that. ...Our series is the calmest of all of them, so for people out there to blame Brendan Shanahan or to blame that incident for the rest of the antics of other teams is actually ludicrous to me. ... I thought Shanny made the right call.”
And as you can watch in the off-day post, he spent his time with the media insisting that Bridgestone Arena is the only rink in NHL history to have shook because of the energy its fans bring to the equation, essentially negating what has been road-ice advantage for playoff teams this spring.
He and the Predators’ players told the Nashville Examiner’s Jim Diamond that they don’t expect playing in “Smashville” to be anything but a positive…
“Teams are really focused,” [Trotz] said. “Sometimes being on the road, there is less pressure on you sometimes. I just think the parity in the league is so strong that it is not as big of an advantage as people sometimes think.”
No matter what city or what building he plays in, pressure never seems to affect goaltender Pekka Rinne. He is looking forward to playing in front of another golden-clad sellout Bridgestone Arena crowd in Game 5.
“I always feel like we have an advantage when we play at home,” he said. “I always feel like we gain energy from our fans. They kind of pump us up. It is kind of a weird stat. I guess in the playoffs, at the end when you hit the ice, your mindset is still the same. You try to do everything you can to win the game.”
In each of the first four games, the team that has scored the game’s first goal has gone on to win. The players expect that trend could continue on throughout the rest of the series.
“Sometimes when you play at home, you get more pressure and come out a little flat-footed,” Patric Hornqvist said. “You have to go after them right away. Whoever is going to get the first goal is going to have a good chance to win. It is going to be so tight.”
And the Predators’ coach and players made sure to point out that they’re well aware of the fact that Detroit isn’t dead until Nashville claims its fourth win, telling Fox Sports Tennessee’s John Manasso that watching Pittsburgh rally to beat the crap out of the Flyers (and the Canucks finally defeat the Kings) on Wednesday night gave the team all the pause it needed to make the tweaks necessary to put the hammer down and send the Wings golfing this evening:
“It gave us a good illustration to talk to the guys about seeing how hard it is,” Trotz said of finishing off an opponent.
Trotz and some of the Preds also noted that Detroit trailed San Jose three games to none last season in the second round but rallied to force a Game 7, which the Red Wings ultimately lost. In their history, the Preds had lost their first five games when they faced elimination, finally staving it off in Game 5 against Vancouver in the conference semifinal round last year. They lost in Game 6, making them 1-for-6 all time. However, in their one chance to eliminate an opponent — Game 6 in the first round last year — they ousted Anaheim.
“Last year we had a chance and we closed it out, played a really solid game at home,” said goalie Pekka Rinne, who stopped 81 of 84 shots the last two games for a .964 save percentage, “but there’s also examples where we didn’t a few years back in Chicago (in ‘10, blowing a late lead in Game 5 with a chance to lead the series 3-2) and also we had our chances against Vancouver last year. Those are all kind of things we have to learn from.”
Trotz was focused mostly on the nuts and bolts of what Nashville needs to do to win on Friday. Nashville was outshot by more than a 2-to-1 ratio in its two games in Detroit (84-39) and Trotz wants to change that and to spend more time in Detroit’s end of the ice.
“We tried to do a couple of adjustments,” he said. “We have to manage the puck a little better. I think they’ve done a real good job of that against us…. I know we can play a lot better in this series. We just have to focus on the game. We focused on ourselves a little bit (in practice on Thursday). I think we got away from that in Detroit.”
Rinne suggested to the Tennessean’s John Glennon that details matter, but passion and focus matter more:
“We don’t have that much experience (in closing teams out), but it always seems to be the hardest game,” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said. “Detroit has been there and done that. They have the experience and the veteran players who’ve seen these kinds of situations. We really have to be prepared for that. … The team that wants it more is going to get it.”
The Red Wings might be especially difficult to snuff out. A year ago in the second round, Detroit lost the first three games of its series with San Jose. But the Red Wings rebounded and won the next three games before falling 3-2 in the decisive Game 7. That’s the kind of tenacity the Predators expect from a franchise that’s captured 11 Stanley Cups, and from a team with several Cup winners on its roster.
Another reason to believe the task will be difficult for the Predators is the pattern of road and home games in these Stanley Cup playoffs. Home teams had just a 9-19 record going into Thursday’s games, and not a single team was sporting a winning record at home. The Predators had Wednesday off, so Rinne and big-minutes defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber got a chance to rest up. Rinne was thankful for the break after facing 84 shots in Games 3 and 4, but admitted that waiting for an elimination game can be taxing as well.
“It’s always mental,” Rinne said. “You think about it during days off and before the games and I feel like often times, it can be the kind of thing that takes the edge off you. You get too worried about it. But you have to learn from those things.”
Something tells me that you’ll be less than surprised to hear that Trotz shook up his lines and may make some significant changes, as the Tennessean’s Glennon noted….
It’s hard to say for sure whether Thursday’s practice lines will remain intact for Game 5, but if they do, rookie forward Craig Smith might see his first NHL playoff action.
Smith practiced on a line with forwards Brandon Yip and Paul Gaustad, supplanting Matt Halischuk, who was skating with two players who’ve been frequent scratches — Colin Wilson and Jordin Tootoo.
There were some other new combinations during Thursday’s practice, as rookie Gabriel Bourque was on a line with David Legwand and Alexander Radulov. Bourque leads the series with three goals in four games.
Andrei Kostitsyn, Nick Spaling and Patric Hornqvist made up another line combo, as did a more familiar trio of Martin Erat, Mike Fisher and Sergei Kostitsyn.
But there’s bad news that is somewhat worrisome for the Wings in that 6’7” defenseman Hal Gill made it through a full practice and may return tonight, as the Tennessean’s Joshua Cooper noted in an article penned for the CBC:
Out of all the Predators only one has actually closed out Detroit in his career - defenceman Hal Gill. In Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, Gill’s Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup against Detroit. The 6-foot-7 defenceman could return to the lineup as he mends from his “lower body” injury. He understands the importance of stemming any level of energy the Red Wings could bring.
“We have to be good at killing that momentum and realize when they start getting going we have to bolt it down and be strong that way,” Gill said. “It’s a challenge when you play against these guys. They have so much skill that they make plays. They’re not just going to fire it at the net when there’s no guy at the net.”
But the Predators’ bottom line remains the same—they expect to play the role of Saint George by slaying the Red Wings’ dragon tonight, and then savoring the moment before continuing to write their Stanley Cup tale, as the Tennessean’s David Climer suggests—and yes, they plan on rubbing Wings fans’ faces in defeat, too:
[T]he reality is that eliminating Detroit would be a significant step for a franchise trying to gain market share locally and enhance its visibility nationally and internationally.
“Everybody knows about the Detroit Red Wings,” Predators goalie Pekka Rinne said. “They’re such a big name in hockey. ... It would be great for us if we could beat them.”
The Predators get their chance tonight at Bridgestone Arena. They have a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series. Granted, winning a series and advancing past the first round of the playoffs has been crossed off the to-do list. Nashville beat Anaheim in the first round last year before being eliminated by Vancouver in six games. But for a franchise that once used Detroit as a measuring stick, this series has extra meaning—and extra motivation.
“Detroit was the standard for all of us for a long time,” coach Barry Trotz said. “This is a step we have to take and it just happens to be Detroit. ... We’ve learned to respect them and also go after them.”
Detroit is the team Predators’ fans love to hate. It goes back to the formative days of the franchise when Red Wings fans infiltrated the arena, sometimes turning it into the Joe-South.
“You’ve seen the rivalry develop over the years,” defenseman Kevin Klein said. “We’ve always got a lot of Detroit fans in our arena.”
For the Predators, the stakes go beyond wins, losses and a possible Stanley Cup. The future of the franchise will be impacted by these playoffs. A deep playoff run would build the brand, probably increasing season-ticket sales and making the team more attractive to potential sponsors. On the national and international scene, beating a storied franchise like the Wings would help the Predators shake their perception as just another team from a nontraditional hockey market.
Climer offers a Michael Rosenberg/Evil Drew Sharp warning by pointing out that the Predators’ future as a contender is as much at stake tonight as is Detroit’s because, according to Climer, a long playoff run should entice unrestricted free agent-to-be Ryan Suter and restricted free agent-to-be Shea Weber to sign up to remain with what Climer believes is the Central Division’s new standard-bearer over the long haul.
The only “kill ‘em, kill ‘em dead” line is intonated by Kevin Klein (you can read NashvillePredators.com’s warm fuzzies about Klein on your own), but you’ve got to believe that more than just Predators fans and media members are thinking just that:
“Detroit’s going to be good, we’ve just got to be better,” Klein said. “We want to get to the next round. That’s our ultimate goal.”
There’s only one note of discord from the Predators’ locker room, and the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper reports it comes from one pissed-off Jordin Tootoo, who’s furious about being a healthy scratch, but other than that, the Tennessean summarizes what Predators fans are probably thinking in asking them to pick which opponent they’d most like to face in the second round.
NHL.com’s Brian Hedger’s preview allows us to flying to Nashville on Thursday, but if anyone showed frustration, it was the Red wings’ coach. Mike Babcock’s presser (click for video) was a little more confrontational than usual, and, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted, Babcock chose to question a certain teflon-coated broadcaster regarding the team’s number of scoring chances on the hundred-plus shot attempts they’ve accumulated over the last two games:
“I hear (Fox Sports Detroit analyst) Mickey Redmond say, ‘They’re keeping them on the outside,’” Babcock said. “So I watched it three times to see if that’s the truth, to see if we’re never getting to the net, and we’re never getting on the inside, and all I can do is go off what I see and I don’t think that’s the truth.”
Babcock said he wouldn’t mind if his team played the same way it did in Game 4, except for two third-period breakdowns. But Babcock believes his team did a good job getting to the net in Game 4.
“We have to score some goals, so we have to get to the net,” Babcock said. “We feel we did a good job of that last game.”
Babcock said that re-watching Game 4 twice gave him enough evidence to back up his claims, and then he went out and very subtly called out his goaltender…
Rinne arguably is winning the goaltending matchup this series, but it’s not necessarily because Jimmy Howard is playing badly. The Red Wings are outshooting the Predators on average, 34.5-22.7.
“It’s tough to be the goalie,” Babcock said of not facing many shots. “If you’re the goalie, you’re standing there freezing most of the game. The more shots you get, the more opportunity you get to look good.”
And, as the Free Press’s Helene St. James notes, Babcock also poo-poohed suggestions that the Wings aren’t making Rinne into Dwayne Roloson, circa 2006, but instead, the Jean-Sebastien Giguere he coached when the Ducks upset Detroit in 2003:
“I can’t go off much, except we got outshot one period in Detroit, 20-1, in overtime, in Game 1,” he said. “Our goalie stood on his head. Through the rest of the playoffs, that wasn’t the case, we played well, and so we didn’t give up as much.”
If the Wings want to avoid Rinne rolling on in the playoffs, Babcock believes there was inspiration to be found in Wednesday’s game between the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded Rangers, led by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and the eighth-seeded Senators.
“New York’s goalie has been fantastic,” Babcock said. “But they were determined to get second and third shots and they just kept getting to the net and in the end, they were able to get it done. We’re going to have to do the same thing.”
The Wings have 83 shots on Rinne the past two games, many from around the crease. Babcock watched Tuesday’s 3-1 loss three times after hearing TV color analyst Mickey Redmond say the Predators were keeping the Wings from getting up-close shots on Rinne.
“All I can do is go off what I see,” Babcock said, “and I don’t think that’s the truth. So we’ve got to find a way to score on him. He catches everything, so we’ve got to keep it away from his glove. But I don’t think we can tell our guys to stop shooting. But I think we’ve got to keep getting to the net as hard as we possibly can.”
Babcock’s goalie spoke to St. James about the same intangibles that his counterpart mentioned:
“I think the most important thing is just to outwill them,” Jimmy Howard said. “Our backs are against the wall. We all know that if we lose, we start our summer, and I don’t think anybody wants that here in this room.”
“We’ve got great leadership within this room,” Howard said. “And we’re going to go out there and give it our all. Momentum can shift in a series in the blink of an eye, so you never give up, you just keep pushing.”
In front of Howard, the Wings’ defensemen told MLive’s Brendan Savage that they’re well aware of the fact that they could give their goaltender a hand by eliminating or at least limiting their catastrophic defensive breakdowns…
“All in all, we’ve been good defensively,” defenseman Kyle Quincey said Thursday. “We did talk about the couple lapses we had. We had a couple breakdowns and they scored. But at the same time, they’re not getting over 10 (quality) chances a game, which is pretty good. So we’re OK. It’s just a couple of breakdowns they scored on. They look huge. All in all, we’ve been solid defensively. They’re not hemming us in our zone. They’re not wearing us down too bad but we did have a couple of breakdowns and they capitalized on them. We’re not going to change much. We’re just going to try and not make those breakdowns and win 1-0.”
“Last game I thought was breakdowns, complete breakdowns,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall. “It’s nothing that really has to do with the system. The first one goes off a skate and straight to the guy, wide open. The second one was just missed communication. We did a pretty good job in general except for those big breakdowns. If we can just keep doing what we’re doing and clean up those errors, we’ll be just fine.”
One thing the Red Wings have done effectively is to limit the number of shots the Predators are taking at Howard. Nashville, which has yet to score more than three goals in any game, is averaging slightly less than 23 shots per game and the Predators have been held to 22 and 17 in the last two games. That said, they won both games – in Detroit, no less – to take command of the series.Of course, one reason for the lack of shots could be the Red Wings’ offense. Detroit has averaged more than 34 shots in the series and had a combined 84 in the last two games. So the Red Wings have obviously been in control of the puck longer than Nashville.
“We’ve been cutting down on their shots,” said captain Nicklas Lidstrom. “We’ve had the puck a lot. We’ve been creating a lot of chances offensively and spending a lot of time in their zone. I think we’ve been playing well. We had two breakdowns and they scored on both of them but they were clear-cut chances they got as well. Besides those two mistakes I think we really did play well defensively.”
“We’ve obviously been playing well defensively,” [Cory] Emmerton said. “The only problem has been the couple breakdowns that have left them basically wide open. But other than that we really haven’t given them too much. It’s really just being patient. I think the problem is trying to do a little too much when we’re pressing a bit and trying to get a goal. We’re leaving ourselves vulnerable to a breakdown. It’s bound to happen once in a while. You can’t afford that in the playoffs. I know the team in here is more than good enough to shore that up. So I think you’ll see a change in the next game.”
Other than patience, if the Wings are to avoid encouraging fans at the team’s official viewing party at the Hamlin Pub to partake in self-medication by its sponsor, Absolut Vodka, the players believe that embracing the moment—and cliches, as the Wings’ playoff blog notes—should work just fine:
“I’d like us to play the same way we did last game with the exception of those two plays (which led to Nashville goals),” Mike Babcock said during his Thursday press conference. “One in our own zone and one off the rush. Just play that way.”
The 20 individuals who dress for tonight’s Game 5 will have a direct impact on whether we’ll see a Game 6 on Sunday. There won’t be any wishing. Hope isn’t a virtue. Nobody will shake a Magic 8 ball in the locker room, or throw pennies into the hotel fountain. Those players who sport the Winged Wheel will determine their fate through grit, hard work and determination. They will control their own destiny by the way they play on the ice. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You can’t look at the big picture,” said Nicklas Lidstrom. “You’ve got to break it down and look at it as winning one game three times. We have to go down to Nashville, win that one game and that will be our mindset. We can’t look any further than that or we’re done.”
Cue the cliche-o-meter, from the Free Press’s Helene St. James’ article on said moment-embracing, which notes that the Wings are trying to seize upon their presumptive comeback against San Jose last spring as a rallying point…
“Last year, I think we fought back pretty well,” Filppula said. “It wasn’t enough, so hopefully this year, it’s going to be enough. But a lot of guys have played a lot of playoff games, so I think that will be a help for us.”
How much of a help that experience is remains to be seen, as the Wings try to stave off elimination tonight in Nashville. Filppula said the Wings haven’t talked about last year’s Sharks series, in which they won three straight after falling behind, 3-0, but lost Game 7.
“It’s a different team, a different series, so I think as always, in the playoffs, the focus is the next game and trying to do the best you can,” Filppula said. “That’s been our main focus.”
And forward Cory Emmerton thinks the Wings need to have a more microscopic focus than just taking things one game at a time.
“One period at a time,” Emmerton said. “It’s cliché, but it’s the standard. You’re not trying to win three games at once, you have to win one.”
Win one, and the Wings have a chance to even the series on home ice for a potential Game 7.
“I think we’ve been able to come through a lot of controversy and win games, and this time we really need to win the game,” Filppula said. “I think we’ve been preparing well, and I think we’re ready to go.”
The comments made to the AP’s Teresa M. Walker
“It’s not time to get too frustrated,” Detroit center Valtteri Filppula said Thursday.
These are the Red Wings after all, the team with the longest postseason streak in North American major professional sports at 21 straight seasons. This is the franchise with four Stanley Cups with six Western Conference titles and 32 series victories in that stretch. This season, the Red Wings set an NHL record winning 23 straight at home. They can tap into their experience of just a year ago trailing San Jose 3-0 in the Western Conference semifinals. They won three straight to force a Game 7—a game Detroit lost 3-2.
“We just have to think positively,” Filppula said. “We hopefully still have a few more games to play. We just have to play through it, and hopefully the puck starts going in.”
Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard said the most important thing is to “outwill” the Predators.
“Our backs are against the wall,” Howard said. “We all know the circumstances if we lose we start our summer. I don’t think anybody wants that in this room.”
WXYZ’s Brad Galli…
And the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness’s conversation with Henrik Zetterberg:
“We rally around that a little bit,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “We did it recently. We know we can do it. We know we’ve been playing well. We were bad one game and that game we won, that was Game 2. We’ve got a lot of believe in here. We’re a good team. We just have to keep playing like we did last game and eventually we’re going to score.”
“I think the biggest thing is to keep believing in ourselves, sticking with the program and believe in what we do,” Niklas Kronwall said. “I think that’s what we did really well last year, we stuck with it and kept throwing pucks at the net and we almost got away with it.”
Nashville coach Barry Trotz doesn’t have to be reminded of what the Wings did in last year’s series with the Sharks.
“We know tomorrow is the biggest game of the year,” Trotz said. “Whatever is thrown at us will be the biggest game of the year. Hopefully we will be ready. We have to manage the puck a little bit better. We have to capitalize on our chances and we have been good at that.”
Despite how bad the Wings have been on the road during the regular season, they did have a stretch of winning four in a row away from Joe Louis Arena – Nov. 19 to Nov. 25.
“You can’t let it get to you,” Zetterberg said. “We’re going to go in and just play a good game tomorrow and go out there and (force a Game 6).”
In terms of concrete “answers,” the Detroit News offers five keys to the Wings “surviving” Game 5, and three are worth noting…
Screen Rinne: Everyone has anointed Predators G Pekka Rinne the new Dominik Hasek . Rinne’s good, but the Red Wings are making it easy for him by not creating screens in front of the net. Any goaltender can stop a shot from the point with a clear view. Tomas Holmstrom isn’t afraid to stand in front of the net, but it’s time others follow.
Find a sniper: Red Wings GM Ken Holland couldn’t get one at the trade deadline, and many believe Zach Parise will be a free-agent acquisition during the offseason. Parise, however, isn’t here now. The closest the team has is Johan Franzen . “The Mule” is working hard but has one goal on 11 shots. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are wonderful playmakers, but need more talent to pass to. It would be nice for someone like Valtteri Filppula to step up.
Get Lidstrom going: Nicklas Lidstrom , the future Hall of Famer, has no points in the series and has taken 13 shots, mostly from the point. He has carried the team for so long, and when he doesn’t score or get assists, the Red Wings normally don’t win.
And in the “spirit of the thing,” the Detroit News’s John Niyo duly notes that it’s offense that the Wings are missing. I don’t need to reiterate the names that haven’t dented Rinne’s armor (see: Todd Bertuzzi, Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler Johan Franzen, etc.), but I do need to mention that Babcock told Niyo he’s spoken to Filppula specifically about getting going…
“I thought last game was his best game,” Babcock said. “Zetterberg’s line (with Filppula and Hudler) has actually been a lot of our offense, and I think they’ve done a good job. … It’s tight. I think Fil’s doing a good job. He’s just gotta trust his shot and shoot the puck a little bit more. But I think everybody’s like that.”
And that’s why everybody was saying the same thing Thursday. The Red Wings haven’t done enough, obviously, but they’re convinced it’s not for a lack of trying, particularly after putting 84 shots on net the last two games in Detroit.
“We’ve just got to bear down a little more on those chances and we definitely need to start scoring more if we want to still be playing,” said Filppula, who had career highs with 23 goals and 66 points during the regular season. “I definitely need to score. I’m getting a lot of ice time and getting chances. But I haven’t really got frustrated. I think that’s only going to slow you down. So I’m trying to think positive and we still have, hopefully, a few more games to play.”
And if there’s any small solace to take out of the Wings’ highly improbable odds of rallying against the Predators, Niyo does take note of the fact that Babcock’s finally willing to admit that the Wings need to generate some secondary and tertiary scoring opportunities…
As Babcock put it, “We’ve got to get to the net for seconds.” But as he also noted, having watched his team’s Game 4 loss for a second and third time on video Wednesday, “We thought we did quite a bit of that last game.”
Because, well…cliches are cliches unless you go out and fulfill the promise of the words you’re employing:
And when I asked Zetterberg if he thought his teammates might be pressing, especially since they’ve scored 17 goals their last 10 games, he shrugged and answered, “Maybe.”
“But it’s nothing we can go around thinking about,” he added. “We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing. We’ve got to believe that we can turn this around.”
Part II: If the Red Wings do not prevail in this series, regardless of whether they win tonight, Nicklas Lidstrom told the press that he’s going to do the same-old, same-old: wait and see. MLive’s Ansar Khan points out that the last time the Wings were eliminated in the first round, one Steve Yzerman made his exit, but Yzerman knew he was done when he skated off the ice. Lidstrom says he’s not going into tonight’s game considering whether it’s his last…
“I don’t think like that,’’ Lidstrom said. “I think I’ve learned from other years, I try to push that aside and just go out and try to play a real solid game and come out with a win.’‘
Babcock’s crossing his fingers, and Khan does report that neither Lidstrom’s ankle nor his team’s playoff fortunes this year will determine his future…
“I’ve been hearing that same (retirement) story for like five years now,’’ Babcock said. “The way I look at it is we have to win a game, so that’s our approach. I haven’t thought much about Nick. When Nick decides to retire I’m sure it will be his wife and then his kids (he’ll tell), then I think the community, then after that I’ll hear it on the news somewhere.’‘
Babcock added, “I’ve be shocked if he retires, but I’ve been shocked before.”
The incredibly durable Lidstrom missed more games this season (12) than he ever has, including 11 from Feb. 28 to March 21 due to a deep bone bruise in his right ankle. He said his ankle is fine now. It’ll be sore for a couple of months, doctors told him, but it’s nothing that would limit him if he chose to return.
“It won’t be a factor at all,’’ Lidstrom said. “My health is good. I’ve been fortunate enough not to have any major injuries throughout my career.’‘
Lidstrom finished his 20th season, a milestone that was important to him. He said how the team fares in the playoffs won’t factor into his decision.
“I’ll look at that once the season is over, once your summer comes around and you start thinking about your future,’’ Lidstrom said. That’s why I waited previous years, not take (the team’s playoff result) into account, kind of get away for a couple of weeks and start thinking about what you want to do.’‘
Lidstrom’s usual routine goes as follows, as noted by the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:
Lidstrom, who’ll be 42 on April 28, is planning on following the same time frame he has in previous seasons in determining his future. He’ll take several weeks off, then talk it over with his wife before talking with Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. And, if form holds, don’t expect a decision until just before the NHL draft in late June.
“The last couple of years have been like that,” Lidstrom said of the process. “Take a couple weeks before you start thinking about the future.”
But all the talk of retirement isn’t on the minds of Lidstrom’s teammates. Far from it.
“We haven’t talked about it a whole lot,” forward Valtteri Filppula said. “You want to win for everybody, and the team, but a guy like that you want to do your best and make sure this is a good run, and we still have a chance.”
Said goaltender Jimmy Howard: “It’s crossed my mind, but I try not to think about it.”
And Lidstrom’s doing the same—despite the knots that his slow-but-steady approach puts in Wings fans’ stomachs—as the Free Press’s Helene St. James :
Lidstrom said he and his wife, Annika, will decide on the matter after the season, after he has had time to decompress.
“The last couple of years have been like that, where I want to wait it out and make a decision,” he said.
The Lidstroms have long planned to return to their native Sweden at some point. Their oldest son went back this past year to attend a hockey school. How competitive the Wings will be could be another factor. Lidstrom said his overall health is fine, though he admitted the bone on the outside of his right ankle is going to remain sore for some time, which is why he isn’t killing penalties, as there would be a risk of being hit by another puck.
Lidstrom’s future plans are of interest far and near. A reporter for a Swedish newspaper was in town earlier in the week and said Lidstrom told him he’d decide after the season. Baristas at local Starbucks care, too.
“I tell them the same thing I tell you guys: I’m going to wait till the end of the year,” Lidstrom said, smiling. “I’ll decide after we’re done playing.”
Here’s hoping that he’ll be skating at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, and beyond, instead of cleaning out his locker tomorrow.
Part III: Holy crap Calle Jarnkrok! Red Wings prospect Calle Jarnkrok may not look stellar in gold body paint, but Jarnkrok, who will remain in Sweden after the Wings sign him this spring, can boast having taken a leading role in helping Brynas IF capture the Swedish Eliteserien title. Brynas defeated Skelleftea AIK 2-0 on Thursday, and Jarnkrok registered assists on both of his team’s goals, giving him 5 goals and 10 assists for 16 points in 16 playoff games.
Jarnkrok registered a total of 66 points over 50 Eliteserien regular season (16 goals and 23 assists for 39 points during the regular season) games, and Expressen’s Henrik Sjoberg reports that Brynas wasn’t quite sure how a 19-year-old celebrates a championship, but his conclusion as to what his last game with teammate Jakub Silfverberg (who’s highly likely to leave for the NHL) was pretty simple: “It feels f***ing amazing!”
Part IV: Also in the prospect department: In Sweden, an unsure re-signing in Dick Axelsson is, according to Aftonbladet’s Patrik Sjogren, doing well at the World Championship’s preliminary games, scoring a goal in Sweden’s 5-0 win over Norway at the Euro Hockey Challenge;
• Back over on this side of the pond, Petr Mrazek and the Ottawa 67’s begin the OHL’s Eastern Conference semifinal as an underdog, no pun intended, against the Niagara IceDogs tonight, and Tomas Jurco’s Saint John Sea Dogs will begin their QMJHL semifinal against the Chicoutimi Sagueneens tonight, too. Jurco’s team is attempting to repeat as both QMJHL and Memorial Cup champions, and Yahoo Sports’ Neate Sager believes that it will only take Saint John five games to defeat Chicoutimi because of the offense Jurco and his teammates provide.
Part V: Also of Red Wings-related note: Both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News posted photo galleries from Thursday’s Wings practice. If you’ve never seen the complete and total lack of protective equipment missing from Tomas Holmstrom’s chest, check out this picture from the Free Press’s William Archie;
• If you need a charitable pick-me-up on Saturday, per the Wings’ website:
MEET TED LINDSAY AT KROGER: Tomorrow, Kroger is teaming up with Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay to present Hockey Fest from 11AM-4PM at the Kroger Store on 10059 Highland Road in Hartland Township. Admission is free. In addition to Lindsay, fans can meet and mingle with other Red Wings Alumni, enjoy the ‘Legends of Hockey’ exhibit and enjoy interactive games, including the hardest shot.
• The Red Wings’ Alumni Association will also play in one of their last games of the hockey season on Saturday, as the Livingston Daily Press & Argus notes:
Hockey fundraiser — The Well Church in the Brighton area hosts its third annual hockey game that will benefit Livingston County Shop With a Cop and The ARC of Livingston. The game with players from The Well Allstar team vs. players from the Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association begins at 1 p.m. at the Kensington Valley Ice House, east of U.S. 23 and north of Grand River Ave. at 10540 Citation Drive in Brighton Township. Highlights of the event include raffles, a chuck-a-puck contest and a silent auction. Tickets for the game are $10. The Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association will have an autograph table set up between periods for signatures. The game will be followed by a VIP dinner with live and silent auctions at the American Spirit Centre, 10590 E. Grand River Ave. in Brighton Township. VIP tickets are $25 and include dinner with members of Red Wings Alumni Association and a live auction. Some live and silent auction items for this year’s event include autographed hockey sticks from Steve Yzerman and Johan Franzen; an autographed goalie blocker from Jimmy Howard; charter fishing trips; gift cards from downtown Brighton merchants; and a lithograph of Yost Ice Arena by local artist Jeff Joseph. Tickets are available at http://www.thewellmi.com Call .Scott DesAutel at (248) 515-3864 for more information.
• Also in the alumni department, to some extent, the Windsor Star’s Rob Gurdebeke notes that Sportsnet paid tribute to the Red Wings’ first home, the Windsor Arena, a.k.a. “the Barn”:
• In Ottawa, the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle reports that Paul MacLean’s brought a little bit of puck possession hockey and a lot of success to the Ottawa Senators;
• For the record, John Niyo stated the obvious regarding the Wings’ lack of goal-scoring in the article mentioned above:
Whether they can or can’t [rally] — and last year’s second-round resurrection against the Sharks suggests it’s the former — I don’t think the long answer is an affirmative one, though. Which is why I think we’ll see July 1, if not sooner, if the Red Wings are targeting another elite scorer — a pending free agent in Zach Parise or an on-the-block Rick Nash — to replenish the firepower that has been steadily eroding since the team’s last Cup triumph.
It can’t be entirely coincidence the last time the Red Wings made it to the Stanley Cup Finals was the last time they had a proven 40-goal scorer — Marian Hossa — playing on the wing with Datsyuk or Zetterberg, can it? I don’t think so, and it’s past time general manager Ken Holland remedies that, luring another in-his-prime star to Detroit to make up for all those years of drafting late in the first round, if at all.
The Red Wings will have the cap space, and a Cup-contending roster to sell to the likes of Parise and maybe Predators defenseman Ryan Suter, who’d be an ideal fit and replacement for the likely-departing Brad Stuart.
• At the other end of the, “Columnist who writes very well and cares about hockey” spectrum, the Detroit Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp has moved onto the Tigers, but he’s still using the Wings to get in digs:
Miguel Cabrera was a statue at third base, doing quite the impressive Brad Stuart impersonation. TTwo grounders he should have at least knocked down rolled into leftfield for singles.
• This is pretty cool: the Globe and Mail’s David Shoalts spoke to NHL chief operating officer John Collins about “selling hockey to Canadians,” and Collins revealed that the Wings will play against the Leafs next January at Michigan Stadium for a reason:
The good news is that the seemingly intractable U.S.-Canada gulf in the NHL is changing after the record U.S. TV ratings for last year’s Vancouver-Boston final. “The historical view had been you need two big U.S. markets in any of these games to pop a number,” Collins says. “In this case, the best hockey won out. It was so compelling people forgot about their own teams and joined in. It opens up an opportunity to do more with NBC to make them less reliant on U.S. matchups. It also allows us to go back to our Canadian partners and go, ‘See. It can work.’ It led directly to scheduling Toronto and Detroit for the Winter Classic in 2013.”
• And if the Wings do lose tonight, I don’t know exactly what or when I’ll post. I’ll do a full recap, but depending on how I feel, I am a fan, so you might just see: “Wings grief support thread: talk about the Wings’ loss to Nashville here” or something like that. I know it sounds pessimistic to even mention that, but as someone who has to write about the Wings regardless of whether they win or lose, I have to hope for the best and prepare myself to cover the worst. I learned that the hard way when the Wings’ loss to the Penguins in 2009 just kicked the crap out of me for the rest of the summer.
I know that every time the Wings fall short of winning the Stanley Cup, I feel similarly. I’m sure you will, too, but I’m hoping that the Wings can indeed pull off a miraculous comeback…and if they don’t, I’ll still be here and we’ll still be talking about the Wings for the rest of the spring and summer. You have my word on that.
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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.