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Red Wings-Predators ‘off day’ news: Wings face long odds against elimination-minded Predators

Updated at 11:13 PM: Maybe this summarizes the series as good as anything else: the Detroit Red Wings and the Nashville Predators chose to take advantage of the two-day break between Game 4 and Game 5 to rest and prepare for an all-important and possible elimination game on Friday, but while the Predators chose to speak to the media and announced that Thursday’s practice in Nashville will be open to the public as a reportedly jubilant crowd welcomed the would-be dragon-slayers back to Tennessee after Nashville’s 3-1 win...

Red Wings executives Kris Draper and GM Ken Holland made the media rounds representing a team that will hold a short practice in Detroit before flying to Nashville on Thursday, and the Wings announced that they’re holding a viewing party on Friday at the Hamlin Pub in Rochester Hills, sponsored by, appropriately enough, Absolut Vodka.

As the Tennessean’s John Glennon notes, the Red Wings face long but not impossible odds in terms of rallying from a 3-1 deficit…

Over the course of NHL history, teams have trailed 3-1 in a best-of-seven series 229 times and have come back to win the series 20 times – 8.7 percent of the time. It happened twice as recently as 2010, when both Montreal (over Washington) and Philadelphia (over Boston) battled back from 3-1 deficits to claim 4-3 series victories.

The Predators have no intentions of doing anything less than ensuring that the Red Wings will play their last game of the 2011-2012 season on Friday night:

“You’re definitely not comfortable when you’ve got a talented team like Detroit trying to win,” defenseman Kevin Klein said. “If you lose Game 5 and all of a sudden you end up back in Detroit with Game 6, then anything can happen. So right now our whole focus is using the crowd and coming out as strong as possible Friday night, correcting the things we didn’t do in Game 4 in the first two periods and trying to take a little pressure off (Pekka Rinne). I think we’ll be better.”

For the record, the Red Wings have twice rallied from 3-1 deficits to capture best-of-seven series, battling past Toronto in 1987 and Minnesota in 1992. Last year, the Red Wings rallied from a 3-0 deficit against San Jose to tie the series, but lost to the Sharks in the decisive Game 7.

“To finish them off in Game 5 would be huge,” Klein said. “That’s our ultimate goal right now and we have to go from there. You don’t want to give this Detroit team too many opportunities. They’re a good team and we know that and home-ice advantage is huge. We have to use that on Friday.”

Predators coach Barry Trotz told Glennon that his team can and will play much better on Friday:

The Predators have a 3-1 playoff series lead on Detroit and will be on home ice for Game 5 on Friday, but Coach Barry Trotz isn’t ready to say his team feels in control.

“No, no,” Trotz said on Wednesday. “The two games in Detroit, we could have been on the other end. We’ve had some good goaltending. We’ve had some timely goals. We’ve had some pretty good penalty kill.”
...
“Puck management and puck support go hand in hand,” Trotz said. “We can hang onto the puck a little bit longer in terms of our puck-possession skills down low. Detroit is doing a real good job in the neutral zone and we have to support the play a little better than we are right now. Our chances have come on counters for the most part and on the rush, Kevin Klein jumping up … You’ve got to play down in those trenches and hang onto (the puck), and force yourself and will yourself back to the net, get pucks to the net and people back to the net. We haven’t done a good enough job in the Detroit games … I know we’re capable of it.”

In other words, the Predators will try to lurk in the weeds again, but they want to forecheck harder and establish that deadly cycling game in the Wings’ end to predate upon Detroit’s tendency to chase puck carriers.

The Predators didn’t practice on Wednesday, using the off day to rest weary players like Rinne, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. But Trotz said defenseman Hal Gill, who’s missed the first four games with a lower-body injury, did skate on his own and continues to improve.

“He is feeling better every day,” Trotz said. “He’s in a day-to-day mode right now. Do I expect him on Friday? I really can’t answer that. That’s probably a better question on Friday morning than it is today. He’s making good solid progress right now. He’s tracking very, very well for us right now.”

Trotz did acknowledge that he’s worried about his team’s new-found tendency to accumulate penalties while speaking to the AP’s Teresa M. Walker...

“Just because you spend a lot of time in your own end with the penalty kills we’ve had to kill them off,” Trotz said. “Those are taxing on your top players. That taxes the (Martin) Erats, the Fishers, the Webers, the Suters, the Kleins, the (Roman) Josis. They all get taxed pretty heavily, and obviously, Pekka in net. Getting couple days off will probably do us a world of good.”

That’s the Wings’ theory, too, but they’re not facing a baffling and maddening inability to dent one Pekka Rinne, who is helping a Wings team that can’t or won’t go to the front of the net and stay there to bang home some ugly goals via rebound chances build up the legend of a Dwayne Roloson-style dominant playoff performance. The Predators’ players know it, and they’re delighted to have Rinne (who’s playing just a wee bit better than Jimmy Howard did against the Coyotes and Sharks last season) on their side:

“He seems to be on top of the game when he gets a lot of shots,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said of Rinne. “We don’t want to give up that many shots.”
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“We got outplayed the first two periods [Tuesday] and just kind of hung around,” Nashville centre David Legwand said. “We hung around, and Pekka kept us in it. We came up big in the third period. That’s fortunate for us. We’re OK with that. He did a great job for us.”

Legwand said Pekka has been the difference in the series. The Red Wings agree. They have peppered Rinne with pucks from the start. Not that facing shots bothers Rinne after facing more during the regular season than any other goalie in the league. He has made saves of 35 and 41 before making 40 more Tuesday night in a 3-1 victory, stopping 130 of the 138 shots faced in this series for a .942 save percentage. Now the Predators want to spend more time on the other end of the ice to keep the Red Wings from peppering their 6-foot-5 goalie more and give him a little rest.

“They were shooting until their arms got tired last night in the first two periods,” Legwand said. “We kind of settled down a little bit in the third and things were pretty even. But being in their end and winning more draws and doing those things will help us a little bit.”

If you feel like reading sidebar stories on Gabriel Bourque from NHL.com’s John Manasso, a profile of Kevin Klein penned by Manasso for Fox Sports Tennessee, an article about Patrick Hornqvist the Tomas Holmstrom imitator or an article discussing whether the Predators can afford to re-sign both Ryan Suter and Alex Radulov from the Nashville City Paper’s David Boclair, rock on with your bad selves, but I’d prefer to not include them in this missive.

The same can be said for the Free Press’s Ron Dzwonkowski’s attempt to capture the series’ tone by using country music tunes’ lyrics and titles
The Sports Exchange allows us to shift perspectives via a remarkably gushy early Game 5 set-up…

One win away from clinching the series. All the Predators have to do is defeat the Detroit Red Wings at home to finally get past their old nemesis. Nashville defeated the Red Wings 3-1 in Game 4 of their first-round series.

The formula for this game was pretty much the same as the previous contest: Let Pekka Rinne do his thing. After his 40-save performance, Rinne has stopped 81 of the last 84 shots he has faced. In both games at Joe Louis Arena, he saw over 40 shots and stopped most of them.

For the Predators, ever since the 2010 playoffs, every year and every postseason game has been a process. They answered the question of whether they could get out of the first round last year by defeating the Anaheim Ducks in six games. Now with a stranglehold on this series, the question is whether they can beat the Red Wings—the gold standard of their division—and continue their march through the postseason.

The Predators clinched their series with the Ducks at home last year. They’ll have a chance to clinch this one at Bridgestone Arena on Friday in what should be an electric atmosphere.

Do the Red Wings face not only long odd in terms of NHL history, but also their own? You bet, as DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose notes:

#RedWings are 1-9 on the road, 7-12 all-time in Game 5 when trailing series 3-1. Since coming back on #Leafs in 1987, they are 5-4.

The Free Press’s Helene St. James offers a simple set of reasons as to why the Wings find themselves in such difficult circumstances via Twitter...

#RedWings took day off today. Need breathers in playoffs, too. Wings trail 3-1 but not bc they haven’t played hard. Rinne .942 save %
...
Plenty of good scoring chances down low in both 3 & 4. Rinne really is that good. Vezina finalist last year, 4th in voting for Hart.

And the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness took note of the Wings’ long historical odds...

Last year, the Wings trailed 3-0 in their Western Conference semifinal series with San Jose. Detroit won the next three games before falling in Game 7 to the Sharks.

“Just like last year, we thought we were playing really well, deserved to win a couple games and it didn’t happen,” Jimmy Howard said. “Here we are back in the same boat a year later. We have to concentrate on the one game Friday night and go from there.”

Just 20 teams in NHL playoff history have comeback from a 3-1 deficit in a series, in 229 tries. And it has happened just three times since 2004.

“Right now we’re only looking at one game,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We can’t win them all in one. One game and we’ll bring it home again.”

Detroit has comeback from a 3-1 deficit in a series twice in team history – 1987 against the Toronto Maple Leafs and in 1992 against the Minnesota North Stars.

While pointing out that the Red Wings and their fans face much more than the prospect of a locker room clean-out on Saturday and then four months of no hockey if the Wings lose on Friday.

Have we seen the last games Nicklas Lidstrom or Tomas Holmstrom have played in Wings uniforms at Joe Louis Arena? And does that possibility motivate the Wings?

“It’s obviously nothing we talk about,” Brad Stuart said. “I don’t know what [Lidstrom’s] plans are, but I’m sure he’ll like to have another (Stanley Cup) before it’s all said and done. We all feel the same. I don’t know if there’s any extra motivation because of that because we all want the same thing really.”

Lidstrom, who will turn 42 at the end of April, has never missed the playoffs in his career with Detroit. He has won four Stanley Cups and is a seven-time Norris Trophy winner.

“I think everyone wants another Cup,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “We don’t know if he’s going to retire or not either, so he might have two under his belt.”
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“He’s fantastic,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Here he is, he’s 41-plus, turns 42 April 28, you’re playing, never mind … and then to be as good as he is, he’s fantastic. He’d probably tell you he doesn’t recover like he did when he was 20 or 25 or even 35 but he’s still a pretty good player and important to us.”

Lidstrom, who has played in 262 NHL playoff games in his 20-year career, has yet to record a point in the series. The Wings are trying to keep him as fresh as possible by keeping him on the bench during penalty kills. Tuesday night could have also been the final game at home for Tomas Holmstrom.

“I try not to think about that,” Holmstrom said. “I’m just going to enjoy the playoffs.”

Danny Cleary doesn’t plan on leaving Pleiness’s questions unanswered:

“Well, I think we’ve got lots to lose, including the series,” Cleary said. “I think everybody in here – and we’ve got some older guys – and we want to make sure that we put a good effort out there and it’s a big game for us Friday. Right now we’ve forgotten about these last two games and we’re going to move on and get ready to go. It’s not over yet,” Cleary ended.

In the, “Okay, so what do the Wings have to do to actually win games?” department, MLive’s Brendan Savage, who is asking Wings fans to weigh in as to which player must step up most desperately in this series, notes that the Wings do indeed plan on doing what Draper and Holland suggested in continuing to pepper Rinne with shots…

“We have to keep believing in what we do,” said Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall. “A lot of times, we’re making him really good. He’s one of the best goalies in the league. We knew that coming into this series. We haven’t capitalized on our chances, simple as that. We’re not scoring. You’re not going to win any games if you’re not scoring.”

The Red Wings were one of the NHL’s best 5-on-5 offensive teams during the regular season – they ranked third in goals among 30 clubs in those situations – but they’ve only managed to score three times in the playoffs while both teams were at full strength. Another Detroit goal against Nashville came during a 4-on-4 while the other four were during power plays. The Red Wings’ 21 opportunities with a manpower advantage, by the way, led all playoff teams entering Wednesday’s games. Add it all up and the Red Wings are obviously getting plenty of chances. So it goes back to Rinne.

“We’re trying to get pucks in there and I think we are getting pucks in there,” said Henrik Zetterberg, who leads the Red Wings with two goals. “I think we’re getting there on the second chances but we can’t find really a way to get the puck behind him.”
...
We got to score to some goals,” Kronwall said. “(In Game 4), if we would have capitalized on our chances, the game would have been a lot different. The series would have been a little different as well. That’s not the case right now. Right now, we dug ourselves a bit of a hole but we got to keep believing in what we do and just stay the course and stay positive. We have to win one game.”

But Savage wonders whether the Wings are, yet again, giving a goalie the opportunity to launch the kinds of playoff runs the Wings empowered Jean-Seabstien Giguere (2003), Miikka Kiprusoff (2004) and Dwayne Roloson (2006) to carve out for themselves by shooting from the perimeter on Rinne.

If you believe the ever-critical “Open Ice Hitter,” the Red Wings are receiving karmic retribution for daring to win a Stanley Cup with Chris Osgood of all people in their crease in 2008, but the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell suggests that the Red Wings’ forwards should be blaming themselves for not eliminating their own defensive mistakes, and he believes that the Wings’ goaltender and forwards deserve blame for the situation the Wings find themselves mired in, too:

t would be a mistake for the Wings to believe Rinne and the Predators’ solid defence is the sole source of their woes. Other issues lie within their own team. For starters, the Wings gave up the game’s first goal for the third time in the series, all losses. They also continue to give up costly odd-man rushes at critical times. Those defensive breakdowns haven’t helped goalie Jimmy Howard, but the Wings’ netminder is simply getting outplayed by his counterpart at the other end.

Howard has an .879 save percentage and a 2.78 goals against average in the series after surrendering six goals on his last 39 shots. Those numbers are his worst in the playoffs in his three NHL post-seasons.

The Wings also need more from some of their top six forwards. Johan Franzen, who has one goal and nearly as many penalty minutes (eight) as shots on goal (11), hasn’t been able to make an impression in the series.

Valtteri Filppula’s doing a lot of skating, but not getting a whole lot done. Like Franzen and Zetterberg, he’s a minus-3 along with one assist and nine shots.

Jiri Hudler got his first goal of the series in Game 4 on Tuesday, but he’s also minus-3 and has been limited to five shots. Even Pavel Datsyuk, who has a goal and two assists in the series, doesn’t quite look himself after his arthroscopic knee surgery six weeks ago.

“You call me leader, I want to play like leader,” said Datsyuk calling himself out in his list of things that need to change. “That’s first thing. We have to play solid D and try to take care of our chances.”

Fox Sporsts Detroit’s Dana Wakiji hits upon Waddell’s point that it’s team defense, and Jimmy Howard’s mistakes, that have yielded what is a rule and not an exception in the playoffs in a slate of, Tuesday night excluded, more one-goal wins or losses:

Rinne isn’t even the top playoff goaltender in save percentage or goals-against. Among all playoff goalies who at least played two games, he’s fourth in save percentage at .942 and seventh in goals-against at 2.01. But Jimmy Howard, who had similar regular-season numbers to Rinne, is 14th (out of 17) in save percentage at .879 and 12th in goals-against at 2.78.

The goals haven’t all been his fault but he has not played at the same level as Rinne, which could be because Howard missed so much time late in the regular season because of a groin injury. But it’s not time to throw the baby out with the bath water, even though the Wings are down 3-1 in the series.

“When we do get the chances, we have to bear down, really make sure we capitalize,” Niklas Kronwall said. “I thought we had some really good chances. We got to stick to the program and keep believing in what we do. We feel like we have a good team. If we can just keep playing like this … obviously we want to clean up our game in our own zone. It feels like we’re giving (the Predators) a few goals for free. We want to make sure they have to work a lot harder for the goals.”

In what was an incredibly late-filed game wrap-up, the Red Wings’ playoff blog offers us a set of quotes from Tuesday’s game to seize upon…

“I think we had 40 shots again tonight and a lot of them were quality chances. It’s tough when you are getting chances, chances and more chances and they go up and score a goal. The momentum really goes up on their side and we’ve got to fight back.”
– Henrik Zetterberg

“It was definitely disappointing, but they’ve still got to win one more game.”
– Jimmy Howard

“When you are out there working hard, I think it shows that we want to win. We’re putting shots on net. Sooner or later, they are going to go in.”
– Drew Miller

It’s frustrating, but you’ve got to push past it. You’re playing playoff hockey now. You are not going to get the breaks all of the time. You’ve got to fight for it and battle for it. Now, we’re in a tough situation where we’ve got to go down to Nashville and win one game.”
– Nick Lidstrom

97.1 the Ticket’s Jeff Riger’s fifth of five reasons why the Wings can still win the series offers some encouragement…

Game 7 Pride: People say all the time that eventually a team is incapable of playing anymore big games in their careers and I actually believe that notion.  However I don’t think that it holds true for this year’s version of the Wings.  Sure Lidstrom, Holmstrom and Bertuzzi have been around for a long time and have played a lot of hockey.  But, there are so many other members of this team that have not and are chomping at the bit to try and win another Cup.

If Detroit were to go to Nashville and win game 5, that would guarantee the Wings at least one more home game this season, a contest I would assume that would be very hard for the Preds to win.  Of course that could also be the last home game in the great careers of Lidstrom and Homer which would make the atmosphere and intensity that much crazier.

I cannot be convinced that Detroit would lose such a game, meaning we would have a game 7.  And, if that scenario were to play out, how could anybody pick against the Wings?  Sure they lost one in San Jose last year, but there were also numerous injuries.  This year, Darren Helm is out and Patrick Eaves is not around to kill penalties either, but other than that this team is healthy and after fighting back to force a game 7, there is no way they would not be the favorite to win such a contest.

And NHL.com’s Brian Hedger offers five reasons, too. Of most pertinent note:

2. Tear down that wall: Nashville has leaned heavily on Rinne, who thrives with a lot of shots put on him. However, it’s not all Rinne. The Predators are also doing a great job of eliminating scoring chances from the middle of the ice in the offensive zone. They’re keeping almost everything the Red Wings do to the outside and collapsing three or sometimes four skaters in front of Rinne whenever Detroit’s cycle game is working. The Preds are not only blocking shots—61 so far—but also know the 6-foot-5 Rinne is behind them, able to see over the “wall” of teammates in front him.

Just think of what that “wall” will look like on penalty kills if 6-foot-7 Nashville defenseman Hal Gill can return for Game 5 from a lower-body injury that’s held him out of the first four contests. Detroit must not only find a way to break up the “wall” of Predators shot blockers, but also make Nashville pay when the Wings get a good scoring chance.

“A lot of times we’re making [Rinne] really good,” Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “He’s one of the best goalies in the League. We knew that coming into this series, [but] we have to capitalize on our chances, simple as that.”
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4. Give yourself a lift ... or several: It sounds a lot easier than it actually is, but the Red Wings must start lifting more shots when they get chances in close against Rinne. He’s tall and very athletic, so when he drops to his knees his pads virtually take away the entire bottom of the goal. He also happens to be fantastic with his catching glove. The Red Wings have scored against him, of course, but often it’s been off roofed wrist shots over the blocker side.

That seems to be the hardest spot for Rinne to cover. In Game 4 on Tuesday night the Red Wings buzzed around the Predators net more than a few times trying to slip rebound shots past Rinne. They weren’t lifting the puck, though, and often shot it right into his pads. That needs to change, starting in Game 5.
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5. Don’t take the bait: Tuesday’s game was the first one Detroit didn’t hamper itself by taking a bunch of bad penalties. In fact, the Wings actually earned seven power plays to just three for Nashville—but there’s still an undercurrent of tension in this series because of several incidents.
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Tuesday’s Game 4 didn’t bring many extra-curriculars, but the Wings can’t get sucked into taking silly penalties. They also need to keep their focus while defending and not put themselves in position to get called for stick penalties.

Update: I said I would mention these at one point, so here’s the Hockey News’s Ryan Kennedy’s mention of Wings prospect Alexei Marchenko dominating play in the MHL…

Alexei Marchenko, D – Red Army (Rus.): The Kontinental League’s junior circuit, the MHL, is down to two teams: Red Army and Omsk. Marchenko has been an excellent engine from the blueline for his squad, dishing out 14 assists and 16 points in 14 post-season games while maintaining a plus-8 rating. His offense is tops among all defensemen and only an injury held him off Russia’s world junior squad this year. Drafted 205th overall by Detroit in 2011.

And here’s Riley Sheahan speaking to the St. Catherine’s Standard’s Bill Portrecz about his tenure with the Wings (thus far):

“I’ve adjusted a little better now but at first it was a real eye-opener for me,” the former St. Catharines Falcon said. “The biggest thing was just walking in the locker room and seeing my teammates who are superstars in the NHL and realizing that I was part of the same team as them now. Sitting near (Nicklas) Lidstrom and (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg and seeing how they prepare to play in these big playoff games, it was pretty crazy.”
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“I knew I was going to play in one [NHL] game,” Sheahan said. “When I got the call from my agent and he told me I was going to play against either New Jersey or Chicago I was pretty thrilled. It’s every thing you dream of every since you are little and to actually hear those words that you are going to play in the NHL was pretty crazy.”
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“Everyone is so good. No one really makes mistakes, everyone is always in position and that makes it so easy to be on the ice,” said Sheahan, Detroit’s first overall pick in the 2010 draft. “They can find you when you are open but at the same time you have to be extra-aware of what you do with the puck and the decisions you make. If you turn it over, there’s a good chance the other team is going to score.”

Also helping Sheahan make the transition has been the willingness of the Red Wings’ veterans to help out.

“They’ve all been really good. You learn from them,” Sheahan said. “(Todd) Bertuzzi has been really good to me and he’s someone I can model my game after being a big body.”

For now, Sheahan is one of about a dozen extra players and prospects working out with the team in case of injury or ineffectiveness.

“I haven’t heard anything. (Coach Mike) Babcock told me I was up there for the experience. He never really mentioned anything about playing,” said Sheahan, who is living in a hotel in Detroit for the time being. “I’m just up to learn and be around the guys with all the experience. Maybe if there’s a few injuries and if they needed me to play, I’d be more than glad to. Right now it’s just working out and getting in shape and learning.”

• The CBC’s Elliotte Friedman offered this among his “30 Thoughts”...

29. The Canadiens know they’re not getting Jim Nill. But it’s pretty smart to ask to talk to him, if only to pick his brain.

• The Production Line’s selling ping pong-gate t-shirts…

• And I don’t know what to think about this quip from Brian Burke, who spoke to USA Today’s Kevin Allen about Brendan Shanahan’s rough playoff year as the NHL’s disciplinarian:

“You can’t make people happy, so just do the job,” Burke said. “And I think Brendan is doing that. It’s impossible for fans to be rationale at this time of year. It’s impossible for Detroit fans not to be outraged when Shea Weber wasn’t suspended (for slamming Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the glass). But I don’t think he should have been.”

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MsRedWinger's avatar

Thanks, George.  I’m still getting caught up…

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 04/19/12 at 11:03 AM ET

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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.