Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Sharks Game 4 set-up: Against highly improbable odds

The Detroit Red Wings face off against the San Jose Sharks tonight (7 PM EDT, Versus only [not joined in progress, the whole game]/TSN/WXYT) facing stark odds, and, if they lose, uncertain futures for more than just Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, Mike Modano and Chris Osgood. The Wings could be swept for the first time since 2003 and lose to the same team in consecutive seasons since the 1999-2000 season, when the Wings couldn’t solve the Colorado Avalanche, and had to regroup, change the team’s dynamic and build toward their 2002 Stanley Cup championship.

The Wings have already been written off by more than a few members of the media as a now-second-rate team and nothing more than broom fodder over the past few days, and put simply, if they lose tonight, they’ll get the weekend off…before posing for a team picture on Monday, cleaning out their lockers and facing a summer that’s far too long for a team which is expected to at least make the Western Conference Finals every year.

The Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness paints a grim statistical picture regarding the Wings’ ability to pull off what would be nothing less than a miraculous comeback, though the Wings’ players insisted that they have only concerned themselves with winning Friday’s game:

– Only three teams have come back from an 0-3 deficit to win in the playoffs – the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs (vs. Detroit in the finals), the 1975 New York Islanders (vs. Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals) and the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers (vs. Boston in the conference semifinals).

– The Wings are just 8-18 in overtime in the playoffs since 2000 and have lost 3 straight, all to Sharks. Their last win in OT came in 2009 against Chicago on a goal by Darren Helm. San Jose has won five straight in overtime this year in playoffs.

“Once you start winning a few games in overtime you start believing in yourself,” Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We’ve been there too. We just need to get the momentum on our side and a game.”
– The last time the Wings were swept in the playoffs was in the 2002-03 season when the Babcock led the Anaheim Mighty Ducks by Detroit in the quarterfinals.

– San Jose goalie Antti Niemi is 5-0-0 lifetime at Joe Louis Arena.

As the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch notes, however, it was the Sharks who talked about avoiding history on Friday, pointing out that they don’t want to lose in the same manner that they did a year ago tonight:

The Sharks were in the same position last spring and lost 7-1 to the Wings to force Game 5 at the HP Pavilion where San Jose wrapped up the series.
[Sharks coach Todd] McLellan said that in a number of areas in Game 3, especially early, the Sharks didn’t play well.

“I said during our run-through that should we play the same game over again (in Game 4) we probably won’t come out on the winning end,” McLellan said Thursday.
“We’re trying separate last year from this year, but I think we learned some very valuable lessons (from Game 4 last year). We have to show some growth as far as responding better (in this situation).”

The Sharks swear they’re not focused on what happened last spring in Game 4. But in 23 post-season series in franchise history, San Jose has never swept one.

“We don’t talk a lot about it. We haven’t wanted to talk about the past but you guys keep bringing it up,” San Jose defenceman Dan Boyle said.
“To use percentages, you go out there and give 100%. If you give anything less, which is what I think happened last year ... It’s not like we went out and didn’t care, we just probably went out and gave 90%.”

Garrioch and the Hockey News’s Ken Campbell, among others, have all but booked flights to Vancouver to watch an anticipated Western Conference Final between the Sharks and Canucks, so he offered five points of emphasis for the Sharks tonight, including a particularly harsh one regarding the Wings’ most valuable player:

2. SHOW KILLER INSTINCT: The Sharks can’t get excited about being up 3-0 in this series. That happened to them last spring in this exact situation and they got hammered 7-1 in Game 4. Sure, the Sharks were able to close out the series at home. But this year they’d probably prefer to have a couple of days off to put their feet up and relax. They need to strike early on the Wings and not give them a chance.
4. CONTINUE TO BEAT JIMMY HOWARD: OK, the Detroit goalie can’t be blamed one bit for the fact the Wings are down 3-0 in games. It’s not his fault, but he hasn’t made the big saves when the Wings have needed him the most. The way the series has gone, that would be just about every time the puck has been dropped.

Howard hasn’t been the biggest issue for the Wings, but the Sharks have found a way to score timely goals.

5. KEEP IT LOOSE: The Sharks dressing room is a fun place right now. Lots of smiling and lots of laughter. In the Detroit dressing room, it hasn’t been that way since the first game of the series. A more experienced lot.

San Jose can’t get too uptight at the prospect of winning a series in four games for the first time in team history. No sense in giving the Wings another life. The Sharks need to continue to have fun but serious enough to close it out.

I call BS on the Howard comments. Howard’s the reason the Wings weren’t blown out in Games 1 or 2, and while he hasn’t been impenetrable, he’s given the Wings a chance to win. Without him, this series would be uglier than it already is.

Again, the Sharks insist that they’re the ones who have to avoid history, as noted by NHL.com’s Dave Lozo...

McLellan talked a bit about changing up his team’s routine heading into this year’s Game 4, but players said nothing has changed following Thursday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena.

“You don’t look back on last year,” said Devin Setoguchi, the Game 3 hero with a hat trick and the overtime winner. “It’s been a totally different run. We started out of the playoffs in January, last place in our division, and we clawed our way back up. We just turned ourself into a better hockey club. There’s no comparison to last year. Guys prepare the same way. Some guys have prepared the same way for probably 15 years. I do the same thing every game. I don’t look at it or function any differently than any other game in the regular season.”

And McLellan’s points were also noted by the Mercury News’s David Pollak...

“It’s almost déjà vu-like and I know I want to separate last year from this year, but I believe we learned a very valuable lesson last year in Game 4,” McLellan said. “We have to show some growth as far as responding better than we did last time.”

The coach said he didn’t exactly spell it out, how Johan Franzen exploded for a natural hat trick in a little more than three minutes, how things only got worse after that.

“We’ve already talked about our approach to Game 4,” he said. “We didn’t necessarily talk about last year specifically. We just talked that we’ve been in this situation before and we should have learned some lessons and we should show some signs of growth tomorrow.”
Speaking of staying positive from the Detroit perspective, the fact that it was only a year ago that the Philadelphia Flyers became that third NHL team to win a series after starting 0-3 was not lost on either team.

“We’re certainly aware of it and we certainly have enough respect for our opponent to know that if there’s a team that can do it, it would be Detroit,” McLellan said. “That should help us prepare.”

The Sharks did indeed sound like a confident bunch while speaking to their website’s staff...

An old hockey axiom is the fourth victory is the hardest to get. Of course, the Sharks expect Detroit to play desperate hockey again on Friday.

“Tomorrow is going to be another intense game and we expect them to come out really hard,” [Dany] Heatley said.
For all the theories, there might be one simple reason for the Sharks overtime playoff success.

“We think to win. We’re not trying to play safe,” [Ryane] Clowe said about the Sharks 5-0 overtime record.

Clowe was asked about Couture and Setoguchi working on a potential game-winning goal celebration prior to Setoguchi finding the back of the net and had no problem with their looseness.

“Those two aren’t lacking confidence, I’ll tell you that much,” Clowe said, drawing a laugh. “It’s good for young guys. Logan has been in a position where he’s scored big goals in this building and he’s the one that tied it last year. Seto’s got three overtime goals in the last two years. Those guys will pump each other up and that’s fine with us.”

But Joe Pavelski insisted to the Free Press’s George Sipple that the Sharks aren’t overconfident...

As for the chance to sweep the Wings, Joe Pavelski said: “We definitely want to handle this position a lot better than we did last year. Starts go a long way ... make sure the effort is there early on.”

He said there are no worries about being too confident against the Wings.

“You don’t feel overconfident just knowing what’s over there,” Pavelski said. “They’re a good team and they play hard every night and there’s been a few games in this series that could go either way. We realize we’re going to have to better than we were (Wednesday).”

And along those lines, the Sharks chose not to make Thursday’s practice optional, as the Detroit News’s Eric Lacy (who also spoke to Antti Niemi about those “snow showers”) noted:

“At this time of year, we include them in everything,” McLellan said when asked why all his players were required to practice. “Clean out the legs, refresh the mind.”

Based on the first 15 minutes of McLellan’s session, the Sharks appear as mentally sharp for tonight’s Game 4 against the Red Wings as they were for Game 1. With a 5-0 overtime record this postseason, riding on the surging play of Devin Setoguchi (a Game 3 hat trick) and goaltender Antti Niemi (38 saves), the Sharks remain galvanized. Ryane Clowe believes the surge started with a bit of luck, and has manifested into a sense of confidence.

“It’s tough to say why that is, I just think it’s us playing like a hungry pack, having that feeling like it’s just a matter of time before we score,” Clowe said. “We just want to keep it going.”
The Sharks haven’t had any choice but to play with some desperation against the Red Wings. San Jose’s last eight postseason victories over Detroit were all decided by one goal, making the Sharks the first team in history to pull off the feat, according to STATS, LCC. Seven straight Toronto playoff victories over Montreal came by one goal spanning 1947-59.

“You learn a little bit from each situation,” said Niemi, who led the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup last season. “You learn that your team has what it takes to get it done.”

Overtime wins included, as the Mercury News’s David Pollak noted:

The fact that all three games have been close should help the Red Wings’ mental state. But the fact the Sharks keep winning close games this postseason—including all five that have gone into overtime—could offset that. Each side had its own theories for the Sharks’ overtime success that is already drawing comparisons to a 1993 Montreal Canadiens team that went 10-1 in games that lasted more than 60 minutes on the way to a Stanley Cup title.

“They’ve been very patient in overtime,” Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “They haven’t opened themselves up and are kind of just waiting for chances, waiting for opportunities. And they kind of jump on them when they get them.”

Sharks captain Joe Thornton stressed team confidence in a lineup that featured seven 20-goal scorers during the regular season, and he talked about San Jose’s size giving it a physical edge.

“I like to think that we kind of wear teams down, so we’re a little bit fresher coming into overtime, but I’m not sure why it is,” he said. “As far as we’re concerned, whatever we’ve been doing, we’ve just got to continue doing.”

Dany Heatley’s take on being “Kronwalled,” as noted by the Mercury News’s Pollak, might best summarize the Sharks’ mentality:

Dany Heatley said Thursday that the monster hit Niklas Kronwall delivered in the first period of Game 3 knocked the wind out of him, but nothing more. Still, because Heatley’s head did hit the board as he fell to the ice, he did go through the required protocol whenever a concussion might have occurred.

“Passed the test with flying colors,” he said Thursday.

Heatley only missed two shifts and ended up blocking a blast by Kronwall in overtime. But the Sharks’ forward didn’t exactly look at that as revenge.

“I had to block that. I let him get by me in the first place to create that play,” Heatley said. “There’s not really any time for revenge now. There’s going to be big hits from both sides, and I’ve just got to get up and keep playing.”

It’s Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Ray Ratto that takes the Sharks’ bluster to the greatest rhetorical heights...

[T]he Sharks may still lose Game 4, because they are also whom we always thought they were – a team that historically handles bounty the way most teams handle adversity. With butter-coated oven mitts. They still have not proven that they can be the bullies of the conference their standings positions suggest they ought to be. They still turn out the biggest howlers at the least contextually sensical times. They still believe they are who they once were, the guys who can run with anyone.

But this series has shown that they are better when they are the guys who can prevent you from running. They don’t neutral ice trap or do the actuarial grind-the-game-down things that made New Jersey or elevated Tampa Bay. But they use their size more effectively than they ever have before, because they have stopped trying to be all teams for all people. They are this team, and they get into trouble only when they forget who they are and what they do.

And yet, for all that as well, they may still lose Game 4 because the Red Wings aren’t dead yet. The three San Jose wins have not been overwhelming, though the better team has won Games 1 and 2. The Wings have not won many of the important battles, but they have lost by one, one and one goal. But despite McLellan’s entreaties that the Sharks should forget about last year’s series victory over Detroit, this series is last year’s, almost to a T. “I think it’s natural to reflect upon it a little,” Mitchell said. “The similarities are all over it. Game 4, though . . . (Johan) Franzen got that hat trick in the first period, they were up like what, 5-0? It was almost like we all said, ‘Okay, let’s get to Game 5.’”

That, though, is in the hands of the gods, or Eric Nesterenko, whichever comes first. There is Friday night, and the Sharks in position to either finish the unfathomable deed or string out the proceedings awhile longer. Indeed, they might become the first team to win successive series against the same team with the same order of victories since Montreal swept St. Louis in back-to-back Finals in 1968 and 1969.

The Red Wings do not have the power to win this series, unless the Sharks grant it to them. But they do have the power to discomfit the Sharks into thinking about who they are instead of simply being who they are. In sum, this series is over, and it isn’t.

And then there’s this:

t is a false panic this time; the Wings have only the benefit of desperation to fuel their further efforts. Even if they are still the prideful team that went to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009, and have been the sport’s version of Manchester United for the past decade and a half, this cycle is coming to a slow close, and whether it happens Friday in Joe Louis Arena or Sunday at Le Pavillion du HP matters not.

NHL.com’s Dave Lozo allows us to shift focus from the Shark’ perspective to the Wings’ perspective via his game preview:

Big story: There are few who predicted the Sharks would have a chance to sweep the Red Wings in this series, but that’s exactly what could happen Friday night at Joe Louis Arena. It’s been a repeat of last year’s conference semifinals between the teams, with San Jose taking the first three games. If form holds, the Sharks could be in trouble—at least on Friday. The Red Wings smoked the Sharks, 7-1, in Game 4 last season to send the series back to Detroit. The Red Wings have gotten better with each game in this series, and both teams agreed they were the better team in Game 3. If they bring the same effort in Game 4, it’s very possible the series will shift back to San Jose for another Game 5.
Who’s hot: Boyle has 1 goal and 3 assists in this series. … Henrik Zetterberg has 1 goal and 2 assists in the past two games after failing to register a point in his first postseason contest of 2011 in Game 1.
Stat pack: The Sharks are 5-0 this season in overtime and can realistically catch the record of 10 overtime wins set by the Montreal Canadiens in 1993. … Both teams have had effective power plays in the series. The Sharks are 4-for-15; the Red Wings are 3-for-12.

Puck drop: “I believe in being positive. That’s how I live my life. That’s how I deal with my family. That’s how I deal with every game. In other words, I just think that I’m going to disarm the bomb. I’ve always thought that. That’s how a coach thinks. Whether that’s selective memory, whether that’s being hard-headed or that’s just not being that smart … whatever you want to call it, I’m just a believer.”—Red Wings coach Mike Babcock

(as of the time I’m writing this, the NHL hasn’t updated its spreadsheet for tonight’s game with the referees’ assignments, so I’ll update them later today)

That’s the Wings’ theory, as they stated repeatedly during Thursday’s post-practice media availabilities, though they suggested to NHL.com’s Brian Hedger that nobody expects history to literally repeat itself tonight:

“Once in a while, (blowouts) will happen, but more often you will be in close games (against San Jose),” said Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg, who had 2 assists in Game 3 and has 3 points in the series. “Especially now. It will be a close game tomorrow again. We’ve just got to win.”

They’ve also got to be like Babcock and believe, one agonizingly tough game at a time. Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard compared the feeling of losing Game 3 on Wednesday to being “stabbed in the back,” but even he said Thursday was a new day and it’s time to start thinking positive. They don’t have much other choice.

“When we woke up this morning, we got here and we had to stop feeling sorrow and get back to work,” Howard said. “We have to have that mentality of ‘why not us?’ It has happened before in sports, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have to win one game.”
“I don’t have an answer for this one, what they do better,” said Red Wings star center Pavel Datsyuk, who has a goal and three points against the Sharks. “So far, it’s a 3-0 series. Could be another way, but it is what it is.”

All Detroit can do now is get back up for Game 4, stay positive and see what happens.

“We’re ready,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We’re ready to compete. The deeper you get into a series, the tougher the games get. That’s what we have to be ready for tomorrow night. It’s going to be a tough game and we have to win. Otherwise we’re done.”

Or, as Datsyuk and Holmstrom told the CBC’s series blogger...

“It’s pretty much simple,” Detroit forward Tomas Holmstrom said. “We’ve got to win one game or the season is over.”

Wings centre Pavel Datsyuk cautioned that no one among his teammates is ready to concede.

“If we do not believe, we should just go home,” Datsyuk said. “We believe 100 per cent.”

In perhaps the best illustration of what separates the Wings and the Sharks, coach Mike Babcock said that it wasn’t his decision to hold an optional skate on Thursday:

The Wings held an optional skate Thursday, and Babcock was weighing the options of whether to make lineup changes for Game 4.

“One thing that happened with the optional practice today, when Nick [Lidstrom] told me he felt that was the best thing for our team today, that allowed me not to make a decision on any lines for today,” Babcock said. “I have one more day to bide time and think about what I’m doing.”

Datsyuk suggested to the AP’s Larry Lage that the Wings plan on making the most of their opportunity to rally this time around, and while doing so, Lage noted the biggest subtext of tonight’s game, should the Wings lose:

“We did not come back,” Datsyuk said. “Now, we have another chance.”

Detroit’s Mike Modano, who leads all U.S.-born NHL players in goals and points, has been a healthy scratch for all but one game during the playoffs and the centre nearing his 41st birthday sounds like he’s leaning toward retirement. He might not get another opportunity to play in the NHL.

“The knee-jerk reaction is to kind of say that’s it and be done with it because the frustration level is fairly high at this point,” he said. “But I’ll let the dust settle and make a decision.”

That is Nicklas Lidstrom’s plan as well. The 41-year-old defenceman, a finalist to win his seventh Norris Trophy, reiterated that he isn’t ready to think or talk about his future.

“I’m going to wait until this season is over and then make a decision on what I want to do,” Lidstrom said.

Lidstrom, Modano, Kris Draper and Chris Osgood all addressed their uncertain futures while speaking to the press on Thursday, but Chris Osgood summarized their situations succinctly while speaking to the Free Press’s Helene St. James (who he told that he may move to Hawaii and become a pro surfer, as the future Tigers catcher is wont do to)...

Osgood, meanwhile, was laid-back as usual when asked if this might be the end.

“We don’t really think about that, ever,” Osgood said. “Players never think like that ever. We just don’t. You just go with the flow. Whatever tends to happen is going to happen anyways.”

And Babcock at least suggested that he’d consider putting Modano into the lineup before focusing on what the team believes are bigger issues, like their penalty-killing, as Babcock told USA Today’s Kevin Allen:

Detroit’s penalty killing, ranked 15th out of 16th teams in the playoffs, has yielded 10 goals in seven postseason games.

“The penalty kill has been real good in Game 1 of both series and hasn’t been good any time after that,” Babcock said.

Henrik Zetterberg agreed while speaking to MLive’s Ansar Khan...

Henrik Zetterberg said the Red Wings will make some changes on their penalty kill, which has allowed opponents to convert 30.3 percent of their chances in the playoffs (10-for-33).

“They will make plays, they’re good players, but make them take the least dangerous shot,” Zetterberg said.

The Red Wings might stop pressuring the points and play a tighter four-man box.

“They’re finding ways to get pucks on net. They’re moving the puck really well,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “I think we just need to stay in our spots, basically, and make them work the puck around the outside and not really give them anything in tight.”

Said Lidstrom: “We’re trying to be aggressive at the right moments, but we’ve been over-aggressive, pushing a little too much. They’ve been moving the puck real well and taking the shots when they’re there.”

As well as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:

“We’ve been talking about it and we will do some changes, and hopefully that will help us,” Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg said. “It’s a big part of the game. You have to be able to minimize their chances. They will make plays, they’re good players, but make them take the least dangerous shot.”
A couple more favorable bounces wouldn’t hurt, either.

“One of their goals (in Game 3) was off the end boards (on a rebound), and on the other, (Devin) Setoguchi completely missed the shot but it found its way in,” Red Wings forward Patrick Eaves said. “We want to get better at (the PK) and we’ll make the necessary changes.”

Winning more faceoffs in their own end comes into the equation as well, and the Wings aren’t particularly happy with the linesmen’s directive to “crack down” on “cheating” to the point that, according to Fox Sports Detroit’s Ken Daniels, almost 20 players were ejected from the faceoff circle on Wednesday:

“They have a job to do and it’s been fair for both teams,” Red Wings center Darren Helm said. “But sometimes you just want to get after it, just drop the puck, and let’s get it going.”

Said Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader : “It’s part of the deal. Both teams are trying to win the draws. The refs aren’t letting players cheat which is what you want. As a centerman, you want it to be even and fair.

Helm and Babcock also addressed the PK issue in conversations with Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji...

“What I didn’t like (Wednesday) night is they had three opportunities off entries,” Babcock said. “If you go back to the Phoenix series, they scored three goals off entries. Each one last night was a one-timer by (Devin) Setoguchi. We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to sort that out. We can’t keep taking the puck out of our net.”
“They’re a really skilled team that makes a lot of good plays,” Helm said. “When you get running a little bit against really good players, they can pick you apart, so that’s kind of what we have to do a little bit more is just find our spots where we have to be aggressive along the wall, but other than that, more focused on being in the right spot and being in the lanes.”

Babcock has not been playing captain Nick Lidstrom in shorthanded situations, preferring to use Niklas Kronwall (4 minutes, 15 seconds of shorthanded ice time in Game 3), Brad Stuart (4:15), Ruslan Salei (1:20) and Jonathan Ericsson (1:20). But Lidstrom is excellent at clearing pucks out of the zone and, as the cliche goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.

But if you want to know how defiantly determined the Wings are at present, NHL.com’s Brian Hedger was all but barked at for asking Howard about Devin Setoguchi’s fanned shot:

Setoguchi was ready to blast a one-timer from the left circle when he shattered his stick on the shot and the puck slowly slid through traffic and into the net—with Howard unable to get back after lunging to the left post in anticipation of the blast.

“What do you do, as a goalie, in that situation?” said Howard, who didn’t even bother to look at replays of it. “He seemed just cocked and ready to let a bomb go, so that was the last thing in my mind that was going to happen. Pass came over. It was right in his wheel house and I rushed over strong expecting that one-timer. You’ve just got to keep going and concentrate on making the next save. Bounces happen.”

At the other end of the ice, as DetroitRedWings.com’s Jeff Sanford notes, the Wings’ power play has been less than fantastic—the Wings’ inability to convert on their power play in overtime or pad their lead in San Jose when awarded a four-minute power play are good examples thereof:

“I think they’re putting good pressure on our points on the power play,” Wings forward Patrick Eaves said. “With Nick back there with the puck with time, good things are going to happen, and obviously they don’t want that. So they’re doing a good job, but we’re also making good plays and we got a couple power play goals (in Game 3). So we made the adjustment, and we’re successful and we got to keep working on that.”

Detriot’s penalty kill has also looked shaky at times, despite killing off 13 San Jose power plays in a penalty-riddled Game 1. The Sharks have notched four power play goals so far in the series, but that number would definitely be higher if not for the extraordinary play of Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. The Wings’ penalty kill has had a hard time clearing the puck out of the zone and eliminating second, third, and fourth chances for the Sharks. Even after killing the penalty, the Wings have a hard time swinging the momentum back in their favor. Such was the case in game one’s overtime, in which the Wings’ had just killed Justin Abdelkader’s four-minute penalty when Benn Ferriero sent the game-winner past Howard. It’s the Sharks’ ability to wait for an open play that’s made a major difference.

“They’ve been moving the puck really well,” Lidstrom said. “We’ve tried to be aggressive at the right moments, but we’ve been overaggressive, pushing a bit too much. And they’ve been moving the puck real well, and taking the shots when they’re there and have been capitalizing on their chances. I think they’re staying a little more patient.”

Puck control, or the lack thereof, at the points during the power play has plagued the Wings and fired up the Sharks in the series. With one game away from elimination, the Wings need to hold their heads up and take it one game at a time.

“We just got to keep plugging away,” said Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom, keeping things simple like always. “Stay away from the box and don’t get frustrated.

Lidstrom did suggest to NHL.com’s Brian Hedger, however, that Antti Niemi isn’t invincible in their eyes…

Sharks goalie Antti Niemi again made some big saves in key situations to keep the Red Wings at bay and give San Jose more time to find a way to win Game 3 in overtime. Still, it wasn’t his sharpest game of the series—Niemi gave up three goals on 41 shots and allowed more rebounds than he’d given up in the first two games.

“We got to him a little bit (in Game 3) by shooting the puck a little bit more and having guys in front of the net and being there for those second chances,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “That’s something we have to build on.”

And he suggested that the Wings’ margins of defeat have been slight, as noted by the Ottawa Sun’s Garrioch:

“There’s momentum swings in every game. They go back and forth every game,” Lidstrom said. “We’ve been getting better and better in the series. It hasn’t been good enough to get us the win. That’s tough. They’ve been a little bit better than us in certain areas. Their powerplay has been winning games for them. Their goalie (Antti Niemi) has been playing well. We got to them a bit more, by playing well.”

Zetterberg and Holmstrom agreed, as they told the Free Press’s Helene St. James:

“We just have to win the next game,” Henrik Zetterberg said, echoing Nicklas Lidstrom, echoing Tomas Holmstrom, echoing, actually, the Sharks. Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said he thought the Wings did “an extraordinary job” in Game 3, and it still wasn’t enough.

“They don’t give up,” Holmstrom said. “We’ve seen that all three games. They’ve been playing really good against us. We have to keep pushing.”

The Wings held an optional skate, so Babcock went for a jog while some players practiced and others worked out. He regularly runs along the Detroit River, but Thursday’s run was different. He went longer, he said, because both of his daughters were “abusing” him the other day when he had his shirt off.

He also noticed a reticence among those he passed. “What I found funny today is, usually it’s ‘Hey Coach, get ‘em tomorrow night.’ Today they were more reserved,” Babcock said.

Perhaps he ran by some Sharks, who were heeding their coach’s warning about letting up on an opponent faced with having to win four straight games. “If there’s a team that can do it, it would be Detroit,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We know the storm is coming, but we’d like to be part of that storm, to push back.”

Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk told the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell that there’s no lack of belief in the Wings’ room…

“If we do not believe, we should just go home,” Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk said. “We believe 100 per cent. (Last year) we remember we did not come back. Now, we have another chance. We need to use this case.”
Crazy things happen this time of year,” Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We win (Friday night) and we’ve got the momentum going to San Jose. We played two good games down there. We’re a good enough team to turn this around. Now, we just have to go out there and do it.”

And the Wings were almost relentlessly positive while speaking to the media, as noted by Fox Sports Detroit’s Wakiji:

“I believe in being positive,” Babcock said. “That’s how I live my life, that’s how I deal with my family every day. I just think I’m going to disarm the bomb. I’ve always thought that. That’s how a coach thinks. Whether that’s selective memory, whether that’s being hardheaded, or whether that’s just not being smart, whatever you want to call it, I’m just a believer. I believe if you approach life that way, the ups outlast the downs. My plan is to go home, enjoy the rest of the day, enjoy my family, watch a little hockey, probably eat a nice meal, then come back and let’s get ready to do it again. Let’s do it a little better and let’s get us a win, so we can have a nice flight to San Jose.”

Helm’s parents are in town from Winnipeg, so they might serve as a little distraction.

“Probably just spend time with them and do whatever they want to do,” Helm said. “They might — no, they won’t keep my mind off hockey, they’ll be talking about it. It’ll just be good to talk to them and hang out with them and keep my mind busy more. I’ll be thinking about (Game 4), thinking about what I have to do.”
“[I’ll p]robably just go home (Thursday) afternoon, relax and probably think about (Game 4) and what I have to do so this team is successful,” Howard said.

Babcock and Niklas Kronwall continued, as the Macomb Daily’s Pleiness noted...

“Last year doesn’t have anything to do with this year in the playoffs,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I choose to pick out what’s positive. We have a game at home. We thought we played real well (Wednesday), had lots of opportunity, even in overtime. We didn’t score. They did. They feel good today. We’re regrouping. That’s it.”
“If we think about the whole series right now, we’re in a bad spot,” Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said.
“Last night walking out of the building it’s a tough blow,” Babcock said. “We thought we did a lot of good things and we expected to win the game, so (Thursday), as much as anything is physical and getting loosened up, it’s mental. We’ve got to win a game and then we’ll worry about from there on in,” Babcock continued. “We’ve got to find a way to play better than we did the last game. I think we’ve gotten better every game in the series but it hasn’t been enough.”

San Jose has won 10 of the last 12 meetings with the Wings, seven of which have one goal wins in the postseason.

“It’s something you just have to push aside and get ready for that next game,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “You can’t think of what happened in the past, you have to focus on that next game. We’ve been getting better and better in this series but it hasn’t been good enough,” Lidstrom added. “We have to come out with an even better effort.”

Detroit’s media members, however, got a jump start on writing the Wings’ obituaries.

The Detroit News’s Chris McCosky kicks things off by suggesting that the Wings had no right to suggest that they “deserved” to win on Wednesday…

No, no and no. The team that deserves to win almost always does. While the Red Wings squandered scoring chance after scoring chance — can’t imagine Tomas Holmstrom got much sleep Wednesday night — the Sharks found a way to put the puck into the net. Yes, Devin Setoguchi scored one goal on a whiff and another off a deflection. But there is no law that says Howard had to over-commit to the one-timer which caused him to misplay the change-up that rolled off Setoguchi’s stick.
And that’s the story here. Resumes and reputations don’t win Stanley Cups, execution does. It’s almost as if the Red Wings are somehow expecting the weight of their rich tradition to crush the Sharks, like they expect San Jose to look up into the rafters, see the banners and go, “Oh, man, we aren’t supposed to be doing this.” That’s not going to happen. The Sharks, and everybody else in the NHL, are way beyond kissing rings in Detroit. Does anybody think Dan Boyle was counting Lidstrom’s Norris Trophies when he blew that tying wrister past Howard?
Undeniably, the Sharks are bigger and stronger up front, and when they get to cycling the puck in the Red Wings zone, they are relentless. Defensively, they’ve done a remarkable job of keeping the Red Wings on the outside and keeping a stout wall in front of goaltender Antti Niemi. It is not an accident the Red Wings’ perimeter shots are blocked and swept away while too many of the Sharks shots have pinballed onto and into the net.

But that’s only half the story. The Red Wings, despite having plenty of scoring chances, especially in Game 3, haven’t really mounted any kind of counterpunch. Go down the list: Danny Cleary, Johan Franzen, Bertuzzi and Valtteri Filppula have no points this series. Tomas Holmstrom has two assists and no goals. Insufficient. Yet, you still get the sense the Red Wings feel the Sharks have been kissed by the hockey gods.

“Today is a tough day for us,” Datsyuk said. “Every day now is a tough one. They have been more lucky than us this year. We play good, lots of chances. I have a good chance in overtime, but maybe it’s not my time.”

Maybe it’s not the Red Wings’ time, again. But if all they are waiting for is their “luck to change,” they can cancel that flight to San Jose. They will need more than a favorable bounce.

The Free Press’s St. James agrees...

[W]where are all the skilled forwards not named Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg? The Wings have scored five times on the Sharks. Two of the goals are from defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. One is from Datsyuk, one from Zetterberg. Those three have accounted for nine of the team’s 14 points against the Sharks. Johan Franzen, Danny Cleary, Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula and Todd Bertuzzi have no points. There’s no doubt Franzen is hampered by the ankle injury he suffered in Game 2 of the first round, but if that’s the case, why is he still on the power play? The second unit’s forwards—Franzen, Filppula and Hudler—have not been a factor in the series.

Special teams have been a downfall for the Wings. They’re down 3-0 because they lost, 4-3 in overtime, Wednesday, but the series deficit never should have gotten to 2-0. The Wings’ most egregious stretch so far is the 4 minutes they spent with the man advantage after the Sharks had taken a 1-0 lead in Game 2. The Wings didn’t look like a team that had the extra skater, except for the one shift that led to Datsyuk banging the puck off the post. The rest of the time they were running around in their own zone, attempting to break out only to find the Sharks blocking a shot or clearing the puck.

The penalty kill has been way too vulnerable, but the Wings have also needed it much more than they should have. It doesn’t matter that Justin Abdelkader didn’t intend to high-stick anyone in the first two games—controlling one’s stick is basic hockey. The Sharks took advantage to either score or run the Wings ragged. The Wings’ weakness in this area was exposed in the first round by the Coyotes, who had nowhere near as effective a power play as the Sharks do.

A year ago the Wings’ quick demise could be pinned on a season defined by injuries. Big-minute guys such as Lidstrom and Zetterberg and Brad Stuart were on fumes by this round, the result of a punishing pace the last two months of the season and a seven-game first-round series that began on the road. This year that’s not the case. Franzen has the ankle situation and Zetterberg missed the first game because of a sprained knee, but the Wings had nine days between the first and second round to rest up.

This year, the Wings have been outworked by the Sharks. Much is being made of the one-goal games, but credit Jimmy Howard that Detroit has been so close to winning every game. Sharks coach Todd McLellan had his team prepared to push the Wings to the outside, to keep them from getting to rebounds or establishing a cycle.

And while the Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski attempts to inject a little optimism into his column…

Nicklas Lidstrom has seen it all in his 19 seasons here, and he doesn’t think this is the Last Stand for this team, or even necessarily for him. It shouldn’t be. The Red Wings and Sharks aren’t separated by much on the scoreboard, although no one should be delusional about a big comeback. Sometimes a narrow gap is wider than it appears. Lidstrom adopted the calm captain’s demeanor Thursday, and it was evident everywhere in the dressing room. Lidstrom, 41, reiterated he hasn’t decided whether he’ll return for another season, but he hasn’t played like a guy about to retire, and he doesn’t sound like one, either.

He sounds like someone facing a slightly better version of his own team.

“They play a very similar style to what we’re doing, so it’s nothing to get frustrated over,” Lidstrom said. “They’re just a little more patient than us. And they’re taking benefit of the chances they’re getting. We’re one and done, taking a shot and then going the other way.”
It’s tough trying to defeat an opponent that swiped your blueprint. Sharks coach Todd McLellan was a Mike Babcock assistant for three years here. He preaches what the Red Wings like to do, controlling the puck with swift defensemen and skilled forwards, playing patient and smart.

The Sharks are 5-0 in overtime in these playoffs, another measure of the thin line, but I don’t think it’s a fluke. They boast as many scorers as anybody, and got a hat trick from Devin Setoguchi on Wednesday night. Seven Sharks forwards topped 20 goals during the regular season. The Red Wings had four, and two — Franzen and Danny Cleary — haven’t scored in this series. The deep Red Wings are getting out-deeped, and someone asked Tomas Holmstrom if they could find a third gear.

“How many gears is it now?” he said, shaking his head. “Ten gears? For sure, we gotta bury the chances we have.”

The Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp, who may very well be the Devil’s designated advocate, insists that the Sharks are about to knock “contender” status from the Wings’ mantle once and for all, and he does so while talking about Nicklas Lidstrom’s decision as to whether he’ll retire or continue playing:

The Wings are regressing. The psychological playoff edge they enjoyed is evaporating. They’re still very good. They’ll remain very good the longer Lidstrom stalls another certainty—retirement. But San Jose stands one dagger shy of burying the notion that you cannot consistently beat the Wings at their steely nerved, highly skilled puck possession game.

The Wings and their legion of worshippers must now cope with the new NHL reality: They’ll be respected, but nobody will fear their strengths so much anymore.
This series hasn’t been a torch passing. It’s more of a snatching. The Sharks have proved with seven consecutive one-goal playoff victories against the Wings that, with equal parts restraint and opportunity, the league’s dominating force over the last two decades can be humbled.

This is a city that has never handled the Wings’ disappointments over the last 10 years with grace, but we all have to admit through three games that San Jose is the better team.
This is no longer an aberration. It’s a trend. The Wings must respond with personnel changes or risk having the Sharks, Vancouver and Chicago pass them in the Western Conference next season.
It’s understandably tense around here right now. This is more than a 0-3 series deficit. It might be the end of an era for Hockeytown.

I’ve been a Wings fan since 1991—this 33-year-old tried to shake off the hockey bug before acquiescing to the fact that being a Red Wings fan was weaved into my genetic make-up—and I’ve heard this story before.

In 2000, 2003, 2006 especially and 2010—last year at this time, though it wasn’t as loud or insistent. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now. I don’t believe it given Jimmy Howard’s playoff evolution, given Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk’s presences, the fact that Johan Franzen’s banged up to all hell get out, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader’s first-round performances, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart’s returns to form, Jakub Kindl’s hard push for a job toward the end of the season, etc. etc.

That being said, I don’t know what the Wings will do roster-wise, and I’m not going to make any suggestions until the season’s over. I would like to believe that it won’t be tonight, but I cannot deny that I’m scared, or that I get the feeling that history will indeed repeat itself, regardless of whether it’s now or sooner than later, and as such, for once, Mitch Albom has a point:

“You don’t want to end as fast as you did last year,” Henrik Zetterberg said earlier this week. “You grind through 82 games in the regular season. You want to play until June.”

But June is like a flotilla on the ocean that never quite comes into shore. Between you and it are these sharks from San Jose, and they keep on biting. Whatever you do, they do one better. Whatever you stop, they stop one more.

You talk about pride. You talk about the unlikely. You talk about winning four straight, starting tonight. And it is possible you will win tonight. It is even likely. Last year, on this very day, you pummeled San Jose, 7-1. And then you went to the Sharks’ place and lost the series—by dropping another one-goal heartbreaker.

You are Zetterberg, you are Pavel Datsyuk, you are Johan Franzen and Jimmy Howard. You are Nicklas Lidstrom, doing the captain’s duty of urging them on. You are Mike Babcock, demanding your players live up to who they are. You look the same. You feel the same. You are the men in red, talented and experienced. But in this, you are too experienced. You cannot stop repeating your pattern. Seven one-goal playoff losses to the same team over two seasons? Isn’t that some kind of record?

You pull on your skates. You tug down your helmet. You tell yourself, “A man makes his own fate. We are going to win tonight.“But that’s what you said last year. And you won. And then you didn’t. The lights flash. The tunnel beckons. The crowd is on its feet chanting “let’s go Red Wings!” You skate out hard. But deep down, you are thinking about that clock radio tomorrow morning and praying you wake up to a different song.

At the same time, I’d like to believe what Kris Draper told ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun...

When you’re down 3-0 in a series, you cling to whatever you can.

“Chicago took Van right to the brink,” Wings veteran Kris Draper said Thursday. “They put themselves in that situation where they very easily could have won. Why can’t it be us? You saw what happened last year with the Boston and Philly series. It’s not impossible.”

Or what Jimmy Devellano told the Free Press’s David Darby:

“Our two teams are close,” he said. “They match up real well. The Sharks are probably a little bit younger, their top players. I thought (Wednesday) we had a bit of an edge in play. And I thought we really came out good in the overtime, but they get one opportunity and it’s in.”

Can the Wings “make history” tonight? Hell if I know.

But it doesn’t hurt to have a little faith, even if reality’s impinging upon my optimism.

Multimedia, Part 1: If you missed ‘em: via the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell, here’s Patrick Eaves’ media scrum…

As well as Jimmy Howard speaking to the press…

And Henrik Zetterberg’s take on the situation:

• Here’s Babcock’s off-day presser:

• And the Detroit News’s David Guralnick posted a photo gallery from Thursday’s Wings and Sharks practices.

Multimedia, part 2: New stuff: Waddell also posted interviews with Joe Thornton….


And Dan Boyle:


WXYZ posted videos of Todd McLellan’s presser:


And Nicklas Lidstrom and Mike Babcock:


• The Sharks’ website posted clips of Todd McLellan’s off-day presser, comments from Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski, and yes, Virginia, there’s a Devin Setoguchi “History will be Made” commercial;

• Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area posted clips of the inevitable “Late Night Confidential,” Logan Couture‘s comments to the media, Ryane Clowe’s comments and Heatley and Pavelski’s scrums;

• ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun interviewed Sharks forward Kyle Wellwood;

• And TSN posted clips of the Sharks talking about their goal celebrations, Darren Dreger, Gino Reda, Paul Bissonette and Craig MacTavish pondering the possible sweeps of the Flyers and Wings (mostly the Flyers), a Wings off-day report which includes comments from Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, and Henrik Zetterberg, the Sharks blathering about their OT success and Steve Kouleas and Michael Peca gushing about Joe Thornton.

Wings and Sharks notebooks: If you want to read USA Today’s Kevin Allen’s profile of Douglas Murray, enjoy;

• Ditto for the Detroit News’s Eric Lacy’s profile of Devin Setoguchi;

• Ditto x2 for the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell’s profile of Joe Thornton, NHL.com’s Dave Lozo’s discussion of the Sharks’ overtime successes, Mark Purdy’s profile of Antti Niemi, the Vancouver Province’s Tony Gallagher’s profile of Jason Demers and SanJoseSharks.com’s Tony Khing’s off-day thoughts;

• I don’t know what the heck to make of Terry Foster’s latest Wings-related ramble. Consider it to be optional reading.

• I missed Nicholas J. Cotsonika’s write-up of Wednesday night’s game, but it doesn’t reveal anything new;

Also of Red Wings-related note: KK’s Dane Davis posted this on Thursday, but Wings VP Jimmy Devellano’s belief that the Detroit Tigers and Wings have survived Michigan’s one-state recession by marketing themselves to Southwestern Ontario and Northwest Ohio as well as Michigan, as he told the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch (and don’t ask me why it’s all but impossible to watch Wings game on FSD in Windsor—that’s plain old stupid):

“If you stuck a pin in a map and circled every area within 90 minutes of downtown Detroit, that’s where we’re trying to draw from,” Devellano said. “What has worked for us is marketing pretty hard into western Ontario. Big time. Windsor, Chatham, London, St. Thomas, Sarnia. We’ve marketed big into Ontario, and with the Canadian dollar now strong, it has helped. We’ve made sure that people in western Ontario understand there is an availability of tickets. That has helped. We’re actually up a fair amount with the Red Wings. We haven’t been too bad, but I can’t tell you the last four years haven’t been a tough sell because they have been.”
“About four years ago we saw our season tickets take dramatic drops and we knew that wasn’t normal when we had a Stanley Cup champion,” Devellano said. “Fairly quickly we were able to get a read that the economy was tanking, the car companies were having a problem and people were moving out of the state. It didn’t matter how good the Red Wings were, it was just an economic problem. Being Canadian, and having a bit of a feel for it, I just said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get into Canada.’ There are a lot of hockey fans in Canada who are a lot closer to Detroit than they are to the Toronto Maple Leafs.”

You would think some of these f

Filed in: | The Malik Report | Permalink


Rdwings28's avatar

“Every position must be held to the last man:there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end.”

Douglas Haig to the British troops 12 April 1918

Posted by Rdwings28 on 05/06/11 at 09:56 AM ET

Red Winger's avatar

Wings win game four, lose in SJ for game five.

Bet on it.

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie, MI on 05/06/11 at 10:42 AM ET

Crater's avatar

Never tell me the Odds!  -Hank Zolo

Posted by Crater from SoCal on 05/06/11 at 01:20 PM ET

Crater's avatar

Last post should have included this picture.

Posted by Crater from SoCal on 05/06/11 at 03:17 PM ET

WestWing's avatar

Let’s embrace the situation.  Keep in mind that all the long odds we hear about teams coming back from down 3-0 include the disproportionate number of teams that go on to get swept in game 4. 

Once you win a game though, you’re no longer coming back from down 3-0, you’re then coming back from down 3-1, and though still not common, we know that teams do come back from down 3-1 so the odds in your favor increase a bit. 

Say you win game five, now you’re no longer even coming back from a 3-1 deficit, because now it’s a 3-2 series, and coming back from down 3-2 has plenty of historical precedence, so the odds start to even out.  And it goes without saying that once you force a game seven, anything can happen.

Just look at the Vancouver v. Chicago series.  A virtually identical sitation to what the Wings face now, and I’d even say that Chicago looked far more beaten in going down 0-3 than Detroit has thus far.  The pundits were giving them little or no chance.  But one win on home ice changed everything and it ended up taking an overtime goal in game seven to finally kill them.

One shift at a time from here on out.  Just win tonight.

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 05/06/11 at 03:35 PM 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.