Well, that was a sorry homecoming. Bad enough the Red Wings spent most of the first period in their zone. But at one point, they left the ice altogether.
Or should we say “all together”?
In a line change that looked like a five-man beer run, the Wings headed to the boards simultaneously, leaving Jimmy Howard to wonder, “Hey, where’s everybody going?” Talk about uninhabited ice. It looked like Greenland out there.
By the time the Wings recovered, the Bruins were descending on Howard like spiders to a fly. They fired a point-blank shot off him, then snapped the rebound past for a 2-0 lead.
There are a lot of ways to lose a playoff game. Leaving your goalie alone is not a good one. Then again, the Wings were balancing themselves out. The first goal they surrendered came after a penalty – for too many men on the ice!
Come on, fellas. Are we gonna overdo it or underdo it?
“We gave them two goals,” coach Mike Babcock said, correctly, after the 3-0 defeat Tuesday night. “It was almost like the energy in the building, the excitement, whatever, we didn’t handle that very good. We were off-kilter from the get-go. We fumbled the puck around. I didn’t think we got going at all until maybe 32 minutes into the game.”
By that point, Boston had all it needed.
Left in the dust
You could chalk this up to youth. You could say that one thing a young team must learn is that home will not take care of you in the playoffs. You must take care of it. And perhaps the excitement of coming back with a split in Boston took something off the edge they needed for Game 3.
“We played like kids tonight for sure,” Babcock said.
But the first penalty led to a bad goal allowed by Howard.
And the disappearing line change was at least partly on defenseman Niklas Kronwall.
Those guys are veterans.
So youth doesn’t explain everything.
“It’s just a bad decision by me,” Kronwall said, taking the heat. “If I stay out, as far as our defense, they don’t have anything. … You stay out there until it’s time to change.”
He knows that. They all know that. But it was typical of a night in which the Wings had every reason to ignite, but set themselves on fire. With a thumping, deafening welcome to the playoffs, the Joe Louis crowd was plenty into Game3. More into it than the Wings themselves, who from the start seemed poked, choked and smoked.
A team this fast shouldn’t seem so slow. A team this gifted shouldn’t seem so empty. In addition to the two goals the Wings “gave” the Bruins, Boston had eight of the game’s first nine shots and 11 of the first 15 in the period. The Wings, in that same time, had four turnovers and two penalties, and didn’t register a shot by a forward until 21/2 minutes were left.
The Bruins clogged the middle. They manhandled the Wings. They dug out most of the loose pucks. And they quickly took the crowd out of it. When the biggest cheer of the night is for an octopus, you know you’re off the mark.
“Can you put your finger on what went wrong?” someone asked Kronwall.
“We were everywhere and nowhere,” he said, which is not only an excellent summation, but, for a Swedish player, is pretty much poetry.
Keys to a comeback
Now, let’s be honest. No one thought the Wings were going to dominate the Bruins. Those who dared to pick Detroit in this first-round series predicted no fewer than six and often seven games. And the majority favored Boston. I never saw the Wings winning two games in a row in this series; they’d have steal victories, gut out losses, make adjustments, and try to keep the big, bad Bruins off balance.
But now, they must simply win. Thursday’s Game 4 offers no alternative. Boston is not a team from whom you’ll take three in a row. And winning will require a couple of things:
First, it will require Howard to frustrate the Bruins. Letting in one bad goal and a couple of not-my-faulters will not frustrate them. Howard is out of mulligans. It’s shut-down time. Howard has that talent in him. Whether he has it in this series we will soon see.
The other burden likely falls on Babcock. The talent is there, but the game plan, the attitude and the wrinkles are in his hands. He is so seasoned, you can see the wheels turning in his head before he even goes home.
“Obviously, I should have done a better job,” he said. “We were off-kilter. I don’t know why…. I’m a veteran coach. I’ve been around a long time … but I had no idea that we would start like we did tonight.”
Two many men – then not enough?
Who sees thatcoming?