DETROIT – Adversity is nothing new to the Red Wings. According to their 421 man games lost, they’ve lived with hardship all season.
Now that they’re one loss from being eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, misfortune has surfaced again, this time with Jimmy Howard besieged by illness.
Despite the poor timing, the Red Wings understand what’s at stake when the puck drops in Game 5 Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.
“It’s all or nothing now,” veteran forward David Legwand said. “There’s no room for error, there’s no margin for error and we have to be ready and go at them with everything we have. It’s the last chance now.”
Howard, who was a late scratch Thursday, wasn’t feeling much better and didn’t practice Friday. Backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson will start in net Saturday, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
Gustavsson has proven to be a quality alternative in net for Detroit this season. He won 16 games in the regular-season, including twice against the Boston Bruins, and he stepped up big Thursday, giving the Wings a chance to win by stopping 37 of 40 shots in his first career Stanley Cup playoff game.
Just in case, the Red Wings recalled goalie prospect Jake Paterson from Grand Rapids to act as Gustavsson's backup for Game 5.
“We should be able to go out there and play loose tomorrow with a lot of energy,” Gustavsson said. “The way we started the last game that’s the way we need to play.”
Trailing 3-1 in the series, the Wings know Saturday won’t be easy. However, they have been in a playoff fight since returning from the Olympic break in late February. At first, it was to secure a berth in the 16-team field, and now against the Bruins, who appear to be the superior team in this series.
Detroit must overcome a myriad of deficiencies, which the Bruins have exploited through four games. Besides a pair of goals by Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings’ offense has been stagnant, forwards haven’t generated enough quality scoring chances from the middle of the zone, and winning face-offs has been a challenge.
The return of captain Henrik Zetterberg provided a definite boost early in Game 4. The excitement inside Joe Louis Arena, game plan execution, and a 2-0 lead helped the Wings take it to the Bruins in the first half of Thursday’s game. Unfortunately, Detroit wasn’t able to maintain the incredible spirit and energy that carried them to their only two-goal lead of the series.
“I always think when you’re playing it the right way you’re doing things that you should be doing out there. The game is a lot simplier, you get more energy from it,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “When you don’t play great you don’t do the right things out there and that’s when it gets tougher. And for some reason, the last half of the game, we didn’t really take care of business. We didn’t play as structured as we did in the first half.”
Thursday’s game was a microcosm of the series as Boston gradually fought back before delivering a death blow when Jarome Iginla was credited with scoring the overtime winner.
Since the Wings’ 1-0 win in Game 1, the Bruins have managed to play keep away with the puck for much of the series, winning more than 53 percent of the face-offs in the first round and dominating younger Wings’ centers like Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening, who combined, have win just 35 percent of 88 total draws.
“Obviously winning draws, you get possession of the puck so they’re big for us and they’re something that we definitely have to do better,” Sheahan said. “We just gotta kind of match their intensity and kind of strategize off of what they do.
“Just the intensity, everything’s ramped up, I mean the game’s not different, we’re still trying to play the same game, play the same structure and be disciplined, we just gotta do a better job of doing that.”
Their youth has certainly caught up to the Wings. Phenomenal players like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco, who were crucial in helping get Detroit into the playoffs, have been on the Bruins’ radar for the past two weeks.
“That’s the way it is,” Babcock said. “(In) the regular season if you don’t play well, that team’s gone and you get on with the next one. The team you’re playing just stays here, and they keep poking you and when it’s not going good you start thinking and you start playing slower and you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do and they start getting in your kitchen a little bit, it all adds up. You got to learn to deal with it, overcome it. It doesn’t happen overnight for most people, when you’re a team that has a ton of kids and you need them to be big parts like we do, it’s different than being one on a line and the other guys play. We need those guys to be the guys, they got us in the playoffs, these kids.”
If the Wings win Game 5, then Game 6 will be back in Detroit on Monday.
FEELING BETTER: Daniel Aldredsson, who hasn’t skated since Game 2 last Sunday, practiced with the team Friday and said he believes he’ll be in the Game 5 lineup Saturday in Boston.
“I felt pretty good skating today,” Alfredsson said. “We’ll see how it goes here, but I anticipate being available tomorrow.”
Alfredsson has dealt with lower back pain for much of this first season with the Red Wings, and it forced him to miss both playoff games at Joe Louis Arena this week.
Getting a player of Alfredsson’s caliber and playoff experience back in the lineup can be huge.
“It’s one game. That’s where all the focus has to be. Put everything into tomorrow. We’ve been playing important and big games for a long time now. I think we have a little bit more than we’ve shown. We can step it up a notch and that’s our only focus for tomorrow. Play our best game of the year tomorrow.”
NYQUIST STRUGGLES: Critics are quick to point out that Nyquist, who led Detroit in goals (28) and game-winning goals (six) and tied for fourth in team points (48), hasn’t produced in the playoffs.
In 22 playoff games, spanning the last three years, Nyquist has managed just two goals and five points with a plus-5 rating.
“Personally, I don’t think I’ve been good enough and that’s something I have to change fast,” said Nyquist, who is third on the team with 11 shots on goal in the playoffs. “It’s 3-1, we’re going into Boston to win a game and I want to be able to contribute as much as possible.
“It’s a grind out there. They’re a good team, they’ve been in this position a lot of times before but again we’re going to Boston to win a game.”
While Nyquist and the other young players have struggled in the postseason, they’re not the only Red Wings to have slow starts in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Gordie Howe had one goal in his first 15 games and he did pretty good for himself in the league. Ted Lindsay scored two goals in his first 20 playoff games, and Datsyuk had three goals in his first 42 games.
NOTEBOOK: The Red Wings have come back from a 3-1 series deficit only twice – in 1987 against Toronto, and in 1992 against the Minnesota North Stars. But the Red Wings have never won a playoff series in which they've lost three games in a row. … Should the Wings be eliminated in this round it will mark the second-longest streak of not reaching the conference finals by the team since 1989-94. … The Bruins’ Game 4 victory marked the ninth time in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs that a team has overcome a multi-goal deficit to win. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is a record for the most such victories in the first round of the postseason, breaking the previous mark of eight established in 1991. There were only eight such victories during last year’s playoffs.
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