Babcock sticking with same lineup
That's why, as his Red Wings head into Friday night's Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinals series trailing 0-0 to the San Jose Sharks, he's not going to make any lineup changes from what he put on the ice at Joe Louis Arena in Game 3 -- a 4-3 overtime loss.
That means he won't be swapping veteran forward Mike Modano into the lineup for Johan Franzen, who continues to have his skating limited by a sore ankle. Modano, 41, has only played one playoff game for Detroit -- Game 4 of a first-round sweep against the Phoenix Coyotes -- and might be nearing the end of his one-year stint with the Wings.
Babcock said it's not easy to keep telling the future Hall of Fame forward he's sitting, but in his mind that's still the right decision.
"I recruited him hard," Babcock said, following Detroit's morning skate. "Our plan for Mike Modano and what ended up happening, that's just the way it goes. If you go back to last summer at this time, we thought he was really going to be able to help our team."
That's when the team Modano became the face of, the Dallas Stars, decided not to renew his contract. Babcock and Detroit general manager Ken Holland heavily recruited the Livonia, Mich., native as a free agent and he started the season centering the Red Wings' third line between Jiri Hudler and Danny Cleary.
The line was ineffective and Babcock broke it up, but just as Modano started showing signs of improvement a skate blade severed a tendon in his wrist after just 20 games -- requiring surgery that kept him out for most of the regular-season.
Babcock now cites that injury, and Modano's ineffectiveness in a regular-season stint after returning, as one of the reasons Modano isn't playing in the postseason.
"We didn't plan on the skate hitting his wrist and the way things went," Babcock said. "So, does that make you think any less of the guy? Absolutely not. Is this what he wanted or we wanted? No. Does it make it hard? Yes. You want to do the right thing. We're going to try and do the right thing every day. I tell my kids that every day and I expect to do the same thing when I come to work."
So he's going with "The Mule," Franzen, whose postseason resume is also impressive. Franzen's lingering ankle injury from the Phoenix series is slowing him down in this series, but it's not keeping Babcock from writing his name into the lineup -- on the left wing of the first line along with center Pavel Datsyuk and right wing Tomas Holmstrom.
"He's playing tonight," Babcock said of Franzen, who hasn't recorded a point in this series. "The great thing about The Mule is he doesn't need a whole lot of chances or a whole lot of room. It's harder for him to create room for himself, no question about it, just because he's not skating like he normally does. Goal scorers still got to be able to get open. But in saying that, who says he doesn't get open tonight a little bit?"
It would help the Wings if names other than Franzen showed up on the stat sheet after Game 4. Thus far, the bulk of scoring's been done by Datsyuk (goal, three points), Henrik Zetterberg (goal, three points) and captain Nicklas Lidstrom (two goals, three points).
In the first round, the Red Wings got more balanced scoring from their forwards, including 1 goal and five points from third-line center Valtteri Filppula, who hasn't scored a point against the Sharks.
"The bottom line, is you need everyone to make a contribution," Babcock said. "The only guys besides (Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom) with points are the (Kris Draper), (Patrick Eaves) and (Darren Helm) line. Yet, that's the beauty of playing. You've got to keep on plugging, keep on playing. The more you play, the more balanced you get. So we've got to make sure we keep on playing."
Easier said than done, of course, especially when facing a possible sweep in front of the home fans.
Only three teams in NHL history have overcome such a deficit to win a series, but one of those teams was last season's Philadelphia Flyers. There is also what happened in this season's conference quarterfinal round, when the Chicago Blackhawks took the Vancouver Canucks to overtime in Game 7 after falling down 0-3 in the series.
"The one thing is, it hasn't been done a lot, but it's not impossible," said Draper, who played for the first time in this series in Game 3 and will be back in the lineup for Game 4. "It has been done. Are we capable of it? Yeah, why not? Why not us? Do we believe we can do it? Yeah, but the fact is we just want to win one game and create some momentum and go from there."