Red Wings hit their best stride at opportune time
BY MARK LAZERUS email@example.com May 23, 2013 10:46PM
Updated: May 24, 2013 7:57PM
DETROIT — On April 20, after a shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the Detroit Red Wings found themselves in ninth place, on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. They had 20 wins, and 24 losses — in regulation, overtimes or shootouts. Their 21-year playoff streak was in serious jeopardy.
Since then? They won their last four games just to get into the playoffs as a seventh seed. They beat the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks by winning the last two games of a seven-game series. Then they took three of the first four games against the top-seeded Blackhawks in the second round.
“We feel like we just keep getting better,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “Every game, every series.”
That the Wings had to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs — while the Hawks coasted in after their 21-0-3 start — could be a big reason they are playing its best hockey in the playoffs, while the Hawks are trying to regain their early season dominance.
“We’ve seen it before, where we’ve been a top seed in the playoffs and playing a team that’s hot coming into the playoffs and playing well,” said winger Justin Abdelkader. “For a team that’s been fighting for our playoff lives the last month, we kind of found our game and know the way we’ve got to play to be successful.”
With each victory, each improved effort, the Wings — particularly their young guys — have gained confidence. Even still, there was no lack of confidence in the neighboring dressing room, either.
“Maybe so, but so are we,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We’re going to keep believing in ourselves. There was a reason we made it this far. We’re a good team — we’re a really good team. We have a lot of players with some great ability in this locker room. When you put it all together, and we play the right way, we’re an amazing, amazing bunch of guys.”
Brent Seabrook played less than 18 minutes in Game 3, while his partner, Nick Leddy, played just 14:37. Duncan Keith, for comparison, played nearly 26 minutes. Seabrook averaged about 20 minutes per game during the regular season. Coach Joel Quenneville danced around it a bit, but suggested Seabrook needed to pick up his game.
“It’s the matchup, it’s the way the game’s being played, how we’re playing, and how he’s playing that reflects that,” Quenneville said. “Our defense has been pretty solid throughout most of the season, and we need everybody to be strong. We’ve got to be comfortable with everybody against anybody. We’re looking for more.”
Seabrook played just three minutes in the first period Thursday night.
The Wings said coach Mike Babcock has a knack for stirring speeches. One of his common themes is the motivation that comes simply from playing for the Red Wings.
“When you put on our sweater, there’s an obligation to Mr. [Gordie] Howe and Mr. [Ted] Lindsay and the people that came before you to compete like a Red Wing,” Babcock said. “I don’t think there’s an obligation to win like a Red Wing, I think there’s an obligation to prepare for the opportunity you’re given.”