By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – Star forward Henrik Zetterberg returned to the lineup, Jonas Gustavsson served competently in goal as a last-minute fill-in, the Detroit Red Wings led 2-0 after the first period, and the Boston Bruins still prevailed.
The overtime loss at home, a defeat that puts Detroit at a 3-1 deficit in the series, could end up being remembered as the knockout punch. The Red Wings got off to a sizzling start, and the arena buzzed in approval, the animated crowd clad in almost exclusively in Detroit gear especially thrilled for the return of Zetterberg. Before too long, however, the Red Wings faded, and the Bruins capitalized.
“They got better as the game went on,” Detroit head coach Mike Babcock said. “We had a real good push at the start. I thought [Boston goalie Tuukka] Rask was good. We could have been up more after one, but we weren’t, and they stuck with it, and then I thought as the game went on, we had more holes defensively. You’ve got to give the goalie [Gustavsson] credit. The goalie, I thought, gave us a chance to hang around, hang around in the third and then overtime, when the game was tilted, and we weren’t able to do anything with it.
“Faceoff circle killed us,” Babcock added. “They ate us alive there. Our kids in [Riley] Sheahan and Glenny [Luke Glendening], they got eaten up in that area a little bit. They end up with the puck a lot and we end up playing D-zone coverage too much.”
The Red Wings outshot the Bruins 15-5 in the first period, but Detroit could not hold the edge as the game continued. Boston outshot the Red Wings 12-7 in the second period, came up one shy of Detroit, 12-11, in the third, and outshot the Red Wings 12-3 in the overtime. That Detroit got 10 more shots on goal in the first period but ultimately got outshot by Boston, 40-37, shows how completely the tide of the game turned.
“The first two periods we did a lot of good things, kept going after them, kept throwing pucks in there, got some holes sometimes,” said veteran Niklas Kronwall, who had a goal and an assist in the game. “In the third for whatever reason we came off our game a little bit. We started chasing a little bit. Give them credit. They’re a good team. We have to do a better job of just staying structured in those areas and those times of the game. 2-2 game, chances both ways.
“We’ve got to keep it a little bit more simple in some areas,” Kronwall continued. “We’ve got to make sure the puck goes out every time, puck’s got to go in every time. That way it’s a lot easier. Got to check for our chances. We can’t be chasing it like we did at times tonight.”
Zetterberg’s return seemed to most spark his team – and certainly the rowdy crowd – early on. He had not played for the Red Wings since Feb. 8, before the Olympic break, and he had spoken the previous week about returning by the second round, or maybe a Game 7 of the first round. Thursday in Game 4 he played an integral role, though he did not record any points in the loss.
“I thought he was awesome,” Kronwall said. “He gives us an element that of course we don’t have without him. He’s our captain, he’s our leader for a reason. I thought he was great out there.”
“He’s been out for two months, and I still thought he was one of our best players,” Kronwall added. “Says a lot about him as a player and as a person.”
The goal that sank the Red Wings occurred well into the overtime period, and it pinged off several surfaces before finding the net. While likely aggravating for Detroit players, the seemingly fluky nature of the goal hardly surprised them.
“That’s playoff goals right there,” Zetterberg said. “You’ve got to throw in pucks. It’s so tight in front of the goals. You’ve just got to go there and hope for bounces and second chances, and that’s what they did.”
Kronwall seconded Zetterberg’s take on the final goal, adding that the Red Wings need to convert more of those opportunities themselves.
“It’s not a lot of pretty passing plays,” Kronwall said. “It’s a lot of get the puck to the net and it’s going to be a dirty one, greasy one, and we have to find a way to find those.”
After nearly missing the playoffs this season – just like they did last season – and improbably extending their streak yet again – just like they did last season – the Red Wings find themselves headed back to Boston for Game 5 on the brink of elimination. The 3-1 deficit in the series, and moreover the way the Bruins have largely controlled play throughout the first four games, does not look promising for Detroit.
“It is steep, but we know it’s tough to close off a series,” Zetterberg said, likely referencing the 3-1 series lead Detroit had over the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 before Detroit lost three straight games. “We’ve been in that spot before. We’ve just got to go and win a game and bring it back home here.”
The one silver lining is that the pressure should be off for Detroit. Plenty of times during the regular season, as the team struggled to deal with the effects of many different injuries, many doubted the Red Wings would make it to the postseason at all. No doubt even fewer believe Detroit can advance past the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Bruins to the second round.
“We got nothing to lose,” Kronwall said. “We’re going into Boston to win one game. That’s got to be our mindset. Clean up the areas that we have to clean up and just go for it. We’ve got nothing to lose.”