By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – On the brink of elimination, the Detroit Red Wings need for their young players to be exceptions to the rule that it takes time to adjust to the pace of playoff hockey.
“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 and you just kind of, you don’t know nothing that’s going on,” Detroit head coach Mike Babcock said Friday. “This is a totally different thing.
“We need these guys to be the guys,” Babcock continued. “They got us in the playoffs, these kids.”
The most prominent of the players Detroit called up from Grand Rapids this season, 24-year-old Gustav Nyquist. led the Red Wings with 28 goals thanks to a red-hot run in March. Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, Luke Glendening and Danny DeKeyser are other youngsters who have made significant contributions along the way.
Since the end of the regular season, though, they have been largely silent. In the first four games of Detroit’s first-round series against the Boston Bruins, that whole group has combined for just one point.
The Red Wings need more, even though Babcock knows that is a lot to ask from a group that has limited experience.
“The regular season, if you don’t play well, that team’s gone, and you get on with the next one,” Babcock said. “This, the team you’re playing just stays there, 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 should, and they’re getting in your kitchen a little bit. It all adds up.
“You’ve got to learn to deal with it,” Babcock added. “You’ve got to overcome it.”
Veteran Daniel Alfredsson, nearly two decades older than some of the youngest players, seemed confident Friday the group could shore up its performance and help Detroit make a push to extend the series past Saturday, when the Red Wings will be eliminated if they cannot get a win.
“They’ve experienced quite a bit this year, a lot of firsts,” Alfredsson said. “I think they’re pretty hardened by now. We’re going to only expect of them to do what they’ve done all year – bring energy and enthusiasm. That’s what they’ve done so well for us. They’re going to continue to do that tomorrow and don’t try to make it too big of a deal because they’ve been tremendous.”
After the Red Wings lost in overtime in Game 4, Babcock mentioned Glendening and Sheahan needing to do a better job on faceoffs. As Babcock put it, Detroit got “eaten alive” in that aspect of the game Thursday. He realizes they are matching up against great players from Boston, including Patrice Bergeron, whom Babcock called one of the best in the world. Regardless, for the Red Wings to survive, they need Glendening, Sheahan and the others to pick up on the nuances of postseason play and perform beyond their years.
“If Pavel [Datsyuk] goes head-to-head with [Bergeron] it’s 50/50,” Babcock said. “So I don’t know if that’s a big surprise [that Glendening would struggle against him]. Saying all that though, well why would you play him against him? Well, what’s my other option? Glenny’s mentally tough. He’ll dig in and find a way. We’re hoping it’s sooner than later. We’re hoping it’s not three years from now. And the same with Riley Sheahan is they’ve got to figure out a way to have the puck instead of chasing it.
“It’s a lot of D-zone when you’re chasing it,” Babcock continued. “You saw two power play goals last night. I think one took four seconds and the other one took four-and-a-half seconds. That means you lost the faceoff. Faceoffs are a big deal in the game. They add up.”
The kids pulled through for Detroit in the regular season, rescuing what seemed like a lost season and keeping the team’s playoff streak alive. For all the contributions the kids have already made, the Red Wings need them now more than ever.