DETROIT — The Red Wings know they can play with the Boston Bruins, but they sure didn’t show that in Tuesday night’s 3-0 shutout.
Had former Pistons coach Larry Brown been coaching the Wings, he would have said they were playing like strangers in the first period.
Everything they had done in the regular season against the Bruins and everything they had done to get back in the playoffs for the 23rd straight season went out the window in the first period of Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena.
The Wings had as many turnovers as they had octopi flying onto the ice and the battle-tested Bruins knew when to accept the gifts they were offered.
We were off-kilter right from the get-go, we fumbled the puck around. I don’t know why we were rattled, nervous or excited or whatever.
Dougie Hamilton (power play) and Jordan Caron gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead and Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask could have taken a nap for all the work he had in the first.
"We were off-kilter right from the get-go, we fumbled the puck around," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I don’t know why we were rattled, nervous or excited or whatever."
Sure, it would have helped to have calming influences like captain Henrik Zetterberg and veteran defenseman Jonathan Ericsson on the ice, but the Wings managed to make the playoffs without them.
Meanwhile, the Bruins have several players who played on the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and many of whom lost in the Stanley Cup Finals last year to the Chicago Blackhawks.
"They’re a veteran team," Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard said. "They’ve been in situations playing with a lead. They played in the Stanley Cup Finals last year. They know what they’re doing out there. We gotta find a way to have a lot better start, get our young legs going and just skate and find ways of crashing the net, just getting in there and make him a little more uncomfortable."
Rask was hardly uncomfortable all night.
His teammates were seemingly always in position to clear the odd rebound and got in the way of many pucks before they could get close to Rask.
"They definitely did a good job at keeping us out of Rask’s eyes," said Riley Sheahan, who did not have a shot on net. "That’s one of the biggest things, getting shots through and being there for rebounds in scrums.
"They have some big D-men. You’ve got to spin off them and get around them and make sure you’re in front of him."
But for players like Sheahan, who is appearing in his first playoffs, that’s a lot easier said than done.
"That’s how we play," said Patrice Bergeron, who iced the 3-0 win with an empty-net goal at 18:01 of the third. "We do those things when we have success. We are first on the puck and bothering their breakout."
The good news for the Wings is they know they have a lot more to give.
"That’s what we’re trying to do, build up some speed and play fast," Gustav Nyquist said. "Execute fast when you’ve got the puck, give it to the guy that’s open right away. I think that’s how you play with speed and execution-wise, I feel like breaking out of the zone, the forwards sometimes aren’t available as we can be for the D and that’s how we play fast. That’s something we gotta fix, for sure."
The other thing that needs to be fixed is the power play.
After going 0-for-2 Tuesday, the Wings are now 0-for-9 in the series.
"They did a good job, they tracked hard, they pushed us outside," Babcock said. "I thought we had better entries on our power play, had opportunities. Even then we were on the outside on the power play, too. We had a guy at the net, but you need more than a guy at the net, you need a guy in the middle and two guys coming in on the sides. I didn’t think we had that."
Trailing 2-1 in the series, the Wings had better have that Thursday or their offseason will be a lot closer than they’d like.