Category archive: Detroit Red Wings

With a four-year degree in management from Red Wings University plus a Team Canada elective on his résumé, Steve Yzerman was ready to enter the NHL GM work force.

"He's been out of the game as a player for four to five years, had a great spell with Team Canada, worked with [Wings GM] Kenny Holland and [Wings assistant GM] Jimmy Nill in Detroit. I think it's just about the right time for him to make the move," former Wings teammate and fellow Hockey Hall of Famer Igor Larionov told on Tuesday.

Like a top Manhattan law firm plucking the brightest Harvard law grad, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik got word from within hockey circles that Yzerman was ready to make the jump and made the big sell on the Red Wings' front-office graduate. Cut your GM teeth here, Vinik likely said.

The question around the NHL now is whether the former Wings vice president is up to the task. This humble media hack responds to that with an emphatic yes, having enjoyed enough conversations with Yzerman in the past few years to see his passion and devotion to his second career.

But if you need more convincing, here you go.

"He is certainly ready," Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson told on Tuesday. "I saw huge growth over the three years that he worked with us. He was good when he started, and I think he is now truly ready to take on any of the challenges of an NHL general manager, and he will do very well in Tampa Bay."

Yzerman was at the helm of Team Canada for the 2007 and 2008 men's world championships team, which posted a 17-1 record in those tournaments and won gold and silver, respectively. It was at the 2007 worlds where he gave young prospect Jonathan Toews a chance to play with NHL players on the team, even though the Blackhawks draft pick hadn't turned pro yet. It was a sign of things to come for Yzerman, who again gambled on youth and raised eyebrows Dec. 30 when he put 20-year-old blueliner Drew Doughty on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team.

Although that decision seems obvious now given Doughty's performance, both at the Olympics and in the NHL playoffs for the Kings, it wasn't at the time of Team Canada's selections. It was just one of many calculated decisions Yzerman made while his home country held its breath.

"I think a big part of his growth was with Team Canada," Nill told on Tuesday. "Say what you want, but that was a major role. To see the time he put in, scouting the players and building the staff, that's one of the reasons they had success."

The truth is, however, Yzerman knew before the puck was even dropped in Vancouver that he wanted to make the jump to an NHL GM role. He told us as much on the eve of the tournament. Although Olympic gold was certainly a crowning achievement for Yzerman, it was the work that had gone into the team selection beforehand that really made him realize he was cut out for this kind of work.

"He put so much time and effort into it," Nicholson said. "His attention to detail was tremendous. The other key thing was he was never afraid to ask people their opinion so that he had all the information on the table to make the right decisions."

Yzerman's apprenticeship under Nill and Holland prepared him for the Team Canada task and ultimately the Lightning's GM job.

"He got to be around us, but we probably learned as much from him as he learned from us," Nill said. "We'd sit around and talk about players, and we'd be very open. We'd say something, he'd say something else, and we hadn't thought about that perspective. That open communication will really help him down the road here."

Nill has had a unique perspective on Yzerman.

"I've been very fortunate. I was lucky enough to be able to play with Stevie as a player, to watch his growth as a player and his success," Nill said. "And it has almost mirrored his growth in the management role. He's come in with the same work ethic and passion for the game. It's just going to mean success for him."

Brad Pascall, Hockey Canada's senior director of the men's national teams, said Tuesday that people should realize just how prepared Yzerman is for this job.

"Steve is a unique individual. He's probably watched more games, both at the pro level and junior level and at the international level, than anybody else out there, whether it's through us or with the Red Wings," Pascall said. "He's a well-rounded hockey mind. That's part and parcel of knowing what the job is all about as an NHL GM. I know when I've talked to him recently after the world under-18 championships, he had interesting opinions about some of those players. He has a wealth of player knowledge."

Larionov, now in the player agency business, also believes that Yzerman knows what it takes to win right now.

"He knows what direction the game is going in, with youth and talent and speed. He knows the style of the game [that wins], and he likes smart players," Larionov said. "It's exciting for Tampa to have a guy like that."

We were ready to hang up the phone with Nill on Tuesday when he insisted on adding one thought.

"The one thing people that don't get to know Stevie is that probably his most important trait is he's just a good man," Nill said. "He's a good person, and he treats people right. I think that's a big part of his success."

So, is this the end of an era, or simply a reset moment in Detroit?

Well, that depends on Nicklas Lidstrom.

Red Wings GM Ken Holland once joked to me, "When he retires, that's when I step down as GM."

Holland won't step down, but you get the gist. It just isn't fun to think of the Wings without Nicklas Lidstrom.

The 40-year-old blueliner and six-time Norris Trophy winner isn't the Nick of old, but over the last 30 games of the regular season and the playoffs, the Wings will tell you he was again their best player.

The Wings want him back, just not at the $7.45 million he earned this season. But if Saint Nick does decide to return, how much less does he take?

Lidstrom isn't the only free agent in Hockeytown. The Wings have around $13 million coming off the books, and that's with the return of Jiri Hudler ($2.875 million salary) accounted for. Holland with $13 million to spend? Watch out, NHL! The best GM in hockey has some toys to play with!

Of course, he'll want to keep some of his own unrestricted free agents, led by Lidstrom. Also slated to be UFAs July 1 are forwards Todd Bertuzzi, Tomas Holmstrom, Jason Williams, Brad May and defensemen Andreas Lilja, and Brett Lebda. The restricted free agents include Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves. A good portion of that $13 million will be re-invested, to be sure.

Still, Holland has some cap flexibility moving forward, which allows him to scan what's on the free-agent market, or perhaps take a few calls from fellow GMs desperate to unload a contract. Either way, it won't be a boring summer in Hockeytown.

The core of the team, with or without Lidstrom, is pretty much locked up. Forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula and Daniel Cleary are signed long-term, while Brian Rafalski, Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall all have two years left apiece.

That's a nice core to build around. This team is playoff-bound for many more years to come. But will it be Cup-bound? Again, we bring you Lidstrom's decision and its impact, both on and off the ice for the Red Wings. The loss of his leadership would be an impossible hole to fill. But if I was a betting man (and I am) I'd bet on Lidstrom returning.

Off the ice, there could be a few personnel defections. Assistant coach Paul MacLean is believed to be on the interview list for the Columbus Blue Jackets' opening. The real big potential exit would be vice president Steve Yzerman, who is on Tampa's wish list, among others, for its GM vacancy. Here's what I do know: one of the best coaches in the game will return in Mike Babcock.

A terrific core, even without Lidstrom, is locked up. The best GM in hockey has money to play with this summer. I wouldn't be too concerned if I was a Wings fan.

DETROIT -- Johan Franzen had a night he won't soon forget, tallying a franchise-record six points (4-2), the first NHLer to pot six points in one game since Geoff Courtnall in April 1998.

"I don't know if I felt any different," said Franzen. "The puck just seemed to go in off my stick a lot."

The puck seemed to follow Franzen around all night.

"He was all over it," said linemate Todd Bertuzzi. "He had some really good speed in the neutral zone. When The Mule's got speed like that, he's basically untouchable. It was good to see. We're going to need it again."

Also of note, Franzen recorded the second-fastest hat trick in Stanley Cup playoffs history, tallying his three goals in a 3:26 span in the first period Thursday night, just two seconds off the fastest mark. The record is 3:24 by Tim Kerr of the Philadelphia Flyers against the New York Rangers on April 13, 1985.

Like Kerr, Franzen has made a living in the slot.

"You always know he's got a great shot and he always seems to be in the right spot at the right time," said linemate Henrik Zetterberg. "If you look back at past playoffs, he's scored a lot of goals. It's nice that he got four tonight. Hopefully he keeps going."

Franzen's linemates, Zetterberg and Bertuzzi, also had big nights. The trio combined for 13 points.

"I thought we were moving around a bit more, not standing still, supporting each other and getting free that way," said Bertuzzi.

Bertuzzi tallied five points (1-4) and was finally rewarded for his hard work in the playoffs.

"He's doing a lot of work," said Zetterberg, who had two assists. "I've been playing with him the whole playoffs and a lot in the regular season. He doesn't get enough credit. He's a hard worker, always in front of the net, he keeps guys away from us. He's fun to play with. It's nice to see him get rewarded like that."

Give Red Wings coach Mike Babcock kudos for switching up his top two lines after the Game 3 loss, flipping Franzen and Valtteri Filppula. The result? Instant magic.

"It was nice of him [Franzen] to step up and shoot it in the net," said Babcock. "Mule is one of those guys, no different than any scorer like [Joe] Pavelski; when you get hot, you just shoot the puck and it finds its way in the net."

Rough stuff

As you might expect with a lopsided score, things got chippy in the third period. Sharks center Joe Thornton led the way with two roughing penalties and a 10-minute misconduct after he went after Tomas Holmstrom.

"I thought they were diving around pretty good there at the end," said Thornton. "I don't know why I got a 10-minute. Holmer kind of ran into me; I'm just a bigger guy that's all."

The Wings shrugged off the rough stuff.

"I don't know, I didn't think it was much more than other games," said Zetterberg. "It's usually how it goes when a team is down a few goals like that."

For the game, the Sharks took 15 penalties for 49 minutes in total and the Wings took 11 for 33 minutes.

"The one thing about tonight, they finally took more penalties than we did," said Babcock. "Going into tonight, we were 22 times short-handed and they had 11. But they got their 5-on-3 again tonight, so they've got the market cornered on that."

The Sharks went 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Wings were 2-for-8.

DETROIT -- With the Red Wings one loss from having their season end, the annual rite of wondering about Nicklas Lidstrom's future has begun. The 40-year-old defenseman will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

"I'm focused on the game tonight," he said Thursday morning. "I'll let whatever happens happen. I'll worry about that after the season is over."

The way he's played in the second half of the season and in these playoffs, there's no question he can return and remain a force. The Wings certainly want him back.

"He's a good man," Wings coach Mike Babcock said Thursday after the team's morning skate. "He's been fantastic because leadership to me is about doing things right. He still says the right things, but it's about his actions and what he does. From the way he treats his family to the way he interacts with the players and management, it's always been about the team.

"He's gone about his business very quietly, unassuming. And yet the bigger the game, the bigger the stage, the better he's played. He's not 25 anymore, but he's still an elite, elite player, and we're very fortunate that we have him. As a coach, he doesn't mind giving you feedback. He helps you out. He's got thoughts. He's a great example for everybody."

The pride of Newfoundland!

The province of Newfoundland has just more than half a million residents, and you can bet just more than half a million residents will once again be watching tonight's Game 4 between Detroit and San Jose.

OK, that's an exaggeration. But they're apparently pretty darn excited as Newfoundland natives Dan Cleary of the Red Wings and Ryane Clowe of the Sharks go head to head in this series.

"And we've got Michael Ryder [Boston Bruins] playing, too, right now, so we're represented pretty well this year," Cleary said. "I like it."

"Pretty legit chances to win a Cup from those three teams," Clowe said. "It's pretty exciting back home right now."

It's only the second time in NHL history three Newfoundland natives have reached the second round of the playoffs. The same three players did it two years ago, as well. That's also when Cleary became the first Newfoundlander to a capture a Stanley Cup and brought it home to an excited province that summer.

"I wasn't around, I was out of town, but I know it was a crazy party when he brought the Cup home," Clowe said. "It was wild."

Clowe and Cleary are four years apart, so they never played together growing up. Besides, they're from different communities. Both were quick to mention Thursday that their communities are fierce rivals in senior hockey. But there is a tie-in between the two: Clowe's girlfriend.

"She's my second or third cousin; I grew up with her," Cleary said.

So, who's more popular in Newfoundland?

"He's a got a good following; they worship the ground he walks on where he comes from," Cleary said of Clowe.

"I don't know about that," Clowe said when told of Cleary's comment. "He's the one who won the Cup and had the party for 30,000 people."

Clowe said Red Wings jerseys still outnumber the ones from San Jose.

"But gradually every year, you see more Sharks jerseys, more teal," he said with a smile.

The long road back

A common refrain this morning in both dressing rooms was that if there's any team that can erase a 3-0 deficit, it's the Red Wings. Because of that, the Sharks insist they're not looking ahead.

"Because it's Detroit, it may make the coaches' job and the leaders' job easier because they do have that distinct threat of having that ability to come back," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Thursday morning. "If it was another team that didn't have the rich history and experience that this Red Wing team has, maybe we could get ahead of ourselves. But I think they're actually helping us in that preparation, if you will, because we have that respect for them."

The Wings have done a lot of winning over the past 15-plus years, so that experience is key right now.

"Number one, you have a lot of confidence just because you're a good team and you've been a good team for a long time and found ways to win games," Babcock said.

And there's not much else left to say.

"We did most of our talking yesterday," said Babcock. "The message from me real clearly was that, 'You have to get your mind right. You got to get this compartmentalized into what it is.' Winning four games is a huge amount. Win a game, talk about your first shift like we always do and you're fine. That's the whole key here. We've got to win a game. There's no sense talking about anything else."

Nabby shining

Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been rock solid in these playoffs, as underlined by his 2.14 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. A question some people had coming into the postseason was whether the Russian netminder would feel any residual effects from his Olympic quarterfinals nightmare against Canada, in which he was yanked after giving up six goals. Clearly, that hasn't been the case.

McLellan remembers watching that Olympic game on TV.

"We felt for Nabby because he's the last line of defense," McLellan said Thursday. "He let a number of goals in; he didn't look as sharp as I'm sure he'd like. But if you were really watching the game closely, the other 18 or 19 players in front of him probably played poorer than he did, so we put that into the equation.

"When he came back, I remember sitting down with him and saying, 'Hey Nabby, that was that team, you're coming back to our team now. You just do what you do.'"

McLellan said Nabokov is among a group of players on his team that seems determined to prove many detractors wrong, that he can bring it come playoff time.

"And he's done a very good job of it," the coach said.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Seventh games have their special place in NHL history.

Jimmy Howard remembers one in particular.

"When the Rangers beat the Devils [in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals], I was a huge Rangers fan growing up," the Red Wings' rookie goalie said Tuesday after the team's morning skate. "Who was it … Stephane Matteau who scored the goal? Five-hole on Marty [Brodeur], I think? That was probably my best Game 7."

Now Howard gets the chance to create his own Game 7 memories on the ice.

"I know; it's kind of surreal," he said. "Growing up, you dream of it, but you're never quite sure if it's going to come true or not, and here's my chance tonight."

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said Howard has a chance to add to quite a season.

"I think if you're Jimmy Howard, you've got to be pretty ecstatic," Babcock said. "It's your first year in the NHL, you've won a starting job, you've been nominated for the Calder Trophy and now you get to play in a Game 7. I think it's fantastic. And the other thing about it is that you've got the team here. So for him, it's got to be a great feeling."

A Game 7 memory wasn't hard to find from Adrian Aucoin. The Phoenix Coyotes defenseman was a pup when he played in one early in his career.

"For me, it was when I came up for the first time," Aucoin said of being recalled by the Vancouver Canucks late in the 1994-95 season. "I wasn't playing in the playoffs because everybody was healthy, and then we had Game 7 against St. Louis [in the first round]. Jeff Brown had hurt his knee, so we dressed seven defensemen, including me. At about the 10-minute mark, I got my first shift, a power play, and I scored on my first shot five seconds into the power play. So it was quite memorable, and we went on to win. That was a huge memory for me."

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett has played and coached in a bunch of Game 7s.

"The year I coached in the minors in Houston, we won that year, and we went to Game 7 in every series," Tippett said. "Those games are exciting and ones you will remember for a long time. Our players are excited."

You want to talk Game 7? Babcock was in two of them just last spring.

"We've been through it just in the last two years. We beat Anaheim last year; we lost to Pittsburgh [also in 2009]," Babcock said. "For myself at the Olympics, we played seven games and won Game 7. They're all the same in that they're a thrill to be involved with. Now, would you like to win the series in four? Absolutely. But there's something about Game 7. There's a memory there, finding a way.

"You want to be a coach or a GM or a player or goaltender that gets it done, because that's part of sport. That's what you dream about when you're a kid, scoring the game-winning goal. That gives you something to think about this afternoon while you get a little rest."

Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom has played in seven Game 7s and knows the deal.

"You know what to expect, but it's still a game that's crucial for both teams," the Wings' captain said. "You have to be ready. So even if you've played in several or none at all, it's still a matter of being able to play under pressure."

As for preparation, you don't change a thing, Lidstrom said.

"The day is pretty much the same. You don't approach it any differently for any other game you play in the playoffs," he said. "It's an important game, but you still have to do your routine, do the same thing you usually do to get ready for a game."

Coyotes believe

Given their fairy-tale story this season, you can't blame the Coyotes for believing in their chances for Game 7.

"I just think the whole year has been a year of growth for us," Tippett said. "Every time you can add to that growth, it adds to the belief system. I think what's really worked for us is that everybody has been doubters of us all year, and our players recognize that. As they overcame hurdle after hurdle, it became almost like a chuckle in our room, a motivating factor for us.

"Everything that goes against us, we have used as a positive, and we have had some results from it."

From Shane Doan to Ed Jovanovski to Robert Lang, several veteran players have the Coyotes in the right frame of mind.

"Our leadership group is big in that room," Tippett said. "It's everybody all in together. That's one of the unique things about this group of players. I like the mindset of our guys. It goes back to the adversity all year and how they've handled it. It's not as if they are getting thrown into a situation of 'What do we do now?'"

The first goal

Babcock believes the team that scores first tonight will have an advantage.

"One of the things I've found is that scoring first in Game 7 seems to be a bigger deal in my experience, just because of the momentum on one side and the negative thoughts on the other side," he said. "The whole key is, just play the game, don't make it bigger than it is. Just play.

"You know, to use a baseball analogy, they call 'em 5 o'clock heroes and 7 o'clock bums, a guy that can deliver in batting practice, hit it over the wall at times, but when the game is on … That's not what we're looking for here. You want to be a person that delivers."

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Despite the two days off between games, Coyotes captain Shane Doan didn't make his return from an upper-body injury Friday night.

"He's right there," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said after the Game 5 loss. "It's one thing where he has the desire to go, but he has to be functional to go. You can't put a player in there that can't compete in the game, especially the way he plays. We'll continue to monitor that. He gets better every day. We'll see if he's ready to go next game."

The Wings' penalty kill

Detroit has now killed 19 of 22 Phoenix power plays in the series, a huge factor in the Red Wings leading 3-2.

Just a year ago, despite a trip to the Cup finals, the Wings struggled mightily on the PK. What's changed?

"Well, everything," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "We were working toward this last year. [Assistant coach] Brad McCrimmon has done a good job."

Babcock also said spending some time last summer with New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire in preparations for the 2010 Canadian Olympic team gave him an opportunity to learn some PK tricks.

"We took everything Jacques did and introduced it," said Babcock. "Obviously, we've tweaked it."

Combine that with Jimmy Howard's goaltending, the emergence of Darren Helm and the offseason additions of Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller and -- voila! -- you've got yourself a better PK unit.

Jimmy's OK

After last Sunday's Game 3 loss, Red Wings fans were worried about Jimmy Howard. Since then he's allowed only one goal in two games and has looked ultra-confident. Babcock talked last Monday on the eve of Game 4 about the need for Howard to show he can bring it come playoff time.

"That's what players do, they bring it," Babcock said. "[Henrik] Zetterberg is a better player every year at playoff time. He just is, that's the facts. [Brad] Stuart is the same. As a goaltender, if you can be that guy that's good all the time but really good at playoff time, you obviously have a really happy team."

DETROIT -- One notable change Tuesday night was Daniel Cleary replacing Tomas Holmstrom on the Red Wings' top forward line with Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen.

"I change it every year at this time of year, so it doesn't make any difference," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after Detroit's 3-0 win in Game 4. "From game to game, just whatever works. It was just one of those situations we didn't think they were playing with enough pace. Homer is a real battler and a net presence but doesn't skate as good as Cleary, so we changed them tonight. Who knows what we do for Game 5 with the matchups going their way."

No Doan, big difference

The Coyotes didn't muster much offense with captain Shane Doan out because of injury.

"Obviously missing Shane is a big part of our group, but we have to have people step in and do the job," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "There are areas [where] we need to do a better job. There were too many turnovers. I think our execution part can be a little bit better."

Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said Doan was a big loss for the visiting team.

"He's a big part of their team; he's their leader and their captain," Lidstrom said. "When he went out the other game, it didn't seem to bother their team, but I'm sure they're missing their leader on their team."

Red-hot Zetterberg

Wings star forward Henrik Zetterberg has five goals in the series.

"He's been playing real well," Lidstrom said. "I think he's just been getting better and better for us. He's strong on the puck, plays hard at both ends of the ice and he's out there late in games. He's killing penalties, and he's on the power play setting goals up. He's a big key to our team."

Babcock had sort of singled Zetterberg out Monday for long shifts, and the star responded.

"He's been real good at playoff time each and every year," Babcock said. "He seems to score at a higher rate, and obviously it's real important when your best players play well. I thought Pav [Datsyuk] had a real good night tonight. For us to be successful, those guys have to generate offense, no question about it."

Don't talk to Jimmy

Asked whether he had talked with rookie goalie Jimmy Howard to inspire his shutout Tuesday night, Babcock said no.

"I didn't talk to him. I haven't talked to him hardly all year except to say, 'Hey, how are you and where did you get your suit?' That's Jimmy V's job; he looks after all those guys. I mean, I talk to the kid, and once in a while I'll say, 'It's about the next stop,' but he knows that. He doesn't need to hear it from me."

DETROIT -- With an extra day off before Game 5 on Friday, it was wise in our mind for the Phoenix Coyotes to give captain Shane Doan the night off for Game 4.

"Hopefully, we'll get him back in Friday," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said Tuesday after his team's pregame skate at Joe Louis Arena.

Tippett ruled Doan (undisclosed injury) out for Tuesday night's Game 4, and the Coyotes captain went to Joe Louis Arena for treatment Tuesday morning. He did not skate or speak to the media. Doan was injured after crashing into the end boards Sunday, and he skated briefly before Monday's practice.

Tippett said forward Vernon Fiddler would replace Doan in the lineup after missing Game 3 with an upper-body injury.

Meanwhile, Wings blueliner Brian Rafalski didn't take part in his team's optional morning skate Tuesday, but coach Mike Babcock said the veteran would play in Game 4. "That's the plan," Babcock said.

Lilja back

Andreas Lilja wasn't sure he'd ever play hockey again, so to be back in the NHL playoffs at the best time of the year has been a blast for him. The Red Wings defenseman, 34, missed a year hockey with a serious concussion he suffered when Nashville's Shea Weber knocked him out in a fight on Feb. 28, 2009. Lilja finally returned March 1 this season.

"I feel great; I have no problems," Lilja said after Tuesday's pregame skate. "It is a lot of fun. I think I was more nervous last year sitting and watching. But we have to turn this around and get it going here."

He certainly doesn't take playing for granted now.

"I think about it sometimes, and it makes me even more excited to play," Lilja said. "It's important not to forget."

The Swedish product makes his living playing a rugged game and hasn't held back just because of his concussion scare.

"If I can't play physical, I might as well not be out there," Lilja said.

Datsyuk nominated

Two-time reigning Selke Trophy winner Pavel Datsyuk was nominated again for the NHL's best defensive forward award with Ryan Kesler and Jordan Staal. (We're a little surprised Jonathan Toews wasn't nominated.)

The award is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Datsyuk led the NHL with 132 takeaways this season, with Kesler a distant second at 83.

"Pavel leads the league, I think, every year in steals," Babcock said. "I think he's an exceptional two-way player, and him winning these trophies tell you that. But Pavel's an elite player, period, and one of the best players in the world.

"I've had the opportunity to coach a lot of really good players, and to me, he has those instincts and those skills that allow him to be very successful. But there's lots of good players in the league that are very determined that way, and guys understand more and more that if you don't go both ways, your chances of winning at playoff time is pretty limited."

DETROIT -- Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was asked Monday whether rookie goalie Jimmy Howard's teammates had left him out to dry in Sunday's Game 2.

"I think it comes back to the same theme," Babcock said. "A big part of playing defense is not turning over the puck. Because when you don't turn over pucks, you have good defensive structure. When you turn over pucks, you don't have good defensive structure, and then your goaltender doesn't look as good. I just think we have to be better all over structurally."

Howard vowed to forget Sunday's game.

"Being a goalie, you have to have a short-term memory," Howard said Monday. "You have to go back out there and do your job. I just think they were untimely goals, that's what I think they were. Thirty seconds into the game, 30 seconds left in the second period, the fourth one after we sort of got the momentum back. Those were untimely goals. They're momentum shifters and backbreakers in the playoffs."

Keeping a positive frame of mind is the only way to move on.

"You can't dwell on the negative, because if you dwell on the negative, that's when you know thoughts start to creep into your mind and that's when your whole game, the floor comes out from underneath, and the next thing you know, you're in shambles," Howard said. "So you've got to remain positive and continue to push forward."

Where's Rafalski?

Veteran Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski was absent at practice Monday.

"He had a maintenance day today; he'll play tomorrow," Babcock said.

It didn't appear as though any lineup changes were in the cards for Game 4.

"Not at this point, no," the coach said. "But the good thing about being the coach is that you have the right to change your mind."


OK, here's a quote from a player Monday. Guess the name of the speaker:

"They've been doing a good job through the neutral zone, slowing us down and really clogging it up there. When we chip the puck, they're always a step ahead of forwards and doing a real good job in the neutral zone. We have to come with more speed, but having said that, you have to get that puck in on them as well."

Was that a player from the Chicago Blackhawks or Detroit Red Wings? They could just as easily have been talking about either the Nashville Predators or Phoenix Coyotes. But it was Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom talking about the Coyotes.

Babcock's take

I asked Babcock to explain to a reporter like me who arrived just in time for Game 4 why Detroit was losing in the series. And he delivered.

"The team that's turned over pucks and ended up chasing it hasn't done very good," Babcock said. "When you're chasing the puck, you get exhausted fast. When you come to the neutral zone, and you continually turn it over and then you got to back check, it's not a very fun activity. You'd rather play in the O-zone than check all night long. And I thought in the second and third periods, after we had the power plays in the second period and that ended around the 10-minute mark, well, we didn't do anything the rest of the night."

Message for Zetterberg

Babcock can't stand it when players take too long a shift. Henrik Zetterberg must have been guilty of that in Sunday's loss judging from the coach's comments Monday.

"You know, it was interesting," Babcock said. "At the end of the night, Z played 20 minutes and Pav [Pavel Datsyuk] played 16 and a half minutes, and they both played the same amount of shifts. Exactly the same amount of shifts. So, why is that? Just a question I had."

DETROIT -- Evgeni Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, but here's a review of all the top players from the Stanley Cup finals:

• Chris Osgood
Although he may have strayed just a little too far to his right, giving Maxime Talbot room to snap home the game winner, you could hardly blame Osgood for the Wings' loss in the Cup finals. He gave up just four goals in four home games and it still wasn't good enough. Still, this playoff run should finally put to rest any notion that Osgood isn't a world-class goaltender. It will be interesting to see whether Osgood receives an invitation from Canadian Olympic team executive director (and former teammate) Steve Yzerman for the country's orientation camp in Calgary, Alberta, in August.

• Henrik Zetterberg
Zetterberg was considered by many to be the Wings' best player throughout the playoffs even if his point production dropped off from last postseason, when he tied Sidney Crosby with 27 points and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy. As good as he was at shutting down Crosby during this year's finals (Crosby had one goal and two assists in the series), Zetterberg also ended up leading the Wings in Cup finals scoring with six points. But it wasn't enough.

• Nicklas Lidstrom
Hard to criticize a guy who is the best defenseman of his generation and was playing hurt after taking a shot in the groin area in the Western Conference finals. Still, it was telling that in both Games 6 and 7, when Lidstrom had chances to put away tying goals, he was just a hair off. In Game 7, Fleury managed to thrust his body in front of Lidstrom's shot with time running out. Does a younger Lidstrom get there quicker? Hard to tell, but obviously it was a disappointing end for one of the game's classiest players.

• Evgeni Malkin
When Crosby went down with an injury early in the second period of Game 7, Malkin was forced to shoulder more of the load. Although he did not score in Games 6 or 7, he did lead the Penguins with eight points in the series and put to rest any lingering questions folks might have had after he hit the wall late in last season's playoff run.

"I think he answered the bell," Crosby said of Malkin. "I'm thinking he's pretty happy and people realize how great a player he is. This isn't an easy time of year. You've got to find ways to battle through and he did that all playoffs long."

• Sidney Crosby
Perhaps the mark of the young man as a captain and a leader was that, even though his knee would not allow him to play (he played one shift in the third in Game 7 after getting hit in the second frame), Crosby knew enough not to put his team at risk by continuing to take shifts. Still, he did insist on being on the bench throughout.

"It was painful. It was so painful," Crosby said of watching. "At the same time, I had all the confidence in the world these guys were going to do it. You don't get this far without each guy stepping up in certain situations."

• Marc-Andre Fleury
For all of the questions about Fleury, he delivered the goods in Games 6 and 7, allowing just two goals on 50 shots in backstopping the Pens to a Stanley Cup. Hard to imagine he won't be given a good look by Yzerman and the Canadian Olympic brass after clutch performances like that.

"He's a great friend of mine. I'm so happy and you can quote me on that. Fleury is a winning goaltender right now," Max Talbot said. "Everybody's always saying, 'Oh, we're not sure. He never won anything.' But you know what, he proved to everybody that he's a winning goaltender and I'm so happy for that. And that's going to stay with him."