5 Burning Questions After Start of Detroit Red Wings' 1st-Round Playoff Matchup
After a split decision in Boston, the Detroit Red Wings came home only to fall behind in the series, 2-1.
After the first two games, Detroit earned home-ice advantage and was looking to capitalize in Hockeytown, but Tuukka Rask made 23 saves for the fourth postseason shutout of his career.
The Bruins responded from their Game 1 shutout loss by knocking Detroit off its game en route to a decisive 4-1 win in Game 2. Game 3 was more of the same.
The next game will prove the mettle of each team and determine the remainder of the series.
The Detroit Red Wings put themselves behind in Game 2 and were unable to regain the form displayed in the opening tilt. The Bruins took control of the play and the series after Game 3, and they will look to gain a stranglehold on Thursday.
With three games in the books, the Red Wings showed what can happen when they stay within their system and what follows when they don’t.
Having exposed the good, the bad and the ugly, they’ll look to return to form in Game 4. It certainly raises many questions as to which Detroit team will emerge as the series progresses.
Can They Capitalize on Home Ice?
Detroit and Boston went into Game 3 knotted at a game apiece, but the Red Wings came up empty in its first home game of the playoffs.
With home-ice advantage, Detroit had a golden opportunity to turn the series in its favor. It had a rough time at home to start the season but went 12-3-3 at Joe Louis Arena after the New Year.
While its record saw significant improvement, Detroit was outscored, 115-103, in 41 home games during the regular season. More bad news, the Bruins scored an NHL-best 128 goals on the road.
The regular season is over, giving Detroit a clean slate and a new opportunity to take advantage of its time on home ice. Hockeytown has been a safe haven for the Red Wings over the last two decades, and they’ll look to feed off of the energy.
While they missed their chance to gain a toehold on the series, they are very much alive, having proven they can beat their opponent.
However, Detroit’s home ice has proven quite comfortable for Boston. Game 4 is practically do or die for Detroit, and without a stellar performance at home, they could face elimination on the road.
When Will They Get the Power Play Going?
Detroit finished the regular season 18th in the NHL on the power play and is painfully empty on nine opportunities so far this postseason.
Sure, the Boston Bruins finished the regular season with the eighth-best penalty kill, but Detroit has failed to generate a pulse with the extra skater, as noted by Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press.
To illustrate the disappointment, Detroit mustered only two shots with the man advantage in the first two games before firing five on Tuukka Rask in three opportunities in Game 3—still with no goals.
Detroit won the five-on-five battle in the first game, which is easy to do when only one goal is scored. The Red Wings have to be able to break the seal on the power play if they want any hope to get back in this series.
The point can be made that the Boston Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup with an abysmal 11.4 power-play percentage, but they had a 1.82 goals for/against ratio at even strength with an 84.4 percent penalty kill.
Penalties are a part of the game, and Detroit needs to capitalize when given the opportunity. The team possess the firepower but needs to put the puck on net to create opportunities.
Can Jimmy Howard Rebound from Tough Outings?
Jimmy Howard is a key piece in Detroit’s playoff puzzle, as proven in each of the first three games in the series.
Howard put forth a brilliant performance in Game 1, making 25 saves en route to a 1-0 shutout win. Game 2 was not as kind, as Howard was beaten after turning the puck over in the first period, ultimately surrendering four goals in a 4-1 loss.
He stopped 29 of 31 shots in Game 3, and Boston added an empty-net goal in its 3-0 shutout victory.
Howard’s workload in the past has shown he can handle a long playoff series with plenty of ups and downs. Detroit will need him to be at his best to advance, and it'll need it consistently.
He has a tendency to kick out juicy rebounds and struggle handling the puck. He’ll need to shore up both aspects to beat a Bruins team hell-bent on crashing the crease and establishing a net-front presence.
Not all of the pressure is on Howard, as he’s only received two goals of support in three games. When the offense picks up, the easier it is for a goaltender to settle in and take care of business.
After a not-so-stellar Game 2 performance, Howard came back with a strong performance in Game 3 but, again, received no help up front.
Howard has a 2.02 goals-against average and .931 save percentage, both career bests, in the postseason. Detroit has an array of issues after three games, and it’ll need Howard to remain steady moving forward.
When Will the Young Players Break Out?
Detroit’s young players were significant contributors in its run to the postseason.
Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco played integral parts in Detroit’s Eastern Conference race and are expected to continue in the playoffs.
The four have combined for 39 shots and zero points through three games. The offense has produced only two goals, in part because the kids have yet to get going.
Tatar in particular has struggled to start the series. While he has fired eight shots on goal, he has four minor penalties and is a team-worst minus-two. All are a combined minus-four in the series.
Jurco has been the odd man out since the return of Pavel Datsyuk. Nyquist has taken his spot on a line with Tatar and Sheahan, causing Jurco to average just 12:51 of ice time per game.
After the regular season they’ve all enjoyed, it would be tough to imagine the drought lasting much longer for any of them.
Tatar, Sheahan and Nyquist are expected to remain together for the foreseeable future while Jurco skates alongside Darren Helm and Joakim Andersson.
Jurco skated on the “kid line” as the second power-play unit while Nyquist accompanied Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen on the first.
They will receive plenty of opportunities, and that won’t change, but if they can’t come through, this series will be a very short one.
Can They Get Back to Their Game Plan?
In Game 1, Detroit executed its game plan to perfection, defeating the Bruins with a squeaky-clean 1-0 win.
In Game 2, Detroit was knocked off its game early, and the Boston Bruins cruised to a 4-1 win. Boston had no issue controlling Game 3 and taking a 2-1 series lead.
Mike Babcock was displeased with Detroit’s performance and knows his team has work ahead of it. He told reporters, via Mike Cole of NESN.com:
To me, I don’t think there’s ever anything wrong with losing when you maximized your group and did everything you could. ... That’s why (Tuesday’s game is) disappointing to me. We’ve been way better than that. That’s unacceptable. That’s not taking anything away from the Bruins.
The Bruins don’t possess the speed Detroit does but were able to clog up the neutral zone and impose their physical will. Detroit’s finesse style was bottled up, and the Bruins capitalized on an assortment of mistakes.
Detroit needs to remain patient and poised in order to be successful. Maintaining pressure on the Bruins’ defensemen in both ends and speed through the neutral zone will keep them on their toes.
Refraining from mischief after the whistle and maintaining composure will be key for the Red Wings. It's human nature to tire of being knocked around, but seeing the big picture will translate into opportunities.
If Detroit can return to the form displayed in Game 1, then the NHL’s best team is in for a tougher series moving forward.