That's More Like it: Detroit Red Wings Tie Series with Defensive Effort

Thomas KnappContributor IApril 20, 2010

DETROIT - APRIL 20:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save without his goalie mask behind teammate Niklas Kronwall #55 and Lee Stempniak #22 of the Phoenix Coyotes during Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 20, 2010 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Game 3 of this series was marked by what the Red Wings didn't do. 

Poor defensive decisions and mistakes abounded from a team that couldn't afford it against a disciplined opponent.

Not so tonight.

Tonight was the scrappy, scrambling, and swarming Wings' defense of their championship years.

The Wings are not a defensive team that intimidates with size and power; they beat you with smarts and technique. 

They hit, but they pick their spots, usually using superior positioning and knowledge to get the pressure off and to transition into the attack.

You could never beat just one defender. There was always someone else, and even if you could crack the defense, the backcheck from some of the best defensive forwards in the league came to the rescue.

Detroit scored three goals, but all it needed was one—that was how complete the defensive play was that the Red Wings threw at the Coyotes.

Gone was the lackadaisical, passive approach two nights ago. No more letting the Coyotes have the zone while the defensemen fell back. 

The moment the puck crossed the blue line, there was a stick—and there was a body.

They forced the issue rather than let it come to them, and Phoenix was genuinely taken by surprise. 

Even when the puck finally did get deep or on the net, there was a red jersey jumping on it and pushing it out of danger.

Tonight, it was the Coyotes looking more out of sync than the writers of LOST . Tonight, Phoenix was stunned to silence and impotence by an opponent who abruptly was fighting back the way it knew best.

It wasn't perfect , of course. Nothing ever is. 

There were turnovers, there were mistakes. But this time, someone was there to clean up the mess. Tonight, they played as a unit, rather than individuals.

That is the strength of the Red Wings: Not just talent, but that talent playing with cohesion.

And that defensive effort was not wasted by Jimmy Howard, who recorded his first of hopefully many shutouts in playoff action. 

He fed off their support, and it looks like the nerves were settled. The shaky rebounds were gone. The jitters in the crease were non-existent.

Even without a helmet, Howard was focused on making sure that he didn't let down his teammates.

Meanwhile, the offense did what it needed to do. It didn't get frustrated by the Phoenix defense. It took its shots, and kept taking its shots knowing that eventually, it would get that puck in the net. 

The Wings were disciplined, focused, and unrelenting, working in tandem with the defense, quick to transition, and control the action. A complete team effort.

These were the Red Wings we know, who win games and win championships. They've been gone far too long. If they stick around, they won't win every game they play...

But they'll win 14 more.

And that is what matters most.