May 4, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Red Wings must play through frustrations, distractions

Tomas Holmstrom hits the ice in front of Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov in the first period. (David Guralnick/The Detroit News)

Romulus

If they're ticked off, they're not admitting it. If they're concerned, they're sure not showing it.

Hey, no sense looking for excuses or tossing around blame now. The Red Wings recognize the danger, and also the reality. Being down 2-0 to the Sharks automatically brands this the latest Biggest Game of the Season. But they're not done, not in their minds and not logically, not after two one-goal road losses.

The Wings displayed notable restraint and discipline Monday, precisely the traits they need to show tonight. As I've said before, trying to pin all their woes on officiating is too easy. The penalty calls swung from curious to legitimate to awful in the Sharks' 4-3 victory Sunday night. The Wings got the worst of it (10 penalties to the Sharks' four), but contrary to what conspiracy theorists might suggest, there are no icy knolls here.

It always makes people feel better to blast the refs, but for the Wings, it serves no purpose, and it would obscure the larger point. They've been outplayed by the Sharks, not by a wide margin, but by enough.

"You gotta take a deep breath and take responsibility yourself," Mike Babcock said shortly after stepping off the team plane Monday. "When you get four or five penalties in the third period, that's frustrating, but it's a waste of energy. Whether you think it's fair or unfair, the reality is, if we look after our own part, everything will be fine. We'll play good."

Better play needed

I bet they will, and they must. The Wings aren't superior enough anymore to overcome mistakes with sheer talent. That means they have to win more than 38 percent of the faceoffs and play much tighter defense in front of Jimmy Howard.

The Sharks come to The Joe tonight chasing the Cup with a pair of Joes (Pavelski and Thornton) and a bevy of sharp skaters. For stretches in the first two games, the Sharks out-puck-possessioned the perennial puck-possession wizards.

When Pavel Datsyuk has the puck, the Wings are dangerous. Henrik Zetterberg needs to lift his line to that same level, as he did in the first round. But really, the Wings have played only one dominant game all playoffs, the Game 7 rout of the Coyotes.

San Jose is not Phoenix. San Jose has the hottest player in hockey (Pavelski), solid defensemen and potent forwards. The Sharks also have a reputation for being notorious playoff underachievers, failing to advance past the second round four straight years.

That spawns two questions. Will the Sharks return to who they were (or are) at Joe Louis Arena, their personal rink of demons?

And, will the Wings return to who they were (or are), the poised bunch that largely stays unruffled, no matter how many times they're ordered to sit for two minutes of shame?

"We've been in the box before, but not this much," Zetterberg said, forcing a wry smile. "It's easy to blame the refs for it, but at the same time, we're taking some penalties that are correctable. It's not just about the penalties or the faceoffs. The first 10 minutes of the series, we weren't there. But after that, we've been playing pretty well."

Pretty well won't be well enough in this series. And this is not a goalie issue, not even close. Howard was excellent during several San Jose flurries, which illustrates how the Wings' defense has broken down at times.

"Obviously, there are some calls you don't agree with, but there's nothing you can do about it," defenseman Brad Stuart said. "You just have to battle through and believe eventually things will even out. We want to be better in a lot of areas, and our own zone is one of them."

Wings must earn calls

The NHL isn't blind to criticism. (Really, it isn't.) Like in the NBA, when foul calls between evenly matched teams get out of whack, there's an adjustment.

But the Wings have to earn the adjustment. For all the shrieking about referees Brad Watson and Kevin Pollock -- some of it deserved -- the Wings must be the aggressors to draw penalties. Yes, they've had an inordinate number called on them. If they want an inordinate number called on the Sharks, they need to force the action.

Babcock poked at the Sharks' Devin Setoguchi after Game One, saying he was diving to elicit calls, and he was. But this isn't about gamesmanship now. This is about consistency of effort. This is about avoiding the brink of elimination, and not getting consumed by emotions and frustration.

"To be honest, I don't think it got to us," Zetterberg said. "We know what we have to do if we want to keep playing. And no one on this team is done yet."

That was the theme Monday, again and again, from captain Nick Lidstrom down the line. To keep playing, they have to play through everything, and at this stage, they can't be distracted by anything.

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