May 5, 2013 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Justin Abdelkader's hit deals Red Wings far bigger blow

Mike Babcock on Game 3 loss to Ducks, Abdelkader h...
Mike Babcock on Game 3 loss to Ducks, Abdelkader h...: Mike Babcock on Game 3 loss to Ducks, Abdelkader hit

Detroit — Justin Abdelkader's huge blow sent a Ducks player sprawling and sent the crowd into a frenzy. But as it turns out, the Red Wings suffered the much bigger blow, and chances of recovery aren't looking good.

One hit changed this game and might have changed this series. Abdelkader was given a five-minute penalty and kicked out, and faces a possible suspension for clobbering defenseman Toni Lydman. Nobody is suggesting Abdelkader struck with malicious intent, but he was needlessly reckless and the Wings paid for it.

The Ducks broke a scoreless tie 18 seconds into the power play and rolled to a 4-0 victory Saturday night, taking a 2-1 series lead. Lydman didn't return, and in a league increasingly vigilant about head hits, Abdelkader could get a one-game suspension. As impactful blows go, that'd be crushing, creating a hole on the top line for a team that struggles to score.

Mistake upon mistakes

Abdelkader's feistiness and physical style are admirable, and often very effective. But he made a mistake on a team that makes way too many, and once again, the Wings fell apart. I think the penalties were warranted because Abdelkader leaped at the moment of impact. The hit began shoulder-to-shoulder but ended with Lydman knocked woozy, and with Abdelkader's skates high in the air. That driving flourish turned it into a head issue, and that compounds everything.

The problem is, it was hardly the Wings' only error of the night. They killed off the rest of the five-minute power play at the end of the second period and had a shot to tie it. But Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf picked the puck from rookie Damien Brunner, deked Jimmy Howard and scored a short-handed goal early in the third to make it 2-0.

The mistakes kept coming and the Ducks kept capitalizing, and this outcome had little to do with Howard, who was very good until the Wings buckled. The young defense corps is prone to stretches of disarray where they can't even clear the puck from their zone. Rookies Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff were out of position when Emerson Etem took a perfect pass from Teemu Selanne to make it 3-0. The Wings already lost rookie Danny DeKeyser with a broken thumb, and if Abdelkader is out for Game 4 Monday night, look out.

"I haven't looked at the replay that much, but from what I saw, I'd be real surprised if he gets suspended," captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "He comes with a lot of speed and it's a good hit, shoulder to shoulder. Of course, Abby is a big part for us, and it changes the lines and changes the way we play. He's a guy that eats a lot of minutes and he wasn't able to play in the third. But if we'd scored on the power play in the first period, it'd be a different game too."

Lack of poise

The Wings blew chances long before Abdelkader's big blow. They were 0-for-4 on the power play and squandered a 40-second two-man advantage in the first period. Too many fancy passes, not enough strong drives. Valtteri Filppula fanned on a prime opportunity, and moments before that, Johan Franzen couldn't beat Jonas Hiller on a breakaway.

"I thought we tried to pass the puck into the net instead of trying to shoot the puck into the net," coach Mike Babcock said of the power play. "Then we gave up that second goal and we let it affect us, and it shouldn't. We came unraveled after that and made tons of mistakes. That's what poise and maturity do for you, and we didn't show that."

For the second straight time in the third period, the Wings didn't show it. The Ducks rallied from a 4-1 deficit in Game 2 before the Wings pulled it out in overtime. But the trends are troubling right now.

This shouldn't be an energy issue, either. The Joe Louis Arena crowd was loud from the start, and if the Wings had popped a quick goal, home-ice advantage would have kicked in. Instead, with less than five minutes to go in the second period, Abdelkader unleashed, and the ensuing debate will be emotional.

The referees didn't make the call immediately, and that bothered the Wings. But the officials huddled and ruled it a major charging penalty and a game misconduct, and I think it was the correct call. And yes, it matters Lydman was hurt and didn't return. That means, regardless of Abdelkader's aim or intent, he struck too high, resulting in a head injury.

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said Lydman had a headache and probably wouldn't practice today. Beyond that, he didn't want to discuss further ramifications. That's up to league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, the former Wing who will decide if Abdelkader should miss more time.

There's a lot at stake here because the Wings have little depth, and Brunner and Gustav Nyquist aren't the big bodies you'd prefer on the top line. If Babcock moves Franzen up, the Wings will look painfully like a one-line team.

"Obviously, (Abdelkader) is a big guy and he hit him hard," Babcock said. "To me, it was a hard check. Now, I'm not involved in the next part of the process. We'll have to see what they decide."

You could argue Shanahan owes the Wings some leniency, after he declined to suspend Nashville's Shea Weber during last year's playoffs for ramming Zetterberg's head into the glass. Shanahan whiffed on that one, and likely is aware of perceptions involving his history with the Wings. Abdelkader also hasn't been suspended before, a factor in his favor.

Whatever happens now, the Wings took (and delivered) a huge blow, which left them wobbling and wondering. They have to be really careful, because the next blow could be the one that knocks them out.

Justin Abdelkader, left, got a five-minute major and a game-misconduct penalty for this check on Toni Lydman of the Ducks, bottom right, which knocked Lydman out of the game. / John T. Greilick/Detroit News
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