Red Wings forward Joakin Andersson is part of a cast of young players taking on significant roles in Detroit. (David Guralnick/Detroit News)
Detroit — The Red Wings figure if they go hard to the net, they can win tonight. Then it's a best-of-three series.
An up-and-down season is down again, after a 4-0 loss in the first playoff game at home, against the Ducks. But the long-term trend is discernibly up.
Whether those issuing the hue and cry about the circumstances of the hometown team quite understand it, what is unfolding is as much about seasons to come as it is about now.
And that is not writing anything off. It is observing facts.
The second-seeded Ducks have not separated themselves from the Wings in this series, despite the changing roster, all of the injuries and the inexperience with which the team from Detroit plays. That should tell us something about these Red Wings — now, and going forward.
Meanwhile, they gather something only time provides: the opportunity to make mistakes.
Think a 4-1 lead in the third period of an NHL playoff game is safe? Lesson learned.
Think executing passes on the perimeter will be enough to beat an NHL goalie? Lesson learned.
Trying to skate up ice with the puck and 11 seconds remaining in a power play when you should head to the bench because you are tired? Lesson learned.
After three of six defensemen left in two years, the Red Wings sailed straight into an owner's lockout, a measly five-day training camp and no exhibition games in which they could become familiar with one another, new guys and old. Then, they got more injuries than any team in the NHL, including their entire third line for the whole season.
Testing the AHL
They dipped deeply into a talent pool in the AHL that has been little replenished in recent years. It worked out. They made the playoffs.
Then they lost their best rookie with a busted thumb. Now their biggest hitter and fifth-leading goal scorer is suspended for a hit that was legal until recently, when we learned a lot more about concussions and the brain.
And it is May 6, they are still playing and have a shot at extending their season for another round of playoffs.
Mike Babcock offered some advice Sunday. It came after he said the Red Wings were still in Game 3 when they again panicked in a third period, and if they had gone to the net more, or if Johan Franzen had scored on his breakaway or Pavel Datsyuk when he hit the post, the game would not have gotten to 1-0 Ducks, let alone 4-0.
Then, Babcock said, "You can make this, as a reporter, as bad as you want or you can make it as good as you want. You've just got to choose your attitude.
"I'm going to choose mine. And I'm going to say we were right there knocking on the door, and we are going to win tomorrow and make it a best of three."
Others are making their choices, too.
Some angrily say the Red Wings were more fun when they had Yzerman and Lidstrom and Mike and Marian Ilitch could spend freely. Some say the Wings should have traded Valtteri Filppula, another player, a high prospect and a draft choice for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
But facts are observable and of consequence.
Steve Yzerman is 47 and he works in a front office. Nicklas Lidstrom is 43 and lives in Sweden.
The NHL adopted a salary cap.
The Red Wings might do as well or better than Bouwmeester in the long run, without losing so much talent — an important consideration as they attempt to rebuild on the fly without using the word or talking much about it.
Fine talent pool
Rebuilding, they have won as many playoff games as they did last year. Their young pool of talent is better — perhaps significantly better — than advertised. And these kids are learning some tough lessons about how to play this game for this year and beyond, including when the Wings contend for a Stanley Cup, again.
The task at hand, however, is winning three of the next four.
"I don't think, in this series, we've been as good as we're capable of being," Babcock said. "I don't think we've been hard enough. I don't think we've executed good enough.
"Now, the great thing about a series is there's our part and there's their part. We feel we can be better, with ours.
"The other thing about a series: Series are about mental toughness. They're battles of will. If you want to give in and be mentally soft, you do that. If you want to just keep competing, you turn this into a best-of-three and you get going."
Their young guys are learning about all that, too.