May 8, 2013 at 5:53 pm

John Niyo

Wings shouldn't let Game 4 heroics distract from task at hand

Detroit -- This was only part of the plan. And frankly, this was the easy part.

So the Red Wings better not let themselves be fooled by the end result after Monday night's Game 4 overtime thriller against the Ducks. They won the game and tied the series. But while the effort certainly was better than in a deflating loss last weekend in Game 3, it won't be enough to beat the Ducks in a best-of-three beginning tonight at Honda Center.

After another cross-country flight Tuesday, that almost certainly was the message coach Mike Babcock planned to deliver to his team — behind closed doors and to the gathered media — before tonight's pivotal Game 5.

Sure, the Red Wings pelted Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller in their last outing at Joe Louis Arena. And yes, they even managed to score a long-sought rebound goal or two, including Damien Brunner pocketing the overtime winner after Gustav Nyquist broke free on a partial breakaway.

But just as there's truth in numbers — 41 shots in regulation for the Red Wings in Game 4, and 49 in all — there's also some deception.

"When you look at this game, you look at the shots you'd think, 'Oh, geez, we dominated the game,'" Babcock said after the 3-2 victory. "But we gave up glorious chances — absolutely glorious chances — to Corey Perry and (Ryan Getzlaf.) We gave them the puck and let 'em walk in, and that can't happen."

Not if they intend on sticking around past Mother's Day, that is. And not if they're truly intent on sticking to their plan, limiting the opponents' chances in order to give themselves a chance. As we all know by now, these aren't the Red Wings of years past, blessed with a lethal power play and elite goal-scoring depth.

They've fooled themselves into thinking otherwise before, of course. As recently as last weekend, in fact, when — despite what they said — the Red Wings acted as if a big overtime win in Game 2 and a raucous home crowd awaiting in Detroit would help them seize control of this series, only to discover the Stanley Cup playoffs don't play like that.

Keep the pressure on

Now that they're a little older, though, and perhaps a bit wiser — even if it's only a week's worth of accumulated playoff experience — the hope has to be that they've learned a valuable lesson about what it takes. The way the Red Wings played in crunch time Monday, overcoming a pair of one-goal deficits in the third period before cashing in first in overtime, suggests they just might have.

The NHL's postseason is about sustained pressure, not simply giving it your best shot. As Babcock noted rather bluntly following that 4-0 loss in Game 3, "You can't be as easy as we are to play against.'"

And to their credit, they weren't when it really counted Monday.

There was Brendan Smith, the 24-year-old rookie defenseman who'd been victimized on the night's first goal, confidently firing a point shot through traffic to break the ice in the opening minutes of the third. Credit Daniel Cleary for retrieving the puck in the corner — Babcock's been begging for second helpings like that all series — and underrated rookie Joakim Andersson for answering another of his coach's pleas, tying up Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin in front of Hiller to create some chaos.

And there was Smith again with 6:30 left in regulation, making a nifty backhand pass to start Pavel Datsyuk on the rush for the second Red Wings goal, one that rattled more than just the water bottle behind Hiller.

"That's what (Smith's) got to do, he's gotta move the puck — that's what he is," Babcock said. "But, we've got to be better without it, too."

And that's where they'll surely be put to the test tonight in Game 5.

They can't get caught clueless in their own zone, the way Smith and Kyle Quincey were early on, and the way Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff looked occasionally throughout the game.

"Our young 'D' had their moments that they weren't very nice to look at or watch, to be honest with you," Babcock said.

Beware of Ducks

Those moments will prove more costly from here on out. Especially in Anaheim, where Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau can get his top line of Getzlaf, Perry and Bobby Ryan away from Babcock's preferred defensive pairing of Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall if he wants. Boudreau actually swapped Getzlaf with fourth-line center David Steckel for a stretch in the second period in Game 4, trying to find a spark or send a message — or both. Perry has just one assist in four games, while Ryan didn't register a shot on goal in Monday's loss.

The Red Wings can't expect that to continue. But they can at least consider the possibility now.

"I think you've got a few games now under your feet," Smith said. "You've got your feet wet. The first few games you're pretty nervous and it is hard to adapt. But now you see guys getting used to it and playing their game. That's what got us here."

Now then, here comes the hard part.

Tied 2-2

Game 1: Anaheim 3-1
Game 2: Detroit 5-4 (OT)
Game 3: Anaheim 4-0
Game 4: Detroit 3-2 (OT)
Tonight: at Anaheim, 10
Friday: at Detroit, 8 p.m.
x-Sunday: at Anaheim, TBA

Brendan Smith (2) and the rest of the Red Wings defense survived some spotty play Monday night against the Ducks. / David Guralnick /Detroit News
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