May 18, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Bob Wojnowski

After a little rest, don't count Red Wings out yet

Detroit — The way it's described — and frankly, the way it looked at times — the Red Wings should just skate to center ice today at the United Center, go through a ceremonial puck drop, then commence with the end-of-series handshake line. The Blackhawks are quicker, deeper and more skilled, that's what the stats say, that's what the eyes see.

That's not totally what the Red Wings say or see, and they shouldn't, not after one game. Oh, they're outmanned, and it was evident in Wednesday night's 4-1 loss. But after practicing at Joe Louis Arena on Friday before hopping on the plane back to Chicago, the Red Wings better understood the task, and felt better equipped to handle it.

Many observers think it's a matter of time before the Red Wings are done. I'd think the same thing, except I've seen this scenario before, with the Red Wings playing the role of the Blackhawks. The underdog often looks overwhelmed at first, but it's not easy for the heavy favorite to keep it up the entire series.

The Red Wings swear they're not in imminent peril and I understand why they believe it. After the seven-game cross-country grind against the Ducks, they've had an extra day off and are better rested. They played awful for stretches of Game 1, yet were 1-1 deep into the third period. The Blackhawks still might prevent the Wings from catching their wind, but I wouldn't bury them in ice chippings just yet.

Why can they be different in Game 2?

"Because I've seen us play before, that's what I base it on," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "That's why I try not to go on all these theories that I keep hearing about."

Won't reinvent the wheel

Babcock probably half-hates and half-loves this situation. In his eight seasons as Red Wings coach, he hasn't had to do a lot of confidence-boosting, but he knows this young team will make mistakes. He's positive it'll play with more energy after a little rest, and isn't interested in debating it.

"We couldn't even skate two practices ago, and that's not a big surprise for us," Babcock said. "When you actually look at the facts, they're only human, they can only travel so far and do so much and push so hard — we didn't have it in us, it was simple. So instead of me spending hours reinventing the wheel, we're just gonna do what we do, do it better and do it faster, and we're gonna make sure we got a good series."

Sometimes when a team recognizes daunting odds, it gives clues of capitulation. The Red Wings aren't giving any clues, and why would they with veterans such as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk? It's all new to the youngsters and it showed in the first game. Rookie defenseman Brendan Smith took a lot of the criticism, but he didn't sound shaken as he strongly defended himself Friday.

"I don't think that's a fair assessment," Smith said when asked if he deserved to be singled out. "There's a lot of good plays I felt I made. Coach (Babcock) and I met and went over things, and it didn't come off like that."

Because of his speed, Smith got to the puck quicker and was attacked by the persistent Blackhawks' forechecking quicker, and thus was prone to more turnovers. But there was plenty of disarray to spread around.

The Blackhawks had the puck way more often and shot it way more often (42-21). Jimmy Howard was excellent in net, but he couldn't slow a full-fledged barrage. Once it gets going in hockey, it sometimes looks like it'll never stop, but the Red Wings know better, from both sides. They played poorly in Game 1 against the Ducks and rebounded to win the series. In previous years, they've jumped on opponents early and struggled to finish them off.

Good sign: Mule is grumpy

Believe it or not, there are reasons the Red Wings could tighten this up and hold off the handshake line for a while. Datysuk and Zetterberg are mostly healthy, always a good sign. Johan Franzen often finds his way onto the score sheet in the playoffs, and Zetterberg said the Mule was turning grumpy, theoretically another good sign.

Franzen needs to make an impact now, and he isn't the only one.

"(Game 1) was kind of like those games when you come home from the West Coast — we were there, but we weren't really there," Zetterberg said. "We know we can play a lot better."

The Red Wings don't have the edge in many areas, but coaching could be one. Joel Quenneville won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 but is 0-5 in playoff series against the Red Wings.

Babcock has done a terrific job in this transition season, although he doesn't have a lot of options left. He can put Drew Miller in now that he's healthy, but line-juggling is less effective against a Chicago team that goes so deep.

I asked Babcock if there are many tactical maneuvers he can make.

"Yeah a whole bunch, but I gotta spend a couple hours teaching you and I'm not gonna do that," he said. "I'm just gonna tell you, we weren't very good at any facet of our game and we expect to be way better (today), and we look forward to it."

The Red Wings have rebounded often this season and I expect they will again. Maybe they don't have enough to hang with the Blackhawks, but they certainly have more to show.

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said his team was tired in a 4-1 loss Wednesday in Game 1 and expects better play from his team Saturday. Why? ďBecause Iíve seen us play before, thatís what I base it on.Ē / David Guralnick/Detroit News
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