May 27, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Gregg Krupa

Red Wings' resilience will face its toughest test

Few picked Daniel Cleary, top, and the Red Wings to eliminate the Blackhawks. Yet they stand on the verge of doing just that. (David Guralnick/Detroit News)

Detroit — They were not supposed to be here. But here they are.

The Red Wings made the playoffs despite grievous doubts about their rebuilding roster, a host of injuries and some moments throughout the season when they appeared doomed.

But in April they won their last four games and pushed their playoffs streak to 22 seasons.

They were not supposed to beat the Ducks.

Shut out 4-0 in Game 3 at home to go down 2-1 in the series, the Wings came back. Then, down 3-2 after Game 5, they won the next two — including a seventh game in Anaheim — to achieve the upset.

The 2013 Red Wings are nothing if not resilient.

They will be called on to demonstrate it again, in a big way, facing the powerful Blackhawks after a 4-1 drubbing in Chicago Saturday brought the Western Conference semifinal series to 3-2 in favor of the Wings.

The Blackhawks spent a good part of the season winning games back-to-back. Two against the Red Wings, in Games 6 and 7, is clearly well within their capacity.

But the Wings have been down plenty and risen repeatedly.

Psychologists talk about resilience as a process rather than a trait.

Resilience is obtained, some say, by embracing reality, recalling the capacity for good performance and managing perceptions and emotions.

Within 14 hours of the Game 5 loss, the Red Wings talked like the process is well along the way.

"We weren't good enough. We weren't even close," Mike Babcock said early Sunday afternoon after meeting with the players, showing them video and taking his daily run.

"So let's get our mind right, here today, much more so than our body right," Babcock said. "Let's get our mind right and get in here and be prepared to execute, be prepared to be desperate.

"You know, last night I thought we were tentative. I thought we were tight.

"I don't know why we would be that way. You play the game loose and driving.

"Let's get out there. Let's get after them."

Staying loose

The captain, Henrik Zetterberg, and other players also talked about how they were tense and uncertain against the Blackhawks on Saturday.

"We know we've got to play a better game and we're prepared to do that," he said.

"And, you know, we went through everything here today, and we just got to go out and have a good start and away we go."

How does a team relax, with so much at stake — especially a young team relatively inexperienced in the playoffs, Zetterberg was asked.

"To play more loose, I think it starts when we talk to each other out there," he said. "And you want the puck all the time and do not turn your back against the guy, you front the guy.

"And most of the time when you execute for the first pass it makes it a lot easier."

Few of the Red Wings skated at all Sunday. There was a lot of work in the weights and exercise rooms and some extensive work with the soccer ball in the concourse outside the dressing room.

Zetterberg, Nicklas Kronwall and Justin Abdelkader seemed loose talking to reporters.

"You know, we feel good. We feel confident," Zetterberg said.

"We're not happy with the way we played the last game. But we played good before and we've just got to bounce back and have a good one tomorrow."

The process of bouncing back takes on a familiar pattern for the Red Wings, Zetterberg said.

"It starts with preparation before the game and warm-ups and the first couple of shifts," he said.

"And if you get a good start, it helps.

"We just got to find a way here to come back and play good. And we know we can do it. But we just got to play the way we want to, play within the structure.

"If we do that, we're better.

"I think we learned a lot this playoffs. We've found a way to come back when we've played bad to have a good game, and tomorrow we're going to do that again."

They did a fair amount of it during the season, too.

On Feb. 23, losers of five in a row, three in regulation and two in overtime, they beat the Predators, 4-0.

They won despite being outshot with strong secondary scoring — Drew Miller, Tomas Tatar and two by Daniel Cleary — and a 33-save shutout by Jimmy Howard.

Losers of two straight going into March 13, they began a sequence of nine road games in the next 12 and a three-game swing through western Canada by nearly skating the Flames out of the Scotiabank Saddledome.

But then they collapsed, surrendering three goals when they left Howard largely defenseless in the third period.

The scene in their dressing room was perhaps the most disquieting of the entire season.

When they went down 2-0 to the Oilers two nights later, the talk along media row among the assembled Canadian and American scouts, team executives, writers and broadcasters was that the Wing might, in fact, be toast.

They rallied for two in the third against the Oilers, and Pavel Datsyuk's offensive brilliance garnered the winner in overtime.

Then they romped over the Canucks, 5-2, in Vancouver the next night, spoiling a gala Saturday night celebration of the 100th anniversary of hockey in British Columbia, televised on "Hockey Night in Canada."

Struggling for their playoff lives on March 28, they went 3-5-3 in the next 11.

Then, in six days beginning April 22 they beat the Coyotes, Kings, Predators and Stars by a cumulative score of 15-3.

They had no way of knowing that without each of the four wins, they would not have made the playoffs.

Desperate times

They have had resilience in spades, especially when desperate.

On Sunday, they talked about Game 6 as another moment of desperation, in which they will seek to avoid returning to the United Center for Game 7 against the Blackhawks.

"We have to come out with the desperation, just like Game 7," Niklas Kronwall said. "Just make sure we do everything we can and really to be true to ourselves to give ourselves an honest chance.

"We know how we have to play to have success," he said. "We have to look back at what we've done the previous three games, before the last one. That's how we have to play to win.

"We have to match that tomorrow night again.

"Obviously we're not happy with the way we performed last night. There were a lot of things that we didn't do that we had talked about and that we have to do.

"It's about getting back to doing those things, and we should be just fine."

For Justin Abdelkader, the process of resetting is fairly simple.

"I think just look at some video, correct our mistakes and move forward and get ready," he said. "We know we got a lot better.

"We're glad we're coming back home. We'd like to take care of business here.

"We've just got to play desperate.

"We know what we're capable of. We've played good here in the playoffs and we've just got to get back to where we were playing in the playoffs and in the past, you know, since the end of the regular season."

For Babcock, the process begins with firm intention.

"I think the first thing is just getting ourselves prepared to play right," he said.

But things can turn, as they have in the past.

"Well, for sure," he said, when asked if he expected the team to provide yet another demonstration of its buoyant toughness.

"I think it's way harder on your psyche when you play well and you get thrashed. We weren't good, period. Let's get it fixed."

gkrupa@detroitnews.com

Justin Abdelkader’s prescription for victory in Game 6: “We’ve just got to ... (David Guralnick/Detroit News)
Bryan Bickell sends Niklas Kronwall into the boards during Game 5. ... (David Guralnick/Detroit News)