April 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Red Wings need to focus on what they do well to beat Bruins

Brendan Smith tangles with Zdeno Chara on Sunday in Boston. (David Guralnick / Detroit News)

Detroit Its time to kick the Mule. Its time for Brendan Smith to start playing pool, rather than playing the fool. And its probably time to stop kidding around, too.

That first part almost goes without saying at this point, as the Red Wings again find themselves waiting for Johan Franzen with one goal in his last 20 games to snap out of it at playoff time.

The second part was one of Mike Babcocks chief talking points Monday, as the Red Wings shook off Game 2s Beantown beatdown and regrouped for tonights Game 3 against the Bruins at Joe Louis Arena.

Asked to revisit Smiths awkward do-si-do with Bostons Zdeno Chara at the end of the first period in the 4-1 loss, Babcock offered up a lighthearted, pool-hall analogy, suggesting his young defenseman stick to billiards rather than boxing, figuratively speaking.

One guy is 6-foot-9, one guy is not: What would be the good decision? the Red Wings coach said, smiling. I guess all Im saying is I think you should do what you do well.

As for what the Red Wings do well, that depends on your point of view. In Game 2, they didnt do much of anything right from Jimmy Howard on out as the Bruins quickly settled the scores and then evened the series, pushing the Red Wings around a bit just for laughs.

But since Babcock and his players keep talking about their need for speed, and the advantage they insist they have in that department, theyd better start there.

Start with Gustav Nyquist and the rest of the young guns, who proved to be the difference for this team in the regular season and probably will have to now if the Red Wings are to pull off a first-round upset of the Bruins.

Tempo is key

For two-plus months, everything Nyquist touched turned to goals. He scored 23 in a torrid 28-game stretch to help carry the Red Wings into the playoffs. But the 24-year-old winger is scoreless in his last eight games dating to April 2, when he blew past Chara to score the winner in Detroit.

Now, suddenly, instead of being a guy no one even heard of, like last year in the playoffs, youre a guy theyve heard of, Babcock explained. Space is probably a little harder to come by. Youve just got to find your game.

Babcock said Monday hes neither surprised nor overly concerned by Nyquists drought, though he did admit, I had a chat with him last night on the plane.

And he was quick to compliment the play of the line featuring Nyquist and rookies Riley Sheahen and Tomas Tatar. They spent most of the first two games matched against one of the most productive lines in the NHL this season David Krejci with Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic and managed to hold their own.

Still, as Tatar acknowledged Monday, We got a lesson in Game 2.

The Red Wings got caught up in playing the Bruins game, goaded at times and simply coming unglued at others, picking up three roughing minors in the first period alone.

Thats their game, right? said Tatar, who got into it with Bruins forward Brad Marchand in one of Game 2s many scrums. We just have to ignore it. I know sometimes you cant. But most of the time, you should just walk away.

Better yet: Run, dont walk. Especially with the inconsistent officiating that now seems to be a hallmark of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Red Wings arent going to win unless theyre dictating the tempo, or at least trying to, at all times.

We have speedy guys in here, said Nyquist, who certainly qualifies as one. We like to skate. We know as a team thats one of our strengths, to really use our speed. And Bostons got pretty big (defensemen) and a big team overall, so against a team like that you want to skate as much as possible.

Back to what works

Speed kills, sure. But so does traffic. And understanding that is the real obstacle for young players in the NHL this time of year. Nyquist, for one, claims he does.

Obviously, Ill try to use my speed a little bit more and shoot the puck and try to get on the inside, he said, when asked what has to change beginning tonight. Ive got to spin off those big guys and get in front of the net. Thats where the goals are gonna be scored. And thats something I have to control, for sure.

Now that hes in control of the matchups on home ice, well see what Babcock can do to help. Id suggest putting Nyquist on Pavel Datsyuks wing, where he was for one practice day last week, at least. But whatever the case, the Wings have to find a way to turn a decided advantage in possession time into more chances against Tuukka Rask, who has stopped everything he has seen thus far.

Beyond that, well see if Howard learned his own lesson after Sundays puck-handling gaffe gift-wrapped the first Bruins goal. If youre asking Smith to stick to skating, not scrapping, presumably youd ask Howard to stop pretending hes Martin Brodeur, as well.

And who knows what well see from Franzen, who was far too quiet in last years series with Chicago, too. Or from a laboring Daniel Alfredsson, who was held without a shot in two games at Boston.

But we saw what Nyquist and the other young forwards are capable of in the regular season. Now well see if theyre able to do it when it really counts.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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