April 23, 2014 at 9:25 am

Bob Wojnowski

Red Wings not up to speed, look completely overmatched

Mike Babcock after Game 3 loss
Mike Babcock after Game 3 loss: The Red Wings' coach talks about Detroit's 3-0 loss on Tuesday night.

Detroit — This was stifling and humbling, a grizzled team stuffing its young foe back in place. The Bruins clamped down and the Red Wings reacted as if they’d wandered into the wrong rink.

The kid gloves got manhandled, which is what some thought would happen in this series, and what the Wings had to fear. They talked about maintaining poise and unleashing their speed, but this was a collision between a 10-speed bike and a truck. Detroit wanted to flex some hustle but Boston flexed the muscle, and the series suddenly looks ominous for the guys in red.

The Bruins rolled to a 3-0 victory Tuesday night, eliciting boos and emptying Joe Louis Arena early. Boston takes a 2-1 lead into Game 4 Thursday night and the margin seems larger. The Bruins’ defense and goaltender Tuukka Rask aren’t giving up much, and the Wings aren’t showing the discipline and fortitude to take much.

The Wings gave a stunningly scattered effort from the start, and although they pressed in the third period, they couldn’t break through. After being outshot 11-4 in an awful first period, they finally stirred and forced Rask to put down his cup of coffee and start making saves. But the game already was lost, buried under a pile of turnovers and dumb mistakes.

“We’ve been a way better team than that, that’s unacceptable,” coach Mike Babcock said. “And that’s not taking anything away from the Bruins. I thought we looked like kids, for sure.”

Babcock seemed perplexed, as did many of the Wings. It’s not that the Bruins were so dominant, but that the Wings were so haphazard. They have two goals in three games, which means their best chance is to tighten up their own defense and cut down on miscues. That was their plan, and it failed miserably.

The crowd was ready and the octopi were flying during the national anthem, but the Wings appeared to be consumed by jitters. Even Pavel Datsyuk was sloppy, blindly firing a wayward pass that nearly resulted in a quick Boston goal. If you lack discipline against the best team in the league, they’re happy to deliver their own brand of discipline.

“We were all over the place — everywhere and nowhere,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I have to be better in those areas. I don’t know if it was focus or if we wanted it too much, but we were just skating all over the place.”

Kronwall took some blame, as veterans should. If the Wings want to climb back in this series, it would be preferable for veterans to take charge. The kids can carry a team only so far, and if ever the Wings needed others to assert themselves, this was it.

Didn’t happen. Johan Franzen, David Legwand and even Datsyuk? Nothing. Jimmy Howard whiffed badly on a shot by Dougie Hamilton that snuck inside the post for a 1-0 Boston lead. Howard must be better, no doubt, and so must the checkered defensive corps.

Bruins better physically

A few minutes later, the Bruins sauntered in while the Wings were making a preposterously clumsy line change and Jordan Caron banged in a rebound for a 2-0 lead. When the first period ended, the crowd booed, and the point is, nobody cares about inexperience this time of year.

“Just a terrible line change,” Kronwall said. “It was a bad decision by myself.”

The game had a feisty edge at first, and the boos rained every time noted Bruins cheap-shot artist Milan Lucic touched the puck. But this is what the Bruins do, leave a team craving vengeance as they keep plowing ahead.

Wings defenseman Brendan Smith had vowed to be smarter but took a nasty penalty when he collided with Brad Marchand, banging knees. Of course, Marchand laid on the ice as if mortally wounded, skated off, then returned about two minutes later.

The Bruins love the physical game, but I have a feeling they were annoyed at the suggestion the energetic Wings would outskate them.

“I thought our skating game was good,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “You know, we can talk about being a physical team, but you can’t be physical if you can’t skate and you can’t get there.”

Smarter, too

The Wings couldn’t get there or pretty much anywhere. As Kronwall said, everywhere and nowhere at the same time. They had four inexplicable giveaways in the first period and finished with eight to the Bruins’ 1.

It’s tough to be physical but it’s also tough to be smart, another lesson the Wings are learning. They were very good in their 1-0 victory in Game 1, then out of sorts in their 4-1 loss in Game 2. In this one, they looked completely overmatched at times. The Bruins are good, of course, but the Wings must show they’re better than this.

“We were off-kilter from the get-go,” Babcock said. “I don’t know why, whether we were rattled or nervous or excited. I’m a veteran coach, and maybe as a veteran coach I should’ve seen that. I had no idea we’d start like we did.”

Everywhere and nowhere. Next game, the Wings are advised to act like they belong here.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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Wings coach Mike Babcock brings the team together for a chat during a timeout after the first Bruins goal in the first period. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News
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