April 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Bruins rattle Red Wings by showing how they got to Stanley Cup Finals

Red Wings players after loss
Red Wings players after loss: Kronwall, DeKeyser, Nyquist and Howard talk about the loss to Boston in Game 3.

Detroit — Once upon a time, the Red Wings actually won playoff home openers. But that was before they decided to try their hand as a lower seed.

Bad idea, in hindsight.

The Red Wings were blanked Tuesday night in Game 3 just like they were blanked last spring against the Ducks. And as the fans filed out of Joe Louis Arena, blankety-blanking the home team, there were plenty of easy targets.

Johan Franzen, of course. David Legwand, too, in this one. The “kids” and all their nervous energy. Mike Babcock even offered to take a bullet or two after the game, chiding himself for his team’s sloppy start.

And like always, there was Jimmy Howard as the last, beleaguered line of defense in the postgame postmortem, though it’s a bit harder to pin a 2-1 series deficit on your starting goalie when you’ve scored a total of two goals in three games.

Howard pitched a shutout in the series opener last week in Boston. And at this rate, he might need at least a couple more if Detroit is going to rally and force this one to go the distance.

The Bruins have looked every bit like the Presidents’ Trophy winners the last two games, while the Red Wings, who’ve held the lead for all of 3 minutes 1 second this series, have looked suspiciously like a team that just squeaked into the tournament.

The Red Wings put four shots on goal in the first period of Game 3. They didn’t register a scoring chance until the second period.

And by then, they were staring at a 2-0 deficit that was both daunting — “It’s always tough to get out of a 2-0 hole like that,” Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser said — and largely their own fault.

Just as it was two days earlier when they handed the Bruins a couple of first-period freebies, energizing a tough, veteran bunch that can be downright stifling with a lead.

Howard looked shaky on a couple of the four Bruins goals in Game 2, most notably the first, when he fluttered a pass to defenseman Brendan Smith that Justin Florek promptly buried in the back of his net.

Slow start a killer

Tuesday, it was a similarly awkward start, as the Red Wings were all sorts of out-of-sorts to begin the game.

“We were off-kilter from the get-go,” Babcock said. “We were fumbling the puck around.”

And bumbling their line changes. Legwand was slow getting off the ice on his second shift of the game, leading to a bench minor for too many men on the ice. And on the ensuing power play, a retreating Darren Helm let Boston’s Dougie Hamilton walk it in on the right side and then fire a slap shot that fooled Howard badly, for some reason.

Asked later if the shot had possibly ramped off the outstretched stick of defenseman Kyle Quincey, Howard shook his head.

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re gonna have to take a look at it on the video.”

But he sounded like he knew the answer already, adding with a sigh, “You know, it’s probably one I should’ve had.”

His coach seemed to agree — “That goal can’t go in,” he said — though he was more upset about the penalty and the ensuing roll-over on the kill.

“Any way you look at it, we gave ’em two goals,” Babcock said.

The other was an embarrassment, as the Red Wings butchered a line change — Kronwall, playing the postgame captain’s role, tried to shoulder the blame for it — and left Howard on the hook again.

Jordan Caron stuffed in the rebound at 15:48 after Shawn Thornton drove the net on the rush, and Babcock over on the bench had a look on his face that spoke volumes.

Kept at arm's length

Howard, who went on to stop 31 of 33 shots Tuesday, actually seemed to settle in before most of his teammates did. And after the Red Wings finally started to apply some sustained pressure late in the second period, he made a terrific stop on Brad Marchand’s wrist shot in the final minute to keep his team within reach.

But these Bruins are good at keeping opponents at arm’s length. (Zdeno Chara reminded Smith of that over the weekend, you’ll recall.)

And especially with a lead, controlling the middle of the ice and counting on Tuukka Rask to snare whatever gets through to the net.

“When Tuukka sees it, he’ll stop it,” Howard said Tuesday night.

And therein lies the problem: If they don’t stop beating themselves, there’s no way they’re beating the Bruins.

“They’re a veteran team,” Howard said. “They know what they’re doing.”

At the moment, they’re the only ones.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/John_Niyo

Jordan Caron puts a shot in the net past Wings goalie Jimmy Howard for the second score of the game for Boston. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News