April 24, 2014 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

As task gets tougher against Bruins, Red Wings seek the poise to bounce back

Detroit Its a mounting chore now. Before the Red Wings can convince anyone theyre good enough to beat the Bruins, they have to convince themselves all over again, while staring at a fresh pile of evidence to the contrary.

The challenge is daunting, which is usually the type of challenge Mike Babcock enjoys. Theres a fine line between hope and false hope, and the Wings are straddling it right now. After a quick start, theyve been outscored 7-1 the past two games. If this series is to become a battle instead of a belting, well know tonight, when the Wings face the Bruins at Joe Louis Arena.

And no, its not wise to count on some magical fix. Captain Henrik Zetterberg skated hard during a regular practice for the first time in eight weeks Wednesday, and sounded as hopeful as hes been since undergoing back surgery. Sporting the bushiest beard in recent playoff history, Zetterberg cracked a smile, which cracked open some hope, which was not his intention.

We want to rush it, but we want to do it at a safe pace, he said. Once I feel good enough and healed enough to get cleared (by doctors), thats probably when Im gonna play. Its not only in my corner. I have to still go through a few steps before we start that conversation.

Babcock wasnt interested in starting the conversation either, and I understand why. Before the team can think about bringing Zetterberg back, it has to prove its worth the risk.

Would even a rusty Zetterberg make a difference? Possibly, but Id bet thats still several days away. In the meantime, Babcocks task is simple, although not really. Hell remind his players how theyve beaten Boston in the past, how they pulled out the opener, 1-0, and why they arent done unless they think theyre done.

(The Bruins) are really good players, but we got some good players, too, Babcock said. What I ask of everyone on our team is, Is there anything theyre doing that makes you compromise your game? If there is, do something about it. This thing about us standing around on the outside (away from Tuukka Rask), you aint scoring like that.

After the 3-0 loss in Game 3, which dropped the Wings into a 2-1 series hole, Babcock looked bewildered. He had no inkling such an awful effort was coming, which suggests hes not sure what to expect tonight.

The young players looked anxious and jumpy at the start of Game 3, and some of that is expected, if not excused. This part is inexcusable: The Wings experienced players have done little to compensate. Pavel Datsyuk is playing injured and still has his scintillating moments, no complaints there.

Veteran time is now

But Johan Franzen supposedly is here for these moments, and has one point. David Legwand and Daniel Alfredsson (if he can stay healthy) were brought here for these moments, and have zero. Jimmy Howard and Niklas Kronwall are steady veterans who havent yet raised their games.

The Bruins posted the best record in the NHL for a reason, and play methodically disciplined defense. But before anyone crowns em, the Wings at least should challenge them.

Weve been behind so fast the last two games, you dont even get to test Boston, Babcock said. You gotta get on the inside to find out if Rask is doing anything. We all know hes a world-class goalie. He looks great in warm-ups thats where hes getting his most shots.

Ouch, but fairly accurate. The Wings have two goals in three games, their lowest-scoring start to a postseason since 1945. Its not like Rask is robbing them, either. The Wings are giving up the puck and giving up space, drifting to the outside instead of patrolling the front of the net.

Thats where Franzen needs to be, especially now. He scored 25 goals in the 2008 and 2009 postseasons, but has just seven in his last 30 playoff games. Asked how Franzen could be more productive, Babcock gave a four-word answer: Get on the inside.

More pep in the step

The Bruins are inside the tough areas and inside the Wings heads. With all their agitators, from Milan Lucic to Brad Marchand to the towering Zdeno Chara, theyre a difficult team to knock off its game. The Wings won three of four in the regular season and swiped Game 1, so they shouldnt be devoid of hope, should they?

We know we can play with this team, Gustav Nyquist said. I dont think we feel like the media does, saying theyre the big bad Bruins. We just gotta play a little faster.

Its less about pep talks and more about pep in the step. Babcock is a masterful motivator, and he has a big task here. It would be more manageable if he had his captain on the ice, but from a unique vantage point, Zetterberg sees the same thing the coach sees.

We just gotta be smart, Zetterberg said. You cant give them anything because they dont give you anything. If its a really boring game, thats a good game. You just gotta be patient.

Wise words from an impatient observer. Zetterberg is pushing to get back and Babcock is pushing to get his teams poise back, but few teams push back harder than the Bruins. The Wings may be discouraged by it, but as part of the growth process, they also should be enlightened by it.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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At least at practice, Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi appears unperturbed by the position his team is in ahead of tonight's game. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News