April 25, 2014 at 9:36 am

Bob Wojnowski

End appears near for reeling Red Wings

Henrik Zetterberg discusses loss and his return
Henrik Zetterberg discusses loss and his return: Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg discusses his team's 3-2 loss to the Bruins and his return from back surgery.

Detroit — On a night of notable returns, the Red Wings were poised to enjoy them, right up until the Bruins crushed them. Familiar menaces also returned, and dropped the Wings into a hole they appear incapable of escaping.

The Bruins shook off a deficit, brushed aside the Wings’ early desperation and swiped a 3-2 victory on Jarome Iginla’s overtime goal Thursday night. It was especially stinging for the Wings, who welcomed back captain Henrik Zetterberg and built a 2-0 lead. Now they stare at a 3-1 deficit as the series spins back to Boston.

This was almost cruel in its reversal, as the Wings raced out early and the Joe Louis Arena crowd was basking. But as we know, the Wings are never far from their next defensive miscue, and the Bruins are never shy to capitalize. The winning goal at 13:32 of overtime caromed off defenseman Danny DeKeyser and into the net, one final nasty twist.

You could see this coming, and you can see the end coming too. The Bruins gradually took over, outshot the Wings 12-3 in overtime and reestablished solid control. Boston’s strong forwards against Detroit’s choppy defense was the final mismatch, and could end up being the postscript to the series.

“We had a real good push at the start, and as the game went on, we had more holes in us defensively,” Mike Babcock said. “We were dangerous early. As the game went on, I didn’t think we were as dangerous anymore.”

The crowd’s favorite villain, Milan Lucic, tied the game early in the third period as he planted sturdily in front of the net, shook off Gustav Nyquist and slammed the puck past goalie Jonas Gustavsson. That was a double kick to the Gus’ guts, and from there, the Wings were mostly trying to hang on, hoping for a break. Early in overtime, Justin Abdelkader had a breakaway and was stuffed by Tuukka Rask, and that was about it.

Task gets tougher

Game 5 is Saturday in Boston, and Babcock actually might have a tough decision to make. Gustavsson played well after learning during warmups that Jimmy Howard was out with the flu. It might not matter at this stage, but Babcock at least will consider sticking with Gustavsson, who faced 40 shots in his first NHL playoff start.

That’s three straight victories for the Bruins, and unless something dramatic happens, it’s not hard to identify the superior team.

“Give them credit, they’re a really, really good team,” Niklas Kronwall said. “At the same time, we didn’t really take care of business. We gotta keep it a little bit more simple in some areas, make sure that the puck goes out every time.”

The Wings seemed to be crafting a remarkable tale, before the Bruins crumpled it and tossed it aside. From births to rebirths, the Wings were prepared to announce their return, with all the requisite drama. In the past two days, Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk welcomed babies into the world, then tried to help birth an actual playoff series, each scoring a goal.

The Wings looked completely different at the start, whether inspired by the return of Zetterberg, motivated by the scent of danger, or simply eager to celebrate new life. The twists kept coming, and there couldn’t be any more drama than the return of Zetterberg and his tumbleweed beard, right? Ha. How about the goalie switch moments before the game, with Gustavsson thrust into a tough spot? How about Babcock’s lineup juggling, giving big Todd Bertuzzi another chance?

And how about Kronwall, whose girlfriend gave birth to a boy earlier in the day, and he marked the occasion by blasting a slapshot for the first goal. It came a mere four seconds into a power play, and naturally the faceoff was won by Datsyuk and the hulking screen in front was set by Bertuzzi.

That’s what the Wings needed — an early lead, a heavier down-low presence and someone to snap an 0-for-9 power-play drought. They’d been so thoroughly foiled by Rask, they could’ve called him Tuukka Rats. The Wings were more active, dominating the first period and holding a 15-5 edge in shots. In Game 3, they were booed off the home ice. In this one, the crowd was livelier than ever, and for a while, there was plenty to cheer.

Need a little help

Datsyuk looked rejuvenated, and why not? The day before, his wife gave birth to a daughter, and Zetterberg was back after an eight-week absence. Early in the second period, Kronwall grabbed the puck behind the net and flipped it in front to Datsyuk, who easily beat Rask. That made it 2-0 and guaranteed nothing, except for the standard furious finish.

The Bruins methodically imposed their will, as they generally do, even after the Wings came out far more determined. The Wings unleashed all zzzz’s the other night in the Bruins’ 3-0 victory, but this time they brought out the bigger Z’s — Zetterberg shaking off rust and Bertuzzi shaking off dust.

Zetterberg hadn’t played in an NHL game since Feb. 8 because of his back injury. Bertuzzi hadn’t played in the series and had played only twice since late March because of age and ineffectiveness.

The Wings were desperate for help, from the old to the young. They were trying to patch things together against the NHL’s top team, but then familiar leaks sprung. Torey Krug scored on a power-play slapper to make it 2-1, and the push was on.

Naturally, it twisted back around to the original villain, and when Lucic scored to make it 2-2, it was tilting dangerously. Once it starts tilting, the Wings have struggled to recover, and it’ll take more than warm notable returns to recover from this.

bob.wojnowkski@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/bobwojnowski

Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson skates off as the Bruins celebrate Jarome Iginla's winning goal in overtime Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News
More Bob Wojnowski