Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Sheahan and Andersson discuss their 3-0 win over Tampa Bay.


Detroit — It was a big night and happy morning for Riley Sheahan.

He said he was more satisfied with his performance against the Lightning in Game 3. His parents and an aunt were in the boisterous crowd at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, watching his first playoff goal. Other family and friends contacted him with congratulations.

So what is next for Sheahan and the Red Wings?

"We've just got to play the same way," the 23-year-old center said.

"And, probably, we need to regroup and get a little better."

For six weeks, playing the same way after a good performance has been difficult for the Wings.

Improving after a well-played game?

That is an even loftier goal.

During the regular season, preserving and refining satisfactory performances is important. In the playoffs, it is a matter of survival.

Whether the Wings are capable of the task likely will determine their fate.

A 3-1 lead in the series would be monumental. According to Elias Sports Bureau, 90.2 percent of teams with a 3-1 lead have won NHL playoff series.

"What I told our players today is, when you win, the other team digs in," coach Mike Babcock said. "They dig in mentally, they get prepared.

"Well, the idea in a series is to race to four (wins), not to play until seven (games).

"So, our preparation has to be equal to theirs."

But their inconsistency is stubborn. It quite nearly cost the Wings a playoff berth.

And the explanation for it has not come readily. For the leaders, answering questions about it became repetitive weeks ago.

They talk about sticking to the game plan, executing their systems, determination and resilience. But frank acknowledgements like "We've been talking about the same stuff for a while now" became stock.

Up-and-down goaltending did not help. Perhaps Petr Mrazek is in the process of wrestling that concern to the ground.

Scoring depth, the lack of offensive punch from the third and fourth lines, was an issue, even at the highpoint of the team's performance. So, Sheahan and Luke Glendening's goals are encouraging.

Sometimes the Wings have looked tired.

But the fact of the matter is teams that do not execute their systems, on offense or defense, look slower. Lack of pace is too easily confused with fatigue or lack of desire.

Players are adamant neither is a problem.

Maybe it is the personnel.

The rebuild-on-the-fly, the story of the franchise since the departure of key contributors to the Stanley Cup teams is so successful, to date, that sometimes it is easy to forget the process is still underway.

It has not helped that for consecutive offseasons, their targets in free agency have opted for other teams.

But men in the room point to their earlier success this season and assert that they are the same team.

"We had a tough stretch there at the end of the season, but I think the things that we learned early in the year about how we can play and just our consistency can carry us, here," said Glendening, who has two goals in the series.

Their captain, Henrik Zetterberg, urged repeating the good.

"We've got to come out tomorrow like we did (Tuesday)," Zetterberg said. "A lot of energy, good jump from the start, take control of the game, like we did.

"And get the first goal."

For Babcock, many problems are easily remedied with the same medicine: preparation.

His players in the NHL and at the Olympics say the same thing. They feel they take the ice better prepared than their opponents by a coach who sometimes hands them "cheat sheets" just before the contests, with precise details on which individual players must concentrate during that specific game.

And Babcock seems undeterred.

Asked about the prospect of re-establishing consistency, he said, "There's two parts to it. Our part of it is we've got to be prepared and ready to go, and understand how important it is.

"Tampa's going to do their part, too. And so, our game has to be better.

"Each game in the series you have to get better, if you want to have success. That's what our focus is.

"We put ourselves in a good situation. We don't want to give the situation back."

That is a constant. Babcock will prepare them.

And, if Tuesday night was any indication of a trend, their fans will be more enthusiastic than in the past two postseasons in their efforts to lift their team.

But, in a consecutive game, will the Red Wings soar?

If they do, they will be within a win of the four they seek.