For Red Wings, the hits just keep coming

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
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Detroit — It was noticeable from the get-go in Game 3: The Red Wings were taking the body.

Checking helped slow down a fast Lightning team. It helped establish the forecheck, some stubborn resistance to forays through the neutral zone and greater control over play in the Wings' end.

It was asserted as a response to physical aggression — including the brazen, proscribed harassment of goalie Petr Mrazek, on one play, and the badgering of Pavel Datsyuk on another.

The Red Wings were not much willing to discuss the extent to which it was stressed as part of the plan, before the game.

Mike Babcock indicated it was supposed to be part of the approach in Games 1 and 2.

But it never quite happened, then; nothing like Game 3.

Players who spearheaded the aggression said it should happen more, in every game, regardless of the opponent.

And everyone seems to have long ago made the judgment that the precise number of hits is an eternal mystery in every NHL game, because the folks counting them tend to watch their home team more than the visitors.

Regardless, the Wings clearly were bashing and banging.

In addition to affecting the outcome, perhaps greatly, it was a big hit in the arena and on social media. The fans loved it.

Even Don Cherry, the CBC commentator, who would have you believe the Red Wings have not committed an act of aggression on the ice since Joe Kocur and Bob Probert bid the team adieu, liked what he saw.

Cherry blamed the birthplaces of some of the players for the lack of it, otherwise, of course — in his way of generalizing, and conveniently overlooking the fact that Niklas Kronwall was born in Stockholm.

But he did say, almost gleefully, on "Coach's Corner" Wednesday, "Believe it or not, they had 48 hits! If they keep playing like that…"

The Lightning's Nikita Kurcherov, left, and the Red Wings' Luke Glendening battle after the whistle is blown in the first period of Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena.

Which is, precisely, the stated intent of the Red Wings after the morning skate Thursday.

"You know, the plan's been the same since day one," Babcock said, indicating that while it may have been stressed before Game 3, it was no different from Games 1 and 2, when the Wings clearly hit less, in Tampa.

"Sometimes it doesn't look that way when the game's going on. Sometimes you wonder if you even have a plan, to be honest with you."

But some of the ringleaders for the aggression, Brendan Smith, Kyle Quincey and Justin Abdelkader, said it is bound to continue.

"That's what hockey is, and we've gotten away from it," Quincey said. "So, it's nice to see guys throwing some bodies around.

"I feel our series is the least physical off all the series," he said, chuckling. "So, it's nice to see guys finish some checks."

Quincey said the reason for the comparative lack of body-checking in the series between the Wings and Lightning is due to the personnel on both teams, which are designed to provide quick pace, scoring and skill, far more than brute force.

And that probably explains why, if a team can launch the physicality without losing pace and discounting their skill, it is a potent weapon.

"It's a tactic," said Smith, whose re-entry into the lineup was a boon for his team.

"You want to hit them, and make sure you have the puck. You hit somebody, they're off the puck and you have control of the puck.

"And that's what we want, puck control."

As combative as it is, body-checking also is a delicate art.

"Absolutely, it's the same thing as pinching," Smith said, comparing a defenseman's judgments on the timing of two plays, hits and driving from the blue line deep into the offensive zone.

"You've got to choose the right times to do it, and you don't want to get penalties, as well."

But how many hits, precisely, did the Red Wings deliver? Did they really outhit the Lightning 48-26, in Game 4, or are those precise figures merely indicative of the team's tendencies?

The guys in the know say, do not trust the numbers.

"At home, the people that are watching the game and marking those checkmarks are watching your players, because they're Red Wings fans," Babcock said.

"When we go to Tampa, the people who are putting those little checkmarks on the thing are Tampa fans because they watch Tampa. So, who gets all the hits?"

Asked if he agreed about a home team bias in tallying hits, Quincey did not hesitate in responding, "Oh, 100 percent, 100 percent."

Plus, there is a Joe Louis Arena discount, generally, he said.

"Historically, there's no hits in this barn," he said. "I'd like to meet that guy, counting them."

The reputation of the recordkeeping, especially on hits, is an old NHL story.

The pugnaciousness was something new for the Red Wings, in Game 3.

It certainly seemed like a good tactic.

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