Krupa: Right mindset is key for Wings in Game 7

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Keep an eye on the Lightning.

If "The Triplets" — Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat — coast through the neutral zone and make the Red Wings defensemen turn so the numbers are visible on their backs, it is big trouble for the team in white and red.

Keep an eye on the Wings.

If they are firmly deployed in front of Petr Mrazek and mucking up the territory between the blue lines, they will have seized a critical advantage.

And if they get their offense going from that defensive platform, and if Mrazek has a good game, they are likely to play the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

For the Lightning, it is a matter of the zigzag strikes that propelled it as the most proficient offense in the regular season.

"We were moving, and we executed," coach Jon Cooper said after Game 6, when his team took advantage of several Red Wings lapses in different areas of the ice.

"Pucks were going tape to tape, and we put them in areas where we could get them," Cooper said, of an attack made all the more fluid by the inability of the Wings to obstruct it. "That's when we're at our best."

And, so they were.

The Red Wings path to victory starts with stopping that.


Because the Lightning is explosive offensively, and the Wings, with their roster in transition and free agents not exactly flocking to them in recent summers, are not.

Stopping errors

"Anyway you look at it, they can play like that," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after Game 6. "And we can't play like that and win — just because they're that skilled and they can score like that.

"You know, we have to get our mind right, again, and get ready for Game 7."

When their mind is right, the mistakes stop.

When their mind is right, they skate with such intent that the forechecking, backchecking and defensive deployment are matters of course. And the course leads to their offense.

This Red Wings team can play like that. But they are consummately inconsistent.

They played mostly like that in Games 3, 4 and 5 and from October through late January.

In Games 1, 2 and 6 and the month of March, they got away from it.

Can they do it again?

It will be harder, but not impossible, with Niklas Kronwall suspended.

One thing in their favor? It is a road game, and one that will be played in a generally unoppressive environment.

Road games can provide focus as the players strive to "keep it simple."

And the Amalie Arena — despite the repressive, undemocratic instincts that fostered the ban on anyone other than Floridians purchasing tickets with credit cards — is not exactly like playing in front of a house full of Canadiens or Bruins fans.

So, look at the Red Wings. Are they making it easy on themselves?

Are they assertive defensively, beginning with getting on the Lightning defensemen handling the puck in their own zone?

Are the Wings changing lines without complication?

Are they staying at full strength and out of the box by not taking those penalties caused incidentally by their defensive laxity?

Watch the Wings. Are they more dogged than anxious?

'That quiet calm'

Normally, Babcock and their leadership trio, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Kronwall, gets them there.

But in an elimination game in the playoffs, getting too far ahead of oneself, let alone nervousness, can spoil the outcome.

And they can look at the fellows in the other dressing room for a recent lesson on a victor's state of mind, when staring at the end of a seven-month effort dead in the eye.

The Lightning faced elimination Monday. Afterward, Cooper talked about his team's mentality.

"Urgency. I don't know if that's the right word," he said. "There was a calm about us. We were determined. Our structure was phenomenal tonight. I don't know if we've played as good a road game all year, as we did tonight.

"And to do it under the kind of pressure, the scrutiny you are under? Can you throw the word urgency in there? I suppose. But there is that quiet calm, and it was fun to be a part of. It was fun to watch that."

When players talk about "just going out and having fun," that is what they mean.

Performing with such ease, and in the moment, that enjoyment begins to replace thoughts of making the effort, let alone the stakes.

If the Red Wings have that sort of fun, beginning with their defense, they can win Game 7, even against a better team.