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Babcock goes back to Tuesday’s line combinations as he prepares for anything in series with Bruins

DETROIT >> On Thursday, Wings coach Mike Babcock went back to the forward line combinations he used Tuesday at practice.

Those lines were Pavel Datsyuk centering Johan Franzen and Justin Abdelkader, while Tomas Jurco was on a line centered by Darren Helm along with Daniel Alfredsson. Gustav Nyquist was back with the Kid Line of Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar.

“In my mind we have three ways we can go,” Babcock said after practice Thursday at Joe Louis Arena. “I tried to go through those so you’re always prepared. You’re trying to see in advance for adjustments so we’re trying to do that. We think in their building (Patrice) Bergeron is probably going to play against Pav and probably (Zdeno) Chara as well.

On Wednesday, Nyquist was with Datsyuk and Abdelkader and Jurco was with Sheahan and Tatar. Franzen, Helm and Alfredsson made up the other line.

“So we can load up that line or have different kind of lines,” Babcock said. “We want to have a plan for adjustment if it’s not going the way you want.”

The fourth line of Luke Glendening centering David Legwand and Drew Miller remained the same.

Wings’ motto: ‘They can’t hit what they can’t catch’

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings’ motto heading into their first round series with the Boston Bruins seems to be, ‘They can’t hit what they can’t catch.’

“They are a hard, big and strong team,” Tomas Tatar said. “If you want to avoid a hit you have to be fast and move the puck fast, skate a lot, just try to beat the D by your speed.

“We have lots of fast guys,” Tatar continued. “That’s why I think the Bruins have a problem with us. We just have to use it against them. It’s going to be a hard matchup, but that’s what we’ve got to do.”

“We’re a pretty speedy team and that’s been in our game plan to use our speed,” Gustav Nyquist said. “Of course that’s something we’re going to try to use. They can skate as well. They’re probably a little bit bigger as a team than us, so we’ll try to skate as much as possible.”

“Their physical-ness from top to bottom,” Jimmy Howard said when asked what he feared the most from the Bruins. “Seems like every single guy is over 6-foot, 200 pounds and can skate. They’re physical. We’re going to have to cut guys off and not allow them to get on top of our defensemen.”

“We need to use our speed to slow them down, stay above their players, cut guys off, don’t give them anything easy,” Darren Helm said. “Get a good forecheck going and run their D. It’s going to be important. The more time we spend in their zone the better. It’s going to be a tough series.”

As big and burly as the Bruins seem to be, they only ranked 13th at the end of the regular season in hits with 2,008.

“No,” Johan Franzen said when asked if he was worried about the physical style Boston plays. “We’ve been talking about that for the last nine years that I’ve played here in the playoffs, how tough all of the other teams are but that’s usually not a problem for us.”

“I don’t think it worries us at all,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We’ve played big teams in the past. I don’t think that’s been a factor when we played those teams. We have to utilize our speed and try and play as physical as we can and be heavy on the puck.”

The Wings finished 13 spots below in hits, totaling 1,621.

“You only have speed if you execute. If you don’t execute you have no speed,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Their focus will be to take our speed away by getting on the forecheck and making sure we don’t execute. Our focus will be first-time execution so we can have speed so we can play in their zone.

“They’re a big team and they want to be as physical and heavy as much as they can be,” Babcock added. “When you’re a quick team you want to get on them.”

The influx of young skaters due to injuries has helped the Wings’ speed game and they’ll need all of it going against a big, deep and skilled group of Bruin forwards, six of which had 51 points or more this season.

The Bruins rank third in the NHL in goals per game (3.15), while Detroit was 16th (2.65).

Boston’s blue line is just as intimidating led by 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara.

“I think we’re actually a harder team than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” Babcock said. “I think we have the ability to play heavy. We have some smaller type players that have the ability to be physical. What sets them aside from anyone else is (Milan) Lucic and Chara. They have them, we don’t, but we have a lot of big bodies as well.”

If the Wings are able to get through all that they have a world class goalie to contend with in Tuukka Rask, who’s almost assured of earning a Vezina Trophy nomination.

The Wings did win the season series 3-1 with Boston, outscoring the Bruins, who have appeared in the Stanley Cup final two of the last three seasons, 13-9 in the process.

“It doesn’t mean much now, but we know that we can play with them,” Franzen said. “They also have a strong playoff history here lately. They’ve been going far for many years now so they know how to win in the playoffs, but so do we. It’s going to be a tough matchup and there are going to be some good games.”

“We’ve shown that we can handle the physicality,” Nyquist said. “They’re a good team and it’s going to be a challenge for us. They play physical but we’ve shown we can handle that in the past. That’s obviously something that we’re going to have to be ready for.”

This is the first meeting in the playoffs between this Original Six teams since 1957. The Bruins have won four of the series.

Zetterberg takes part in 30 minutes of practice; Babcock again reiterates how good having three days of practice was for this team

DETROIT >> Quick update from Wings practice prior to departing for Boston to open the series with the Bruins on Friday.

Henrik Zetterberg skated with the team for roughly 30 minutes and took part in a number of the drills.

“I think today is just one of the steps that I have to take,” Zetterberg said. “I have to start skating with the team a little bit. I didn’t do that much but hopefully I can do more tomorrow.

“It felt good,” Zetterberg added. “It’s fun to be out there with the boys again and like I said I didn’t do that much today but the stuff I did felt good and I’m looking forward to next time.”

Zetterberg underwent successful surgery on Feb. 21 in New York to remove part of a disc which was rubbing against a nerve, which caused severe back pain.

“I think you just have to take it step by step,” Zetterberg said. “I got the medical team looking after me too and they will pull me out when they think it’s time but I think today I was probably out there for 30 minutes and tomorrow I have morning skate and hopefully I can get out there a little bit more and still feel good.”

Zetterberg has been sidelined since the Winter Olympics after playing just one game with Sweden.

He hasn’t ruled out possibly returning in the first round of the playoffs, but it’s more likely he’ll be back if the Wings advance to the next round.

“I think that time-wise we were shooting for round two if everything goes well,” Zetterberg said. “We’re taking it step by step here and day by day and increase intensity every day and hopefully in a couple days maybe I can do some more battling drills.”

Despite playing in just 45 of the Wings’ 82 games this season, Zetterberg finished tied for third on the team in points with 48 and led the team with a plus-19.

“I saw him at Nick Lidstrom’s retirement March 6 and he couldn’t walk,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He hobbled his way out onto the ice. Now he’s out there skating. That’s a long way in a short period of time. Anyone that’s been injured and off a good chunk of time when they arrive back they see how fast everything is. It’s hard. That’s the tough thing about injuries, even when you get the guys back they’re not themselves. They wear the same number, but they don’t do what they did because it’s just too hard.”

Zetterberg, 33, missed 11 games in December with a slightly herniated disc. He also missed two games in January due to it.

Zetterberg began having issues with his back in 2008, which made him miss the All-Star break.
In 2007, he injured his vertebra and missed several weeks.

Jonathan Ericsson skated on his own for about 25 minutes.

He’s been out since having successful surgery to stabilize his fractured finger and repair a partially torn tendon on March 19.

Babcock again reiterated how good having three days of practice was for this team.

“We needed to get some guys healthy,” Babcock said. “We’ve had seven D all year, but then most of the year someone has been hurt so we’ve been wearing on six D in practice and in games instead of having eight. That was good to freshen up that group. We had some that were bumped and bruised.

“The lower seed, the more detailed orientated they can be to close the gap is good as well,” Babcock continued. “We know Boston now, but you can throw that stuff out too because once the puck is dropped it’s whoever wants it the most in the end is going to win. That’s how it happens. A least we’re prepared.”

Babcock juggles up his top three lines two days into preparing for series opener with Boston

DETROIT >> Just two days into Detroit’s preparation for its opening round series with the Boston Bruins, Wings coach Mike Babcock has already changed up his forward line combinations.

On Tuesday, Pavel Datsyuk centered Johan Franzen and Justin Abdelkader, while Tomas Jurco was on a line centered by Darren Helm along with Daniel Alfredsson.

On Wednesday, Nyquist was with Datsyuk and Abdelkader and Jurco was reunited with the Kid Line along with Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar.

“I think it’s helped even more that we’ve adjusted so well and we’ve done it together and we’ve relied on each other,” Sheahan said of the lines with his former Grand Rapids Griffins. “Obviously Tats and Nyqi and sometimes Tats and Jurcs, we have some good chemistry but I think it’s just working hard and that’s the biggest thing.”

Franzen, Helm and Alfredsson made up another line.

“There are a lot of things we’ve got to do,” Helm said. “They’re a really good team and we’ve got to be on top of our game, doing everything we can as well as we can. If we do that, then we’ve got a chance to be successful. If not, if we’re not driving to the net, forechecking hard, being in position, then it might be a short series.”

The fourth line of Luke Glendening centering David Legwand and Drew Miller remained the same.

Ericsson back on skates Thursday; hasn’t ruled out return in first round if series goes long

DETROIT >> Jonathan Ericsson will skate on his own Thursday for the first time since having successful surgery to stabilize his fractured finger and repair a partially torn tendon on March 19.

“We’ll see how that goes,” Ericsson said. “It’s been almost four weeks now.”

He still won’t be able to handle the puck due to the splint on his left hand.

“I think it’s too early to tell,” Ericsson said when asked if he could return sometime in the first round of the playoffs. “The round could go on for about two weeks. It’s not going to be at the beginning of this round I know that. I’ve got three more pins in there that need to be taken out. I think it’s next week, end of next week. After that I think they will know more what the timeframe it.”

Ericsson had one of the pins removed last Friday and will have the other three taken out in 10-14 days.

“The tendon is taking more time than the bones to heal,” Ericsson said. “It’s looking pretty good from what the doctors are saying. We’ll see how it looks when they take the pins out.

“It was a shot that hit me and it must have hit me badly,” Ericsson said. “The doctor had to go in there and puzzle everything back together. They did a really good job. It looks nice right now. It was a bad break, bad breaks.”

Wings focus on special teams in second full practice before playoffs begin

DETROIT >> Quick update from the Wings second day of practice as they prepare for their opening round series with the Boston Bruins, which begins Friday.

The team worked a lot of special teams.

“We knew coming in we were going to grind (Tuesday), do a lot of heavy lifting, then specialty teams today, and we’ll have a little more tempo and special teams (Thursday). But obviously we were given a good opportunity to prepare and we want to be as prepared as we can.”

The Wings originally thought the series with Boston was going to open Thursday.

The Bruins ended the regular season with the third best power play in the league, scoring 21.7 percent of the time.

“Well size, their ability to retrieve pucks,” Babcock said when asked why Boston’s power play is so effective. “Everybody in the National Hockey League, off a faceoff, off a puck put on the wall, off a shot, tries to put as much pressure as they can on you. So the bigger you are, the more you can handle the tight quarters to get the puck out and get the team backed off again. They do that well.”

That will test the Wings’ 12th ranked penalty kill.

“They have a big guy at the net, they can shoot the puck up top and they have good skill, and they have two different looks,” Babcock said. “They have a spread power play in the one group and an overload with (Patrice) Bergeron high in the other so they make it hard for good depth obviously. They score goals so that’s what’s going to make them hard.

“I’m a big believer in our penalty kill, (assistant coach) Bill Peters has done a phenomenal job with our penalty kill all year long and that and the goaltending, we have to shut their power play down,” Babcock continued. “They can’t run, go crazy on the power play for us to have success.”

Everyone that skated Tuesday took part in the skate Wednesday.

Quote of the day II … Wings coach Mike Babcock

DETROIT >> Wings coach Mike Babcock when asked what facets of the game this feels his team is better in than the Boston.

“I think we’re complete,” Babcock said. “I think we’re way better than people think. I think we’re a hard out.”

Quote of the day … Wings coach Mike Babcock

DETROIT >> Wings coach Mike Babcock on what the advantages and disadvantages were to starting the series on Friday after last playing on Sunday.

“I don’t know what the disadvantage could be for our team,” Babcock said. “We needed the time, we need to freshen up some people. We had ground hard to get in. When they were in here they gave guys days off and we couldn’t give anybody days off and the other thing about it is when you’re the lower seed, the more detailed you can be, the better off you can be. And so preparation time has been great for us. Ideally it will be an equalizer and give us an opportunity to really compete.”

NHL Playoff Predictions … Los Angeles will win the Cup in six games over Boston

DETROIT – Breakdown and predictions for the NHL playoffs, which begins Wednesday.

First Round
Eastern Conference
(1) Boston Bruins vs. (WC2) Detroit Red Wings
The Wings were the only team this season to beat the Presidents’ Trophy winning Bruins three times; unfortunately none of those wins carry over to the postseason.
“The reality is you have to play well,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “If you look at it in their shoes they’ve got to believe they’re in the driver’s seat. We believe we’re going to be a tough out so something’s got to give.”
Boston is as physical a team as you’ll find in the NHL that has a solid four lines, great goaltending and a strong defensive core.
“I think we’re actually a harder team than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” Babcock said. “I think we have the ability to play heavy. We have some smaller type players that have the ability to be physical. What sets them aside from anyone else is (Milan) Lucic and (Zdeno) Chara. They have them, we don’t. We have a lot of big bodies as well.”
Pick: Bruins in 6.

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3) Montreal Canadiens
All four meetings this season between the teams have been very close, three of which were decided after regulation and another didn’t become a two-goal advantage for the Lightning, who won three of the four games, until an empty net goal in the final minute. This series will come down to goaltending and the Canadiens have a decisive edge with Carey Price. But Lightning rookie sensations, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, could help steal a game or two.
Pick: Canadiens in 5.

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (WC1) Columbus Blue Jackets
If Marc-Andre Fleury can shake off his past two postseasons – 4.11 goals-against average and a .857 save percentage in 11 appearances – the Penguins should advance with ease. Pittsburgh won all five meetings with the team, outscoring Columbus 16-7. The Blue Jackets’ only hope is a strong performance from their netminder, Sergei Bobrovsky, who played in just one game against Pittsburgh this season.
Pick: Penguins in 6.

(2) New York Rangers vs. (3) Philadelphia Flyers
It’s all about home-ice advantage in this series and the Rangers have it, winning eight straight at Madison Square Garden over the Flyers. Claude Giroux has really come on strong for Philadelphia ending the season third in the league scoring race after not notching his first goal until 15 games in.
Pick: Rangers in 5.

Western Conference
(1) Colorado vs. (WC1) Minnesota
Patrick Roy’s Avalanche have been quite the story all season long and should breeze into the next round in large part because of the edge in goal with Semyon Varlamov. The Wild’s Ilya Bryzgalov played well down the stretch, but has had his meltdowns in the postseason.
Pick: Avalanche in 5.

(2) St. Louis vs. (3) Chicago
This series had all the makings for a classic. It can still if the Blues, who lost six straight to end the season, get a few of their injured forwards back sometime in the series. The Blackhawks expect to have two of their key injured players back – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Pick: Blackhawks in 4.

(1) Anaheim vs. (WC2) Dallas
The Ducks’ season ended in the first round a year ago and it could end the same way this year against the offensive-minded Stars. Anaheim has a lot of questions in goal, while Dallas, which has won two of the three meetings this season, has a 33-win Kari Lehtonen between the pipes.
Pick: Stars in 7.

(2) San Jose vs. (3) Los Angeles
Easily could be the best series in the opening round. The teams played a classic series last year with the Kings prevailing in seven games, with five of the games being decided by one goal. Look for more of that this time around.
Pick: Kings in 7.

Second Round
Eastern Conference
Boston over Montreal in 7 games
Pittsburgh over New York Rangers in 7 games

Western Conference
Colorado over Chicago in 6 games
Los Angeles over Dallas in 5 games

Eastern Conference Finals
Boston over Pittsburgh in 5 games

Western Conference Finals
Los Angeles over Colorado in 7 games

Stanley Cup Final
Los Angeles over Boston in 6 games

Griffins boss honored

DETROIT >> Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill was given the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award, which is handed out to the American Hockey League’s outstanding coach each season.

“He’s been amazing,” said defenseman Ryan Sproul, who played his first game with the Wings on Sunday. “I came out of juniors pretty much pure offense and now I’ve turned into more of an all-around player, I feel like. And he’s told me that before, so that’s good to hear and I appreciate everything that he has done.”

Blashill was a Wings assistant for one season before taking over the Griffins job last year, leading them to winning the Calder Cup.

With the amount of injuries in Detroit, Blashill lost a number of his offensive threats including Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan.