ROMULUS – There’s nothing like the NHL playoffs to make a team grow up quickly.
And Thursday night the Detroit Red Wings as a whole did just that.
After relinquishing a three-goal lead in a 10-minute span in the third period, Detroit regained its composure and scored in overtime to return home with a split after the first two games of its best-of-seven series with Anaheim.
“People don’t understand how many kids we got,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s totally different with kids than it is with veterans. Settling them down is a new thing. I thought we got a real good life lesson (in Game 2) and just gotta keep your foot on the gas and keep going after it and we’ll be better.”
Unlike having a veteran squad to take into the postseason, the Wings started the series with five players making their playoff debuts against the Ducks.
Gone are Nicklaus Lidstrom and Brad Stuart along the blue line, replaced by three defensemen – Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith and Danny DeKeyser – making their playoff debuts in the series.
New up front are Damien Brunner and Joakim Andersson.
“It’s a learning experience for us,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “We’ve got a young group in here. Sometimes that happens, but hopefully we can learn from that and press forward. It was good coming in here and getting a split.
“I think it is,” Abdelkader added when asked if it was weird to hear of the Wings having a young locker room. “It’s different and I think in the cap system that’s how it is now. You have to draft and develop and bring your guys through the system. It’s not like you can go out and sign all of the veteran free agents, or all-star free agents. I think it’s good for the game too because there’s parody one through eight. Anyone can win on any given night.”
In Thursday’s 5-4 overtime win, Brunner scored his first playoff career goal and Gustav Nyquist, who was playing in just this sixth career playoff game, netted the game winner just a minute and 21 seconds into overtime.
The goal was Nyquist’s first in the playoffs.
“Our leaders stepped up and told us what to do,” Nyquist said of what went on in the locker room before overtime. “We knew we were playing good before they came back on us. That’s what we said: ‘We had to get back to playing.’ We kind of stopped there for a while and that obviously cost us. That’s what we did and fortunately we got the win.”
And those kind of reactions is something Babcock has seen throughout the lockout shortened season.
“We’ve got a bunch of kids that looked like that a little bit,” Babcock said. “We got puckered up and didn’t play very good.
“We were at times as frazzled as we’ve been in a long time,” Babcock added. “Guys want to win bad and got standing around watching instead of playing. It’s a good life lesson for our crew. We have lots of kids on our team. They’re not like veterans. It takes time for them to figure it all out. They’re figuring it out and this will be a good thing.”
The Wings completely let off the gas after Johan Franzen gave them a 4-1 lead just 20 seconds into the third period.
Then came goals from Ryan Getzlaf, Kyle Palmieri and then the equalizer from Bobby Ryan with 2:22 left in regulation.
Babcock and his coaches talked about calling a timeout and decided against it.
“We were scared to death the timeout was going to make us more nervous,” Babcock said. “It’s hard to settle your team down with kids on the road in the playoffs in a building that’s going to be louder when you call a timeout. You’re just putting more gas on the fire.”
The gamble worked and he got them regrouped in the locker room.
“I think we’ve been in this situation enough down the stretch,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “We did a great job down the stretch, in the third when we had the lead, of keeping our foot on the gas but for some reason (Anaheim) got it going in the third period and they’re a dangerous team.”