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Mrazek has another one of his bounce-back games to give Wings 2-1 lead in series

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings have seen this out of Petr Mrazek before.

After a not-so-stellar performance one game, the rookie netminder bounces right back with a beyond-stellar outing his very next outing.

He did it again Tuesday night.

Mrazek stopped all 22 shots he faced to blank the Tampa Bay Lightning, 3-0, and give the Wings the best-of-seven-series lead back at 2-1.

“He has lots of confidence,” Tomas Tatar said. “When the game didn’t go his way there was nothing he could do. He’s a good goalie. I feel like those goals they scored in Tampa weren’t his fault at all. We didn’t help him much. When we help Petr, Petr is helping us out too.”

Mrazek was pulled in Game 2 after two periods, allowing four goals on 18 shots.

This came after he stole Game 1 in Tampa, stopping 44 of the 46 shots he faced.

“What I tried to say so I can clear that up, if you think you can have a bounce-back game, that means that you had a bad game, right? You’re not playing in the NHL if you keep having bad games, that’s all I’m trying to say,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You’ve got to play good every night, that’s the National Hockey (League), that’s how you get to be a starting goalie in the National Hockey League. We expect him to play good every night.”

Mrazek is now 4-0-1 with a 1.38 goals-against average with a .962 save percentage in the five games after he was relieved in a start.

“It’s over right now,” Mrazek said. “Don’t worry about the one we won today. Of course it helps you when you win first game home and you’re up 2-1 in the series.”

Mrazek also shut out the Lightning in the last regular season meeting between the teams. Tampa Bay was the highest scoring team in the league.

“I think Petr played pretty good in Game 2,” Landon Ferraro said. “He made a lot of saves, but
we kind of left him out to dry. A couple of them he had no chance on.”

Mrazek, who led the Mrazek helped lead the Grand Rapids Griffins to the Calder Cup in 2013.

“This is the Petr I’m used to watching,” Ferraro said. “We had our (Calder) Cup run a couple of years ago and that’s what he did for us every night. We’d give up a chance or two a game against good guys and he’d make sure he stands tall and made those saves for us. Then we’d take over and that’s all you need out of your goalie, making sure he can make up for a couple of mistakes throughout the night.”

Jimmy Howard had lost the starting job to Mrazek after back-to-back poor outings, but then regained it after the 23-year-old couldn’t provide any consistency between the pipes.

Then, Howard gave up three soft goals in an overtime loss to Montreal in the second to last regular season game.
Mrazek got the job back after making 33 saves to post a 2-0 shutout in the regular season finale over Carolina.

In Mrazek’s last six wins of the regular season he had a .982 save percentage (stopping 172 of 175 shots), a 0.50 goal against average and three shutouts.

It’s the first shutout by a Wings goalie since Howard blanked the Phoenix Coyotes, 3-0, on April 20, 2010.

He’s also just the 19th Wings goalie all-time to record a postseason shutout.

Normally very talkative Smith very tight lipped about his status for Game 3 despite Babcock announcing he was on a local radio station

DETROIT >> Brendan Smith isn’t usually one to shy away from speaking his mind in the Wings’ locker room.

But that wasn’t the issue Monday afternoon.

After Wings coach Mike Babcock announced Monday morning on a local radio show that Smith would return to the lineup Tuesday, Smith was asked how he felt about getting back in.

Here’s how the exchange went.

Q: What’s it been like being out?

Smith: What’s it been like?

Q: Disappointing to be scratched?

Smith: Absolutely. Just be ready when called upon.

Q: What have you noticed watching the first two games of the series?

Smith: I think coach came up with a game plan and we’re going to try and stick with that. I think that’s the plan.

Q: Were you told this morning you were going in?

Smith: Nope. Like you guys are the ones telling me so I don’t know.

Q: Babcock mentioned that on the radio.

Smith: OK. Like I said I haven’t been told so I don’t know. I’m just going to be ready when they call me.

Q: What do you need to do to keep in lineup, no turnovers, playing with the puck more?

Smith: Our team likes playing with the puck. That’s kind of our emphasis. We don’t want to turn it over.

Smith: Anybody else?

Q: Been tough to watch games?

Smith: Everybody’s trying to get in. Anyone that’s a Black Ace is trying to get in, whoever’s a Black Ace is trying to play. I think that’s a big thing. All I do is listen to our systems and when I get the call I’ll be able to get in there and play as hard as I can.

Q: You haven’t heard until now, surprised?

Smith: I’m just going to wait until I actually find out. When I find out for sure I’m in the lineup and I’m out there then I’ll be happy and play as hard as I can.

Q: After giving up a lot of shots in Game 1 the team did a better job against that in Game 2, notice why?

Smith: I didn’t play. I think in any game we’re focusing on boxing out and playing hard in front of the net. If you want to ask those questions it would more evident with some of the guys that played the games. I thought there were sometimes when we lacked coverage, but so did their team. That’s just how the game goes, but like I said you should go ask some of the other guys. But what I saw we played well in different areas.

Q: How do you deal with being a healthy scratch?

Smith: Stay positive, that’s the biggest thing and just keep working hard. If you guys saw any of the practices I was working hard and bag skating myself or getting Tony (Granato) to help me out working on things. That was kind of the biggest thing.

Q: Excited to get in?

Smith: Like I said I’m not sure I am, people telling me that I am, but I’ve had that happen before. If I have the chance to play I’ll be happy and I’ll just answer the bell because that’s what I do.

Smith has been a healthy scratch since he gloved the puck intentionally while on the bench against Montreal in the second to last regular season game.

“Smitty can really skate and competes,” said Babcock, who didn’t want to get into the reasoning behind Smith being a healthy scratch. “I don’t think we’re skating good enough and I don’t think we’re competing hard enough. So there are two things.”

Smith will be paired with Marek Zidlicky.

“Yeah for sure,” Justin Abdelkader said when asked if Smith was bothered by sitting out. “I mean this time of year everyone wants to be in the lineup and everyone in here is competitive and fighting for not only a spot in the lineup but ice time.

“You could tell it was getting at him, but he stayed positive and worked hard,” Abdelkader continued. “He’s going to be ready. He’s going to provide some physicality for us. He’s a big defenseman who takes the body, makes it hard for opponents to get to the front of the net. I think he’ll be a big boost, he’s going to come out ready to go.”

Abdelkader, Smith in Game 3; Babcock: “We have a lot more to give.”

DETROIT >> Quick update from Wings practice Monday at Joe Louis Arena.

There will be two changes made to the Wings’ lineup for Game 3, Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Justin Abdelkader and Brendan Smith will both make their series debuts.

“I just felt (Ryan) Callahan, (Alex) Killorn and (Steven) Stamkos to me got a free ride in their building just for the fact that (Tyler) Johnson was playing against Pav or we had Glennie against them and they were trying hard to keep Glennie away from guys so Stamkos played against Sheahan and to me that didn’t work out very good for us,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It was too much free ice.”

Abdelkader, who injured his right hand when he blocked the shot of Minnesota’s Marco Scandella on April 4, will skate with Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist.

“I think my game’s really suited for the playoffs and hopefully I can help the team out,” Abdelkader said. “Be physical, be on the forecheck, be around the net and just watching the last two games it’s been tough. I’m itching to get out there and I’m excited.”

Abdelkader had a career-high 23 goals and 44 points this season.

“Putting Z back in the middle and giving him a winger, a guy that can skate and work for them helps,” Babcock said. “Abby’s a big body. He’s an everydayer. He competes hard like (Darren) Helm.

“The think I would say when you evaluate our team, we have a lot more to give,” Babcock continued. “We’re two games in and we’re 1-1, we have a lot more to give. We need everyone on deck. We can’t be one on or one off. We need everyone onboard. Abby’s a competitor. He’s a guy that’s good at the net. He plays hard. He competes hard. I’m sure he’ll be ready to go.”

Pavel Datsyuk will center Helm and Tomas Tatar.

As for Smith, who has been a healthy scratch ever since he gloved the puck intentionally from the bench against Montreal, he gives the team more speed.

“Smitty can really skate and competes,” said Babcock, who didn’t want to get into the reasoning behind Smith being a healthy scratch. “I don’t think we’re skating good enough and I don’t think we’re competing hard enough. So there are two things.”

Alexey Marchenko, Stephen Weiss, Teemu Pulkkinen and Daniel Cleary will be healthy scratches.

Playoff prediction: Wings get past first round; Chicago tops Montreal for Cup

DETROIT >> Breakdown and predictions of the first round of the NHL playoffs.

Eastern Conference
Tampa Bay vs. Detroit
The Wings stumbled their way into the playoffs, going 8-10-3 down the stretch. They also lost the season series with Tampa Bay, 1-2-1, but did blank the highest-scoring offense (3.16 goals per game average) in the last meeting. Both teams are starting goalies who have no playoff experience. If the Wings can win on the road, they’ll get a team that’s struggled away from home in the Lightning (18-16-7).
Pick: Detroit in seven.

Montreal vs. Ottawa
Ottawa put together quite a run to reach the playoffs due in large part to goalie Andrew Hammond, who went 20-1-2 since taking over as the starter, and Mark Stone, who had seven goals over the last six games. The Senators have also won the past three meetings with Montreal by a combined score of 13-5. Montreal’s Carey Price led the NHL in wins (44), goals-against average (1.96) and save percentage (.933), but has struggled against Ottawa in two games.
Pick: Montreal in six.

New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh
This could be a quick series given the direction these teams are going. The Rangers won the Presidents’ Trophy with 113 points and outscored Pittsburgh 16-7 in going 3-0-1 in the season series. The Penguins went 4-9-2 in their last 15 games.
Pick: New York Rangers in five.

Washington vs. New York Islanders
This series features two of the league’s top point producers – the Islanders’ John Tavares (86) and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (81). Ovechkin led the league with 53 goals. The Capitals have ridden Braden Holtby all season, as he appeared in 73 of the 82 regular season games.
Pick: Washington in five.

Western Conference
St. Louis vs. Minnesota
The Blues won the Central Division and have to face the hottest team in the league since Jan. 15. The Wild are 28-9-3 since Devan Dubnyk took over in goal. St. Louis has had little success in the playoffs the last two seasons, winning the first two games in each series before dropping the next four.
Pick: Minnesota in seven.

Nashville vs. Chicago
Both teams did a remarkable job staying in playoff contention despite losing key members for a good length of time. Chicago’s Patrick Kane missed the final 21 games of the season with a broken clavicle, while Nashville’s Pekka Rinne missed close to a month with a sprained knee. Kane has been cleared to return.
Pick: Chicago in six.

Anaheim vs. Winnipeg
This series will come down to goaltending like most do in the playoffs and both teams don’t have a clear-cut No. 1. Over the last 18 games, the Ducks have split starts pretty evenly between Frederik Andersen (10) and John Gibson (eight). The Jets’ Michael Hutchinson replaced Ondrej Pavelec, who then replaced Hutchinson the last month of the season. Pavelec didn’t allow a goal in three starts last week.
Pick: Anaheim in seven.

Vancouver vs. Calgary
An interesting stat from this series: The past three times these teams have met in the playoffs the winner has gone on to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Vancouver hasn’t won a playoff round since 2011, while Calgary, which hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2009, last won a round in 2004.
Pick: Calgary in seven.

Playoff picks
First Round
Eastern Conference
Detroit over Tampa Bay, 7 games
Montreal over Ottawa, 6 games
New York Rangers over Pittsburgh, 5 games
Washington over New York Islanders, 5 games

Western Conference
Minnesota over St. Louis, 7 games
Chicago over Nashville, 6 games
Anaheim over Winnipeg, 7 games
Calgary over Vancouver, 7 games

Semifinals
Eastern Conference
Montreal over Detroit, 6 games
New York Rangers over Washington, 6 games

Western Conference
Chicago over Minnesota, 6 games
Anaheim over Calgary, 5 games

Finals
Eastern Conference
Montreal over New York Rangers, 6 games

Western Conference
Chicago over Anaheim, 7 games

Stanley Cup
Chicago over Montreal, 6 games

Howard says Babcock ‘hasn’t talked to me at all’ since making the decision to start Mrazek

DETROIT >> To say there might be some tension between goalie Jimmy Howard and coach Mike Babcock could be an understatement.

Howard spoke for the first time since learning Petr Mrazek was tabbed as the starting goalie for Game 1 of the Wings’ opening round series against the Tampa Bay Lighting on Thursday.

“It’s his decision,” Howard said after practice Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena. “He’s the coach. He makes the decisions around here.”

Howard said he learned of the decision from goalie coach Jim Bedard.

“He hasn’t talked to me at all,” Howard said. “I was told by my goalie coach.

“That’s up to him,” Howard added when asked if he’s disappointed he hasn’t spoken with Babcock regarding the situation. “He’s probably got a lot on his plate right now. For me it’s just about focusing and just being ready if called upon.”

That seems to be the norm with Babcock since Mrazek said he learned from Bedard he would be the starter in the playoffs.

Mrazek, who led the Grand Rapids Griffins to the Calder Cup in 2013, made 33 saves to post a 2-0 shutout in the regular season finale over Carolina.

In Mrazek’s last six wins he has a .982 save percentage (stopping 172 of 175 shots), a 0.50 goal against average and three shutouts.

Howard, who gave up three soft goals in an overtime loss to Montreal last Thursday, had lost the starting job to Mrazek after back-to-back poor outings.

Howard allowed five goals on 22 shots in a 5-4 overtime loss to the lowly Arizona Coyotes on March 24 and then was yanked after allowing three goals on 10 shots in one period the very next game against the San Jose Sharks.

“Just continue to work and if my number is called upon be there to respond for the guys,” Howard said. “It’s going to motivate anyone. Obviously, you want to be out there competing with the guys but it’s his decision.”

Howard’s advice to Mrazek was simple, “Just play. Obviously the intensity is going to pick up and everything like that. It’s an exciting time of year. Just go out there and play. He’ll be fine.

“Petr’s going to be fine,” Howard continued. “Petr’s going to play great for us. There’s definitely no concern there.”

Howard has four years left on a deal that has a salary-cap hit of just under $5.3 million a season.

When asked about his future with the team Howard said, “I’m not thinking about that right now.”

Abdelkader says he’s not ruling about playing Game 1; Marchenko, Ferraro in

DETROIT >> Justin Abdelkader appears to be getting closer to returning to the lineup from a hand injury, but it seems highly unlikely he’ll be ready for Game 1 Thursday night at Tampa Bay.

“I’m not into too much odds, we’ll see, day-by-day right now, I’m hoping to,” Abdelkader said. “I think I’ve progressed. I feel better. I’m not going to rule out Thursday.

“It’s been pretty good, but with any kind of injury it’s not going to go from one to 10 right away,” Abdelkader continued. “There’s numbers in between. It feels better so we’ll see how it progresses. We have three more days which is nice since we don’t start till Thursday.”

Wings coach Mike Babcock did say Alexey Marchenko and Landon Ferraro will be in the lineup for Game 1.

Babcock gives starting job to Mrazek, feels he gives them best chance in the playoffs

DETROIT >> Petr Mrazek may have played his way into being the Wings’ starting goalie in the playoffs.

Wings coach Mike Babcock said he made his decision on who would lead the team in the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning after Saturday night.

That night Mrazek blanked Carolina in the regular-season finale, making 33 saves for his third shutout of the season.

“I just watch the guys play and I just thought that gives us the best way to start the series,” Babcock said. “Don’t confuse the player and the person. What I do is try and take all the emotion out of it and I try to take the information I have by watching games and by talking to our staff and then I make the decision that’s best for the team.”

When Mrazek is on he’s on.

In his last six wins he has a .982 save percentage (stopping 172 of 175 shots), a 0.50 goal against average and three shutouts.

“I’m excited,” Mrazek said. “It’s their decision and I can be just happy for that and do my best.

“It’s a huge chance,” Mrazek continued. “It’s the same chance I had when I was 20 years old in Grand Rapids, my first year being starter for playoffs so that’s a new challenge for me.”

Mrazek led the Griffins to the Calder Cup that season.

“When I said before the game in Carolina, that was a big game for me because I had three games I didn’t have a win, I had just one point against Ottawa so that game was huge and finished the season with the win,” Mrazek said.

Mrazek also blanked the Lightning, who are the highest-scoring team in the league, in the last meeting of the regular season against the teams, making 23 saves.

“It’s not about any of us right now, it’s about the Detroit Red Wings,” Babcock said. “It’s real simple. I went through that again this morning, it doesn’t matter if you play one shift or 50 shifts or you’re scratched or not, it’s how you handle it and how you make the team better. The individual time of the year is all over. It’s all about the team, let’s get ready to play.”

Howard, who gave up three soft goals in an overtime loss to Montreal last Thursday, had lost the starting job to Mrazek after back-to-back poor outings.

Howard allowed five goals on 22 shots in a 5-4 overtime loss to the lowly Arizona Coyotes on March 24 and then was yanked after allowing three goals on 10 shots in one period the very next game against the San Jose Sharks.

“When you evaluate goalies you evaluate them on who they are and their skill sets are different,” Babcock said. “Then you just decide on which one can help the team and help you win.”

Mrazek had his ups and downs when he took over as the number one.

After shutting the Lighting, he was replaced by Howard his next start against the New York Islanders, allowing four goals on 11 shots.

Prior to Saturday, he had allowed just six goals over this last three starts, but has gone just 0-2-1 in them.

“It’s a team sport and if the team plays real good it gives your goaltender a better chance,” Babcock continued. “Pete’s played real good games for us this year and has done a fair bit of winning for us. I made that decision.”