Wings coach needs to pull more magic out of the hat

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:29 PM ET

 Were he to don a top hat and tails, Dave Lewis could be mistaken for a magician.

  Tall, dark, mustached, the slim Detroit Red Wings coach with the penetrating dark eyes not only looks the part, he has begun to act it, too.

 Lewis certainly pulled one out of the hat with his approach to the critical

 Game 5 against the Nashville Predators in their Thursday playoff game. Now, he has to reach for another today as the Wings seek to eliminate the relentless Predators on their own ice.

 After scoring a single goal in two losses at Nashville, the Wings came at the Predators from a different angle. Make that angles.

 Mixing his lines freely and even switching positions on the fly, Lewis sent an alert and energized aggregation against a speedy opponent that occasionally became baffled by the alignments it couldn't readily match lines against.

 The 4-1 margin was a big win for the Wings, the biggest for their coach.

 Consider this: After a long career as a journeyman defenceman with one coaching master, Al Arbour, then more as an assistant to another, Scotty Bowman, Lewis got his first head coaching assignment last year. It came against the recommendation of his predecessor, the legendary Bowman.

 Wham, the Red Wings were eliminated from the first round in four straight games. Comparisons to Bowman were predictable. The tiny knives were out.

 This season brought an incredible run of injuries. Compounding that was a goaltending soap opera unlike any in NHL history.

 First, the retired Dominik Hasek came back, putting Curtis Joseph, who'd been acquired from the Maple Leafs as No. 1 'keeper, on the trading block. No takers emerged and Joseph remained -- only to be injured and replaced by backup Manny Legace.

 Despite all this, the Wings finished atop the league. The doubters relented a bit when the Wings opened the series with two home wins but two losses, including an untidy 3-0 shutout in Game 4 at Nashville, opened the debate on Lewis once more.

 It has been noted Detroit player salaries total $78 million. Nashville's is less than a third of that. Moreover, it has not escaped the attention of some that Joel Quenneville is available.

 Time for some magic.

 Lewis's time with Bowman and New York Islanders' four-straight Stanley Cup winner Arbour was not wasted. Goalless in previous opening periods, the Wings pumped in three first-period goals Thursday en route to their 4-1

 victory.

 Running a bench on which players were clarifying their roles as their shifts came up would be perilous on most teams. But as Brendan Shanahan said, after splitting his duties between left wing and right wing, there's not much in hockey the veteran Wings haven't seen before.

 Mind you, they had an edge they won't enjoy today. As visitors, the Wings won't get final line change in Nashville.

 Having spent 16 years as a Detroit assistant, Lewis's resilience is not surprising. He knew there'd be the inevitable comparisons to Bowman. He knew, with three Stanley Cups in the past seven seasons, Detroit fans have developed lofty expectations.

 More than anything, he knew that coaching a roster jammed with future Hall of Famers can be more difficult than coaching a team from the middle of the pack.

 That's where the magic comes in. Once the playoffs start, a highly committed gang of speedsters such as the Predators, particularly with sound goaltending, can beat anybody.

 So it falls to Lewis to unveil a new trick. He has to come up with something to make the Predators vanish.


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