DETROIT - The first octopi hit the Joe Louis Arena ice before the national anthem reached the final chorus.
The arena rocked with the usual electric atmosphere and the Red Wings came out with the energy that has defined their 23 consecutive post-season appearances. Though not for long.
These are not, after all, the playoff-savvy Hockeytowners we have seen for much of the past two decades-plus. Not yet, anyway.
“I thought we looked like kids tonight for sure,” multiple-Stanley-Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock said following the 3-0 thumping the Boston Bruins laid on his team on Tuesday night. “No question about it.”
Boys against men, it was.
Once among the most feared buildings in the league, the Joe may have lost some of its mojo. And if that is indeed the case, the Bruins seem ready and willing to hasten its demise.
There could well be plenty of hockey yet to be played in this series — although without a quick maturing and manning up by the Wings, you have to doubt it. After the dominating performance on Tuesday, a game that was never truly in doubt, it is clear there is a class difference between the No. 1 seed and No. 8.
With the victory, the Bruins regained a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal and the Wings now facing a desperate Game 4 here on Thursday night.
In the latest win, the depth of the Bruins took over with a bang, as Babcock was unable to answer his Boston counterpart, Claude Julien, even with the benefit of last change.
And while not exactly intimidated, the youthful Wings aren’t built to match the grown men that wear Bruins uniforms and most nights play like it.
“That’s how we get success, when we are first on pucks and we are disturbing their breakouts,” Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron said. “When we make it difficult on them, it’s easier for us to play our game.”
The latest result can’t come as a complete surprise, of course, the 1-0 Detroit win in the series opener notwithstanding. The Wings were a work in progress for much of the year, compiling a modest 18-13-10 record at the Joe.
Boston, meanwhile, were the best team in the league and a pounding 23-12-6 on the road. They were in control in a 4-1 win on Sunday and once again in Game 3 as they added their own speed to match what had been Detroit’s biggest strength.
“You know, we can talk about being a physical team, but you can’t be physical if you can’t skate and you can’t get there,” Julien said. “So I liked our effort tonight.”
So through three games, the Red Wings have managed just two goals while the Bruins big producers have yet to step up. Not that they’ve been needed.
On Tuesday, Dougie Hamilton was allowed to cruise in unchecked to score a power-play goal nine minutes in, the first post-season marker of his career. With the Wings caught in an awful line change less than seven minutes later, Jordan Caron added his first playoff goal and the Joe may as well have been condemned at that point.
“Any way you look at it, we gave them two goals,” Babcock said.
And any way you look at it, the Wings are in trouble, especially if and when the Bruins big guns start filling the net.
At the midway point on Tuesday, the Bruins had a 20-6 edge in shots on goal and it was tough to tell whether the Wings players or their anxious crowd had checked out first.
Through so much of the game, the Bruins owned the Wings in puck possession. On the rare times when they gave it up, the frustrated home team couldn’t do much with it anyway. By the third period, the Wings looked out of synch and without an answer to the more seasoned opponent.
It didn’t hurt that Tuukka Rask was far sharper in the Bruins net than Jimmy Howard — who should have had the first goal and let an easy rebound on the second — to earn the shutout. But this wasn’t about a goaltender stealing a win.
All the back-and-forth chatter between Games 2 and 3 about Boston brawn vs. Detroit speed — the edge has emerged.
“We’re big, we’re physical and that’s the way we built our team,” Julien said. “We shouldn’t have to apologize for it because the Bruins fans and the city of Boston love us for that.”
No apologies from the Bruins, no answer from the Red Wings.
RED WINGS LOOK LIKE DEAD THINGS
Mike Babcock isn’t used to talking about Dead Things.
But after a frustrating 3-0 loss to the Bruins on Tuesday night, the Red Wings coach couldn’t find much cause for optimism.
“To me, I don’t think there’s ever anything wrong with losing when you maximize your group and it did everything it could,” Babcock said of his youthful, listless team. “That’s what’s disappointing for me. We’ve been a way better team than that and that’s unacceptable.”
From a shoddy Jimmy Howard in the net, to a poor power play, to precious few scoring opportunities, the Wings were never able to put to use a home-ice advantage that could have fired them up.
“We need more from everybody,” Babcock said. “I thought we played a good Game 1. They’ve responded since that time, but we’ve had no pushback. I was disappointed.
“We followed the puck around. I didn’t think we got going at all until maybe 32 minutes into the game. I don’t know why we were rattled or nervous or excited. I’m a veteran coach who has been around a long time — maybe I should have known ... I had no idea we would start like we did tonight.”