April 14, 2012
Preds-Wings matchup gets physical
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
DETROIT - The score has been settled, the series is tied so what’s next for the matchup many have predicted to be one of the best in the west?
Can the Nashville Predators, the wise-guy pick by many to do damage this spring, get the better of the old guard Red Wings, who equalled things Friday night in Tennessee?
The hockey fan in Detroit coach Mike Babcock figures this one falls in line with the tightness around the league where overtime has been commonplace for the first half week of the season.
“You look around the league I don’t think there’s much to pick between anybody this year so it’s a challenge,” Babcock told reporters here on Saturday following a practice in advance of Game 3 at Joe Louis Arena Sunday afternoon.
“We can be better than we were. I expect a significant step up.”
The Wings exacted their pound of flesh (sort of) with Todd Bertuzzi taking on Shea Weber less than two minutes into Game 2 in a tame bout to avenge the Game 1 head-pounding Weber gave Henrik Zetterberg. Of greater significance, they then went out and won the game to even up the best of seven Western Conference quarterfinal series.
Both teams declared afterwards that the case was closed but we’re guessing a fired-up crowd at the Joe might have something to say about that.
“Sometimes when things don’t get looked after, you have to look after it yourself,” Babcock said with refreshing honesty after the Bertuzzi payback effort Friday night. Give credit to Babcock for saying out loud what almost everyone inside and outside of hockey was thinking: It was a joke that Weber didn’t get suspended for his WWE-style head smashing of Zetterberg.
Predators fans have taken twisted delight in the incident, with the internet exploding with mock “Webering” skits. The Preds get some credit for starting the trend when Andrei Kostitsyn was caught reliving the scene with Weber at practice on Thursday.
Now the ‘net is full of pictures of kids, couples, co-workers, you name it, smashing faces into windows. So no, that storyline isn’t going anywhere and if that’s the case, Preds coach Barry Trotz figures his all-star defenceman may as well embrace it.
“When you’re a great player, which Shea is - I remember Hall of Famers like Chris Chelios coming (to Nashville) and he wasn’t exactly loved here,” Trotz told reporters in Nashville on Saturday. “But at the same time you loved him for the fact that the other team does get bothered by you or your presence.
“You can use that to your advantage all the time. I’m sure he’ll be motivated by anything that happens.”
The Bertuzzi fight may have had another symbolic result, that there is still some fight left in the decorated old men that populate the Detroit roster. The Wings have always prided self on defining their tough approach not through fighting - their 17 scrapping majors were the fewest in the league this year - but through their tough defensive play. And by all accounts, this matchup is thick on those type of battles.
In fact, the Weber show may be slightly overshadowing what has been a defensively dominating series thus far. In their 3-2 win on Friday, the Wings managed just 17 shots on Pekka Rinne, one of the most talked about goaltenders heading into the playoffs.
On the other hand, the vaunted Predators power play, which was tops in the league during the regular-season, has gone 0-for-12 thus far. In fact, the Wings have killed off their last 37 shorthanded situations over nine games.
Sure sounds like playoff hockey, Red Wings style.
“It’s been physical and if we want to have success, that’s what it has to be,” Babcock said. “I don’t think there’s been a whole lot of room either way. There’s not a lot of room for either team and that’s what we expect. We’ll make some adjustments and try to do better.”
The Preds will as well and aren’t expecting an early verdict in this case.
“We didn’t expect it to be a short series,” Trotz said. “We’re going toe-to-toe and we’re okay with that.”