The Detroit Red Wings' plan going into Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final was to let their top line roll.
They just didn't want it to snowball into too many minutes.
That's exactly what happened Wednesday night in the Red Wings' 3-2 loss to the Penguins at Mellon Arena.
"Our plan going into the game was ... to have our shifts at 35 seconds," coach Mike Babcock said yesterday. "You say that, as a coach, you know that means 40. When they end up at 51 seconds and you pile that on over a period of time, 29 or 28 shifts, it ends up to be too many minutes.
"Don't get me wrong. These guys are elite, elite players and they're trying to win. And sometimes in doing that, instead of just doing your part, you're on the ice too much. And we want to play them that many shifts, but we want the tempo coming off our bench to be better. And then you play at a higher level."
Henrik Zetterberg logged 24:40 of ice time, Pavel Datsyuk 22:40. Their linemate, Tomas Holmstrom, made it to 16:50 before he retired to the bench after absorbing a big hit from Penguins defenseman Hal Gill. Babcock, who gave his team the day off with Game 4 tomorrow night, had no update on Holmstrom.
As a comparison, none of the Penguins forwards reached 20 minutes.
"Yeah, the shifts were a little too long," Zetterberg said. "And that's what happens when you want to do too much. And it's easy to stay out a little bit longer. And you get tired.
"You feel it in your legs. But, sometimes, if you've been on there for 30 seconds and you have a chance to go out for another rush, it's tough to go to the bench. Sometimes you want to create some more offense. And sometimes you get caught out there, and you will pay for it in the end."
One difference Detroit defenseman Andreas Lilja noticed in the Penguins was their stickwork. Sticks on wrists, sticks in crooks of arms, sticks all over the Red Wings, so he thought.
"Yeah, you know, they're definitely using their sticks a lot," Lilja said. "That's something we have to live with. They got a few penalties ..."
Zetterberg didn't fully agree, but he didn't fully disagree, either.
"It's tough out there," Zetterberg added. "I don't know if it was any more or any less than it was in Game 2."
Babcock wondered aloud if the Penguins' Michel Therrien overreacted when he shook up his line combinations for Game 2. Therrien restored things for Game 3.
"It was interesting to me that [Wednesday] night their coach went back to the way they were. Why is that?" Babcock said. "Sometimes you get in the way, too, as the coach. I think you have to be real careful of that. We've got to go back to our simple foundation, our blueprint, whatever we call it, the same thing we worked on at training camp, the same thing that's led to success. And I believe under pressure you go back to who you are anyway."
Babcock noted that he resisted such moves when the Red Wings struggled to put away Dallas in the Western Conference final.
"I had a lot of questions in the Dallas series," he said. "We lost two games, and everyone was talking about, you're going to change this, change that. We said, 'No, we're not changing that. This is what we do.'"
There was nothing about Sidney Crosby getting the Penguins' first two goals of Game 3 (and the series) or the fact that he leads his team with 12 shots in the series that surprises the Red Wings.
"We knew he was a good player," defenseman Niklas Lidstrom said. "He's proven that for the short time he's been in the league. ... We have to continue to stay close to him and take his time and space away."
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721.