PITTSBURGH – Mike Babcock tried to bite his lip.
The Detroit Red Wings coach has had no cause for complaint so far in this Stanley Cup but that changed on Tuesday when he was asked about the two goaltender interference penalties his team was given in overtime during Game 5.
His first instinct was to give a vague answer, but that eventually gave way to his true feelings on the matter.
“I’ll jump on the soap box,” said Babcock. “We talk about scoring more goals in the National Hockey League. We want more goals. No they don’t – don’t tell me that. I’ve never seen anything like that in my whole life.”
Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Cleary each bumped Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury while driving to the net with the puck but neither player went out of his way to do so. With the NHL’s championship series on the line, the calls were marginal at best.
The Penguins didn’t score on either of those advantages – they got the winner with Jiri Hudler correctly in the penalty box for high-sticking – but that didn’t make things any better for Babcock.
He had remained quiet during the series while Penguins coach Michel Therrien complained often about obstruction infractions that weren’t being called. After speaking out, Babcock did not plan to have a further discussion with the league about officiating before Game 6 on Wednesday night.
“Just had it,” said Babcock. “I’m going to try what the other guy (Therrien) has been trying all series.”
The NHL surely didn’t like that he aired those thoughts. The Detroit players were quick to back up their coach.
Goalie Chris Osgood even said he doesn’t mind a little contact and noted that it’s usually permitted during the regular season. He couldn’t believe it was penalized in overtime during the Stanley Cup final.
“I don’t think it’s a penalty, especially at that particular time of the game,” said Osgood. “It seems to me like there’s such a grey area for that rule right now that it needs to be addressed.”
It’s understandable why the Red Wings might have been feeling a little ornery after arriving to a rain storm in Pittsburgh. No team in the history of the NHL has been as close to capturing the Stanley Cup before failing to close it out.
There was just 34.4 seconds to play when Penguins forward Maxime Talbot tied the game. Phil Pritchard had already shined the Stanley Cup in the bowels of Joe Louis Arena and stadium attendants were wheeling champagne towards the Red Wings dressing room.
That celebration was quickly put on hold.
“When you’re in the middle of everything, you don’t think about (how close you were to winning),” said captain Nicklas Lidstrom. “You’re so focused of getting the game over.
“And I think it’s afterwards when you realize we did have a great chance to win last night.”
As the team’s charter flew them back to Pennsylvania on Tuesday, the Red Wings players took solace in the fact that they still hold a 3-2 lead in the final.
On top of that, all three of their previous series have ended in opposing arenas and they plan to make it 4-for-4 with Wednesday’s game at Mellon Arena.
“We’re a confident team,” said veteran forward Kris Draper. “We’re a confident group. We feel that we can come into another team’s building and be successful.
“I think that’s a great, great characteristic to have. So here we go again.”
No one is thinking about the alternative.
A loss on Wednesday would set up a nervy Game 7 back in Detroit on Saturday night. The Red Wings feel they have been the best team in this series and won’t alter their plan.
“I’m a real big believer that if you do good things, good things happen,” said Babcock. “Just keep doing them.
“When I go through our game last night, I didn’t like our start, but I liked a lot of parts about it. I liked our opportunity. Let’s do it again. Let’s do it a little better.”