DENVER – The fiery rivalry has fizzled.
Usually a hotly contested, physical tussle, the Colorado-Detroit series hasn’t lived up to its past.
Then again, the Red Wings have thoroughly dominated the series, leading 3-0 heading into Game 4 on Thursday night at the Pepsi Center. None of the five previous playoff series between the two rivals has ended in a sweep.
This could be the first. So, what gives?
“It feels like the series is a lot closer than us being up 3-0,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “They’re coming at us pretty hard.”
But not like the old days when fights were waiting to erupt in every corner, and teeth-rattling checks were the norm.
Claude Lemieux once rammed Kris Draper into the boards from behind in the ’96 conference finals, causing Draper to suffer a fractured jaw, nose and cheekbone.
Yet the last three games have seemed almost like both teams are trying to be on their best behaviour.
In a way, they are.
“When the rivalry first started, the rules were different,” Draper explained. “Watch back in those series, a lot of stuff was let go. That’s how the NHL was.
“There are some big hits (now), but the stuff after the whistle can’t really happen because you’re going to end up in the penalty box,” Draper said. “We want to be a tough team to play against, finish our checks, but we don’t want to get into any scrums, and get any unnecessary penalties. You have to be smarter.”
The Avalanche haven’t been playing with a full ensemble, and the hits just keep on coming. Colorado coach Joel Quenneville said Wednesday that leading scorer Paul Stastny is probably out for the rest of the series with a knee injury, and that Ryan Smyth is doubtful for Thursday night due to a foot ailment.
Peter Forsberg also was checked out by the medical staff Wednesday. He’s missed two of the three games with a groin injury, and wasn’t his usual dominant self in Game 3.
“Hopefully, everything will be all right for him,” Quenneville said.
Although the Avalanche are bruised and battered, the Red Wings still expect their best shot. After all, pride is a powerful motivator.
“We’re happy with the situation that we’re in, but they have a lot of fight and a lot of pride,” Draper said. “We know they’re going to keep coming at us.”
When asked what it would take for Colorado to get back into the series, Joe Sakic simply answered, “A win.”
As the team captain, Sakic doesn’t feel the need to say much to rally the crew. He’d just be stating the obvious.
“Everyone knows that we are facing elimination,” Sakic said. “You have to try to find a way to win the hockey game and try to get some momentum on your side.”
That’s what has the Wings worried. That’s why they want to close it out now.
“You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you think it’s going to be over, because it’s not,” Lidstrom said. “We’ve only won three so far.”
The Red Wings were a loose bunch Wednesday after practice, weighing in on Tomas Holmstrom’s new nicknames for the dynamic scoring duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk – “Pasha and Sasha.”
“I don’t know if it’s a good nickname or not,” laughed Zetterberg, who’s Sasha to Datsyuk’s Pasha.
“That’s cute, for sure,” said Draper, who had previously nicknamed them the “Euro Twins.”
Zetterberg and Datsyuk were tough to stop Tuesday night, combining for three goals and two assists in Detroit’s 4-3 win.
“They’re elite players and they’re driven,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
Johan Franzen has been playing well, too, scoring six goals against the Avalanche.
“It’s fun to score, but the whole team is playing great,” Franzen said. “It just happens to be that I get a lot of chances.”
So far, the rivalry has seen very little chippiness. Sure, Cody McLeod taunted the Red Wings with an octopus that was heaved onto the ice before Game 2, then tossed it toward the Avalanche’s dressing room. And Forsberg inadvertently knocked Mikael Samuelsson in the mouth with his stick, causing him to lose a tooth. But that’s been about the extent of the rough stuff.
Then again, it’s simply part of Detroit’s plan to play more composed hockey.
“There’s too much on the line right now to be taking stupid penalties,” Draper said. “That’s the biggest reason why.”