DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings were tough to beat at home this season, winning an NHL-high 31 games and a league-record 23 in a row.
Their road record was a much different story.
The Red Wings were four games under .500 away from Joe Louis Arena this season. Detroit is the only team in the Western Conference playoffs with a losing record as the visitor, and one of only two in the league to make the post-season.
“Last year, we were the exact opposite—good on the road and not so good at home,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “Maybe we put so much focus on it and got rolling at home that we let ourselves off the hook a little on the road.”
If fifth-seeded Detroit doesn’t figure out a way to win on the road against the fourth-seeded Nashville Predators, its post-season will be short and sour. Nashville will host the first-round series opener on Wednesday night.
“The playoffs are real long for two teams and real quick for the rest,” Babcock said. “If we’re not going to be one of those teams that gets dug in and does it right, it’ll be over in a hurry.”
The Red Wings have struggled away from the Motor City, in large part because their power play ranks 24th in the NHL on the road. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom said the team has to simplify its plan when it has an extra skater.
“We’ve been guilty of passing up too many shots and chances when the best play is taking a shot and being there for the rebound,” Lidstrom said.
Lidstrom said the Red Wings have analyzed every angle of their game on the road to try to make corrections.
“For whatever reasons, we’ve gotten off to better starts at home and are playing with more confidence,” he said. “Now that we’re in the playoffs, road games are going to be so important.”
Nashville also will host Game 2 on Friday night before the series shifts to Detroit for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon.
Predators coach Barry Trotz said he hopes his team takes advantage of having home-ice advantage for the first time in the playoffs against Detroit, which won their previous two post-season series as the higher seed. Trotz, though, doesn’t think Nashville will be able to count on rolling past the Red Wings just because they’ve played poorly on the road.
“That was the regular season,” he said. “This is a different animal.”
The Predators are favoured to advance and Lidstrom, a four-time Stanley Cup champion, insisted he’s not bothered by that.
“Maybe we should be the underdogs,” he said. “We know it’s going to be a tough series. They’re a well-coached team and they play their system real well. It’s hard to get scoring chances on them. We know we have to play well defensively and when we have chances, we have to make the best of them.”
Detroit is counting on getting some help up front, allowing the team to have four effective lines against a team that has stars on the blue line and in net.
Red Wings winger Danny Cleary said he’ll play in Game 1 and centre Darren Helm hopes to return for Game 2. Both have been out with injured left knees, hurting Detroit’s depth.
“We need to get our third and fourth line going,” Babcock said. “That’s why we need Helm back. He seems to be the key to the bottom six.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.