PITTSBURGH – Henrik Zetterberg was a little sheepish when asked about some extended shifts he worked in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final.
“Sometimes if you’ve been out there 30 seconds and you have a chance to go for another rush, it’s hard to go to the bench,” the Detroit Red Wings star said Thursday. “Sometimes you want to create some more offence.
“And sometimes, you get caught out there and you pay for it in the end.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock blamed himself for over-using Zetterberg and linemates Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom in a 3-2 loss Wednesday that put the Pittsburgh Penguins back into a series the Red Wings had been dominating.
The Wings lead the best-of-seven final 2-1 and can still dump Pittsburgh into a deep hole with a win in Game 4 on Saturday night at Mellon Arena, but now the young Penguins may be tougher to handle with the jolt of energy and confidence a win at home can bring.
Babcock said after the game his bench was out of synch because his top players spent too much time on the ice, although that was as much the fault of the players as the coach.
Still, it was an extraordinary admission from an NHL coach to pin blame on himself and some in the media were still in mild shock a day later. Few coaches ever take the blame for a loss.
“I’m from Saskatoon – that’s what we do,” said Babcock. “The bottom line is players make mistakes, coaches make mistakes.
“I’m not saying we didn’t have a good plan or weren’t trying to do the right thing. Sometimes when you’re trying to do the right thing, the wrong thing happens. That’s life.”
If it bothered Babcock, he didn’t show it.
The third-year Red Wings coach and his players looked loose despite seeing their three-game playoff win streak end. They felt it was a close game in which Pittsburgh got one extra break on home ice to win. And now the Penguins will have to try to beat the NHL’s first-place overall team again Saturday.
Babcock said his team controlled the opening 15 minutes, when they outshot Pittsburgh 9-1, but then suffered a 20-minute letdown as Pens captain Sidney Crosby put his team in front with its first two goals of the series.
“There’s 20 minutes there – they got 18 of their 24 shots in the game,” said Babcock. “And they win the battle.
“They’re quicker than us. They scored a goal. They hadn’t scored a goal in the series at that point. They got momentum. I thought we could have been better as a team that way and I think a big part of it is that you’ve got to use your people right.”
Crosby’s goals put him into a tie with Zetterberg for the playoff scoring lead, each with 23 points.
Babcock warned this week the Penguins should not be written off just because they lost the opening two games. The gap between the two finalists is not that wide, he said.
But watching the veteran Red Wings play their thorough defence and quick transition game, it is sometimes hard to imagine any team stopping them from winning an 11th Stanley Cup and fourth since 1997.
Some liken coaching the Red Wings to driving a Ferrari in Formula One, knowing you have the best machine on the track.
“It’s interesting you say that now when people don’t pick us to be any good at the start of the year for the last three years,” said a grinning Babcock, whose teams have had three straight 50-win regular seasons. “It’s easy to call us or Pittsburgh a Ferrari now because we’re in the final.
“At the start of the year, there was San Jose and Anaheim and people talked about the (New York) Rangers. So I guess you’ve got to have a good mechanic and just got to keep her going.”
Babcock kept the automotive theme going steady as Michael Schumacher around Circuit Gilles Villenueve.
“I don’t know anything about cars,” he added. “I just know we have a good group.
“Nik Lidstrom, in my opinion, is a great captain. And our people are very, very driven.”
He admits the pundits couldn’t have known that Johan Franzen would come out of the blue to be an elite goal-scorer, now leading the playoffs with 13 goals, or that forwards like Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler would play such important roles.
“Or a guy like (defenceman) Brad Stuart comes here, and who is Nick Kronwall?” he said. “They (the Penguins) have a bunch of guys like that too.
“It may not be the same because they were all top-five draft picks, lots of them, but they’ve still added players that came in and fit a role and played better than people thought they would. That’s why these two teams are here.”
The Red Wings and Penguins both gave their players the day off Thursday. Each team will skate Friday to prepare for Game 4.
A concern for Detroit was Holmstrom, who was dumped heavily on his head in the Pittsburgh crease in the third period. Babcock had no update on his condition, but said Holmstrom “didn’t feel too good” after the game.