TAYLOR, Mich. – The Detroit Red Wings did something for the first time during their streak of playing in 19 straight postseasons.
On a travel day before an afternoon game at home, the Red Wings got off a plane and practised.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock made the unusual move because a week ago he chose to give his players rest after flying home from Phoenix. A lacklustre effort the next day led to a Game 3 loss to the Coyotes.
“We didn’t win, so we’re doing something different,” Babcock said Saturday. “There isn’t one player on this team that wanted to put their equipment on, I can guarantee you that. I didn’t want to be here, either.
“The bottom line is, we’ve got to make sure our legs are ready to go. The last time we came back for an early game, we didn’t play very well.”
The Coyotes, meanwhile, opted to have off-ice workouts in the Motor City instead of skating on the travel day as they did a week ago.
“We thought that was our best approach,” Coyotes associate coach Ulf Samuelsson said.
Detroit will host Phoenix in Game 6 of the first-round series Sunday with a chance to advance. The Red Wings grabbed the series lead with third-period goals and Jimmy Howard’s goaltending. They outscored the Coyotes by a combined 7-1 in the back-to-back wins.
“Very important how we handle this and respond,” Babcock said on Saturday night in Arizona. “You don’t want to give them any life whatsoever. They’ve got a good team and good goaltending. We’d hate to tempt fate and have to come back here and win three games on the road.”
The two-time Western Conference champions have won nine playoff series, including the 2008 Stanley Cup finals, during the last three postseasons under Babcock.
Phoenix is 0-5 in the first round of the playoffs. The franchise hasn’t advanced since 1987, when it was the Winnipeg Jets.
Coyotes forward Vernon Fiddler said the Red Wings are taking advantage of the breaks they’re getting, such as scoring off his skate in Game 5.
“They’re the best team in the league for a reason,” Fiddler said. “They get a lot of respect from a lot of people, and the refs are especially one of them. We got to work for everything we get, and we’ve done it all year. No one has thrown us a bone all year and we don’t expect it now.”
The Coyotes have been without captain Shane Doan since his right shoulder took the brunt of a collision with the end boards in Game 3. Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said the team will wait until Sunday afternoon to decide if he will play in Game 6.
“It’s one thing when he has the desire to go, but he’s got to be functional to go,” Tippett said. “You can’t put a player in that can’t compete in the game, especially the way he plays. We’ll continue to monitor that. He gets better every day.”
Phoenix’s power play has gotten worse since scoring a third man-advantage goal in Game 1, going 0-for-19.
“Their penalty killing has been tremendous,” Samuelsson said. “They’re putting pressure on us, and Howard has made some big saves.”
Howard stopped 30 shots Friday night and none seemed more important than the solid and spectacular saves he made against Martin Hanzal to keep it 1-all about five minutes into the third period.
“That’s one you can look back and say, that’s a turning point in the game,” Babcock said.
Maybe in the series, too.