DETROIT - Even when the Red Wings stole Game 1 on the road against the Boston Bruins, Detroit defenceman Brian Lashoff and his teammates expected things to get tight and for the series to go long.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," Lashoff said.
It was easy for the Montreal Canadiens, or at least they made it look that way, in sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in the other half of the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division bracket. But while the Habs get to enjoy the rest that comes with a four-game victory, the Bruins and Red Wings are locked in what could be a long one for the chance to play them.
"I think rest is always nice, but I think at the end of the day we've got to take care of our own business and we can't really worry about it," Lashoff said. "I don't think anybody in here's really worried about another series. We got our hands full right now. If it goes the distance, it goes the distance and we're prepared for it."
The Bruins own a 2-1 series lead going into Game 4 Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, and even after beating Detroit 3-0 there's plenty of talk from the defending East champions about this being a tight, back-and-forth affair.
"During the game it's always on, there's no pacing," Boston winger Jarome Iginla said. "You don't think long or short or anything, you're just going as hard as you can, really, each shift. The intensity is up and the games are harder than the regular season, there's no question."
Unlike the regular season, there's a sense of finality in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"You just go out and play every game and give it your all because you never know when it could be your last game or last series or whatever it is," Detroit winger Drew Miller said. "So you've just got to find the strength. It's playoff hockey."
The Red Wings, known more for their finesse game, knew they'd be in for a tough one against the big, bad Bruins, who coach Claude Julien said weren't going to apologize for their physical style of play.
"Any time you got to the playoffs you've got to expect that it's a grind, every game's a battle, especially against this team," Lashoff said. "We started off pretty good and they've responded, and I think we need to respond right now and make this a good series."
The chess match that never really materialized between Montreal and Tampa Bay is ongoing for Boston and Detroit.
The Red Wings have scored two goals through three games, and coach Mike Babcock boiled down his team's adjustments down to getting inside more to generate more scoring chances. That's certainly easier said than done going up against likely Selke Trophy finalist Patrice Bergeron and potential Norris Trophy finalist Zdeno Chara.
But Babcock doesn't see that as an excuse.
"What I asked everyone on our team is, is there anything they're doing that's making you compromise your game? If there is, then do something about it," he said. "Let's get involved in the game."
These two teams are as involved as possible in this series. Game 3 happened at almost the same time Tuesday as the Habs finished off the Lightning at Bell Centre, and it was clear Wednesday that there wasn't much interest in looking ahead to the next round.
"I don't know that we're going to play Montreal because that's the biggest thing you can ever do is expect," Julien said. "We've got a series that we're in right now. The last time I looked I think we were just up by one game, and before we start thinking and talking about that, I think we've got to start doing our jobs here. Our minds are a long way away from that."
With his mind wrapped up in Game 4 preparations, Julien said he thinks the gap between his Bruins and the wild-card Red Wings isn't as big as many see. And it to continue to get smaller as the series wears on.
It could get much smaller if Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg is able to return after missing the past two months with a back injury he aggravated at the Sochi Olympics. Zetterberg practised with the Red Wings on Wednesday, but Babcock explained that he was just filling a spot for Pavel Datsyuk, who was away as his wife gave birth to a baby girl.
Although it seems unlikely that Zetterberg plays Friday in his first NHL game since Feb. 8, the 33-year-old wouldn't rule himself out.
"The good thing is (the decision to play is) not in my corner," Zetterberg said. "I've got to be cleared by the doctor. I've got to do all those exams. I'm just preparing myself to get into better and better shape, try and get as much game like situations as I can in practice."
Along with Datsyuk, Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall (wife giving birth) and winger Daniel Alfredsson (rest for back) did not practise. Alfredsson has been taking time off between games, and Babcock also expects those on fatherhood watch to play because "They're not giving birth ... their wives are."
The Bruins had an optional skate that most players chose not to take part in. Injured forward Daniel Paille (concussion) skated, but Julien downplayed that a bit because he has not been cleared to return.
The lack of Boston players skating was no cause for alarm, but rather a way to maintain some energy during what could turn into a long series.
"These are the days that it's get what you need personally," Iginla said. "Some guys want to go out and skate, some guys stretch or just however you're feeling. So you just kind of monitor that. It's just about loading up for the games and giving everything you have on game day."
Iginla means the next game day, not the possibility of hosting the Habs in Game 1 of the Atlantic Division final.
"I'd imagine most guys' focus and my focus is right now is the Detroit Red Wings," he said. "All that stuff down the road, hopefully we're part of it. But we've got to earn our spot there in the next round and right now we're in a battle."
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