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Monday, May 12, 2008
Wings need to play it smart, avoid getting caught up in shenanigans

By Terry Frei
Special to ESPN.com

DALLAS -- By fining and not suspending Dallas Stars center Mike Ribeiro for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, the NHL probably went along with what the Detroit Red Wings expected … or, more importantly, could live with.

Especially if the trade-off had been accepting a corresponding suspension of goalie Chris Osgood (raising the question, Hey, Dominik, you awake?). The Detroit "victory" on the league-discipline front then would have been hollow and perhaps bordering on Pyrrhic.

Heading into Monday's Game 3 at the American Airlines Center, then, one of the looming tests is whether the Red Wings, who for the most part under Mike Babcock haven't allowed traditional and archaic payback standards to distract them from the task at hand, can maintain that semi-tunnel vision and discipline.

Mike Ribeiro
Ribeiro was not suspended after slashing Wings' goalie Chris Osgood in Game 2.
Odds are, they will maintain that discipline -- as long as Darren McCarty or Kirk Maltby don't get out of control. That discipline can strike some as excessive, but it's only smart, especially as the Wings ride a playoff winning streak that has reached eight games.

"If you feel punching somebody in the head after the whistle is going to help you win, that's what you should do," Babcock, with obvious sarcasm, told reporters in Detroit on Sunday. "But that's not the way we go about our business. We're just about winning."

And another issue is whether the Stars at any point, especially if the game gets out of hand, will shift into some sort of message-sending mode, even if the message is that frustration is continuing to mount.

Odds are, they won't -- as long as Steve Ott, also fined for his punch of Kris Draper late in Game 2, doesn't get out of control. "We've got to go out and win a hockey game and get ourselves back in the series," Stars coach Dave Tippett said Sunday in Dallas. "That's our sole focus today."

Make no mistake: Osgood's sly butt end to Ribeiro's face as Game 2 wound down was out of line.

However, that doesn't come close to rationalizing Ribeiro's reach over the net to deliver a retaliatory two-handed slash to Osgood's chest -- a response that drew Ribeiro a match penalty.

"He gets shots harder than my slash," Ribeiro said in Dallas on Sunday before he received word that he hadn't been suspended. "I think [at] the moment, it looked worse than it really is. If you look at the replay, I don't think a player can get hurt with that."

That's irrelevant.

While it would have taken considerable chutzpah to suspend Ribeiro, and would have triggered the "Well, then, what about Osgood?" challenges, that's what the NHL should have done.

Instead, the league settled for -- or more accurately settled on  meting out the undisclosed fines to Ribeiro, Ott and Osgood.

McCarty, of course, has a track record of taking on the avenger's role, but the most notorious example of that was a long 11 years ago. And this isn't a repetition of Draper's face being rearranged in an impact with the boards following the hit from behind by Claude Lemieux -- and Lemieux not being, at least in the Wings' view, sufficiently remorseful in the aftermath.

In Detroit on Sunday, before the Red Wings traveled to Dallas, here's how McCarty responded to reporters when asked his feelings about Ribeiro's swing: "Gutless. Chicken. That's not part of the game. To swing your stick like a baseball bat -- not only at somebody, but at our goalie -- is definitely not acceptable. That's not what this game is about."

So all of that is part of the backdrop as the Stars, who at least looked as if they belonged on the same ice in Game 2 in Detroit, are looking at either making this a holding-serve series tonight -- or falling behind 3-0 and having to summon the it-happens-every-33-years tales of miracle NHL comebacks.

"This is really no different than the first two series," Tippett said Sunday. "We have to play hard, but we have to play smart. That's exactly what we did against Anaheim and San Jose. We are going to push hard and skate hard and try to control the pace, but we have to stay disciplined and not put them on the power play. That's just smart hockey."

The Stars' Mike Modano conceded that Game 2 had led to "frustration boiling over and not being able to control your emotions. But they're not a very physical team by any means, but they do play the game. They play with the puck so well. And for us to try and get into some street fight ain't going to work. You have to play the game of hockey and right now, they're doing it better than us."

It will help considerably if the Ribeiro-centered line, with Brenden Morrow and Jere Lehtinen, can crank it up. Morrow had the line's only goal in the first two games, and the three combined for only five shots on Osgood. Ribeiro's frustration showed. Lehtinen is considered day-to-day with a leg injury suffered in the first period Saturday, and Tippett Sunday termed it "soft-tissue stuff." And Morrow spent Sunday at a Dallas-area hospital -- where his wife Anne-Marie, the daughter of former Morrow teammate and current Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, gave birth to twins.

Now that's delivering in the clutch.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."