With the Wings’ playoff hopes on the line in a hostile arena, Manny Legace came through with solid goaltending tonight and led the Wings to a 4-2 win in Edmonton. Legace had 24 saves on 26 shots, and Nicklas Lidstrom scored the winner on a 5-on-3 advantage in the third period. Henrik Zetterberg, Robert Lang, and Tomas Holmstrom added the other goals. Lang had a goal and two assists, and Schneider and Datsyuk each had a pair of assists. The Wings scored two 5-on-3 goals, and added an insurance goal from Zetterberg on the powerplay with four minutes left. Jimmy Howard was called up from the Griffins to backup Legace, with Osgood out with a tweaked groin, effectively eliminating the goaltender controversy before the game even started. It is possible Legace gained confidence knowing his starting spot was not in peril, at least for tonight. Yzerman did the pregame skate but gave Mowers the nod after deciding he couldn’t last a full 60 minutes of play.
The style of play at even strength was fairly open, but most of the game was special teams battles. Lebda played great, especially toward the end of the game, blocking shots in crucial penalty-killing situations. He almost added a goal on a feed from Datsyuk. Datsyuk had his best game of the series, and showed a lot of speed and good puck control throughout the game. His 23-game playoff goal slump still sticks out though. I was happy with Lang’s effort tonight, and didn’t see as many lazy plays from him. Schneider also had his most dominant game of the series, and was an important weapon on the power play. Chelios was resilient after getting roughed up all night, and was important in clearing the Wings’ zone on the penalty kill. Zetterberg has been solid all series and continued that tonight. Legace made a few mistakes that could’ve cost the Wings, and he allowed two five-hole goals that he might want back. In the end, he was solid and gave Wings fans a bit more confidence coming into Game 5. Disappointments on the night include Shanahan and Samuelsson’s scoring droughts. Shanny shot the puck out the other end on a wide open net and had six shots, and Samuelsson missed the net on more than a few scoring chances.
As for officiating, the refs called the game under the rumor that Gary Bettman might be in attendance, and they followed through by calling 20 penalties. It got to the point in the third where Brendan Shanahan fell to the ice by himself to avoid contact with Chris Pronger at the blue line. Any contact with the opposition tonight was followed by a penalty, though credit is due that the calls were fairly even, with 11 Edmonton penalties to the Wings’ 10. The total joke of officiating really took away from the enjoyment of the game, and I didn’t appreciate how any close save along the goal line led to a 10 minute review process between the war-room in Toronto and arena officials. These stoppages had the good intention of making the correct calls, but should be limited to extreme circumstances. The NHL should be very concerned about crossing the line of reviewing to the point they become the NFL, with coach’s challenges and reviews left and right. Mickey Redmond was all over the calls all night, and hated the new replay process.
The Wings got an early powerplay 25 seconds in, after Raffi Torres was caught with his stick between Kronwall’s skates. The Oilers met the Wings’ sustained pressure by blocking shots to prevent quality scoring chances, just like in previous games this series. The best chance came when Zetterberg had a chance on a back door tip- in, but couldn’t handle the pass.
At 3:17, Franzen was cut on the forehead by Bergeron’s skate in a scrum behind Roloson. Not wearing a visor, he was lucky the skate didn’t catch him closer to the eye. At 4:42, Datsyuk nearing broke his playoff scoring drought with a wrist shot from the right circle. The puck rose on Roloson, caught him high up, and would’ve trickled across the line had he not turned around and gotten his glove on it.
At 6:02, Legace made a good save on a shot coming off an Oiler 3-on-2. The play resulted in an Oiler powerplay, with Williams called for hooking behind the net. Draper and Zetterberg did a good job killing off the majority of the penalty kill, playing keep-away with Cleary. But, at 7:22, Pisani scored from Torres and Horcoff. On the play, Torres beat the Wings on the dump in, and got it off to Pisani near the left circle. Pasani beat Legace five-hole, and it was a shot that might have been saved if the Wings had a game-saving goaltender. But such goals should be expected the way the Wings played the regular season. 1-0 Oilers.
At 8:40, Winchester was called for holding and the Wings got another powerplay. The Wings had trouble gaining the Edmonton zone, with Zetterberg carrying the puck right into traffic at the line. The Wings generated some sustained pressure, but only one shot on net.
Following the penalty kill, Cleary did a good job beating Bergeron on the dump in behind Roloson, and the pressure led to an Oiler penalty at 11:34, cross checking on Greene. Soon after, Staios was also caught cross checking and the Wings got a crucial 5-on-3 advantage. The Wings scored at 13:25, on a Holmstrom redirection of a Schneider blast from the point. Holmstrom did a good job getting Roloson frustrated on the previous stoppage, and, whether it had any affect, Roloson was out of position on the shot. 1-1 tie.
At 15:30, Draper had a huge hit on Spacek, and the Wings showed a lot of energy following the powerplay goal. But every Edmonton shot on Legace gave me the sense that Legace was beatable tonight – certainly wasn’t going to steal the game – and we would need strong offense to back up his effort.
At 16:28, Holmstrom got called for holding the stick. The Wings killed the penalty with authority, beating the Oilers to dump-ins and clearing the zone to avoid a scoring chance. At this point, I noticed just how much the Wings had killed the energy of the crowd with the tying goal.
At 19:23, the Wings scored an unusual goal from Lang. On the play, Datsyuk passed across to Lang on the left circle, and a shot from Lang managed to hit the left post, the right post, and the back of Spacek’s leg into the net. The goal was reviewed at length, the refs apparently making sure it did not go off of Kronwall with on a kicking motion. It did neither, which was obvious in all angles of video, but they kept the fans and tv audience waiting as Toronto checked it out. Ruled a goal. 2-1 Wings. Shots in the period were 14-6 Wings. Faceoffs 14-9 Wings, with Datsyuk going a near-perfect 9-1 on faceoffs.
Yzerman was interviewed during intermission, and thought the Wings had played well in overtime in Game 3, and that was carrying over into tonight’s game. He explained that he couldn’t have played the entire game tonight, and thought that Mower’s speed would be a good match for the Oiler’s speedy forwards.
Again, the Oilers committed the early penalty. This time, Michael Peca, 32 seconds in for elbowing. On the powerplay, Shanahan was hit up high by a Lang shot, and fell to his knees. The Wings sustained pressure with Shanny down, and he was forced to get up and play out the rest of the shift till the Oilers cleared. The Wings got some good set-ups with Lidstrom shooting and Holmstrom in front before the powerplay was killed off.
At 2:54, Holmstrom fed Zetterberg back-door, but Roloson was square to the shot and made one of his best saves of the night. Another game, another Zetterberg back-door chance. I’m enjoying getting used to that set-up.
At 3:43, Maltby was called for hooking. It didn’t take long for the Oilers to capitalize. Legace made a save on a point shot, but gave up a huge rebound and the Wings failed to clear the zone. Spacek scored from the right circle, beating Legace five-hole, again. This time he was thrown off by a cross-ice pass from Hemsky and wasn’t in position for the shot. It was a weak goal by playoff standards, and the cross-ice pass should’ve been broken up by the Wings’ defense, as well. 2-2 tie. And that means the Oilers have the crowd back and every shot on Legace is as tense as ever for Wings fans.
At 6:02, Manny made a big stand with the puck cycling from behind the net and chances from Samsonov and Stoll. These scoring opportunities showed the importance of Manny not giving up big rebounds. At 8:26, Lebda was called for holding to the right of Legace. It was a scary dump-in, as Manny almost got caught out of the net trying to play the puck. Cleary had a good penalty kill, and forced Roloson to make a shorthanded save.
At 11:30, Winchester was called for hooking behind Legace, coming off a 2-on-1 with Ryan Smyth. Shanahan did a good job of recovering from getting beat by Winchester by breaking up the 2-on-1 on the trail. On the resulting powerplay, Shanny had several chances on Roloson but missed the net or got off weak shots. The best chance came when Zetterberg handled the puck behind the net and got it out to Datsyuk, who fed it to Lebda back-door. Lebda had a wide-open net but somehow hit the left post. It was a bad break for Lebda, and could’ve potentially hurt the Wings had they lost.
At 14:15, Greene was called for hooking on Cleary. Williams turned the puck over to Ryan Smyth behind Legace, and the Oilers were able to clear the zone and play keep-away for awhile. This was not a good powerplay, and the Oilers outworked the Wings, even creating their own shorthanded chance.
The powerplay was nullified with an interference call on Samuelsson at 15:46. This was a terrible call, with Staios diving after Samuelsson just barely tapped the back of his leg. This set off the Wings’ bench, and set the stage for a frustrating end to the second period.
With play at 4-on-4, a Kronwall “hook” led to an Oiler 5-on-3 man advantage (after a few seconds at 5-on-4). The 5-on-3 lasted one minute. Legace was strong in this final stretch of the second, making a save on a Pronger point shot and not giving up a rebound. The Wings got it killed and were back to killing the 5-on-4. Chelios had a good penalty kill, doing the dirty work in front, but was called for cross-checking in front. This sent the Oilers back to a 5-on-3, and set off Chelios. He looked as angry as I’ve seen him, and I really thought he was going to clock one of the refs and/or get ejected for arguing the call. On seeing the replay, it was a good call, as Cheli really did cross check the guy across the face, but I guess Chelios was still upset about the Samuelsson call. The Wings were lucky the refs didn’t tack on extra minutes for Chelios’ tirade.
The Wings lasted the dozen or so seconds of a 5-on-3, and had 1:44 left on the penalty kill for 5-on-4. However, Franzen losing his stick made it, for all intensive purposes, another 5-on-3. In what could be a defining moment of the series, the Wings were able to kill off the remaining Oilers powerplay and get out of the first period at 2-2.
The Oilers nearly took the lead over a minute in, but Manny made the save on Ryan Smyth along the post. He lost track of the rebound, but luckily the Wings were able to clear the zone. At 1:13, Holmstrom was called for cross checking. It was a phantom call, as he just bumped into an Oiler and that was it. At 2:02, Legace made an awkward save on Torres in front, and found himself way out of position with the puck on the mouth of the crease. Lucky for the Wings, Maltby was able to stand his ground in front and prevent a rebound chance from the Oilers.
At 5:06, Greene was called for tripping behind Roloson. A Pisani high-stick on Samuelsson at 6:29 gave the Wings a short 5-on-3 opportunity. And they came through huge. After switching sides with Schneider, Lidstrom blasted a shot from the right and beat Roloson cleanly. It would turn out to be the game-winning goal, 3-2 Wings. The Oilers wanted an interference call on the play, because when Lidstrom switched sides, he had slight contact with Stoll, who dove looking for the call. The crowd joined in and booed loudly.
At 8:35, Shanahan found himself staring at a wide open net when he snuck in behind Roloson. Unfortunately, he shot the puck out the other side, costing the Wings what could’ve been an important insurance goal. Shanny just couldn’t get a break tonight.
At 10:01, Bergeron was called for interference behind the play. Samuelsson missed the net on a shot, which was typical of him tonight. Legace turned the puck over the Ryan Smyth on the other end, but recovered with a glove save on the goal-line to keep the Wings ahead. The play was reviewed to make sure the puck did not cross the line. No goal. Still a Wings powerplay, even though everyone forgot after the officials went over seconds of replay for about ten minutes. The powerplay was killed off.
At 14:53, Cleary tried to hit Pronger, but instead got lifted three feet off the ice and thrown into the boards himself. It was a good effort – you have to recognize that Cleary is half Pronger’s size. At 15:22, Hemsky hooked Lebda, who did a good job moving his feet to draw the call. The Wings got their insurance goal on the ensuing powerplay, with Datsyuk splitting the Oiler defense and feeding an open Zetterberg in front. Henrik dieked Roloson out of his jock-strap and roofed it. 4-2 Wings.
The game got a bit tight when Franzen was sent to the box for slashing, but the Wings, notably Chelios, were able to clear the zone and prevent any major chances on Manny. Lebda also blocked a Pronger shot. Kronwall and Lebda being on the ice in such a key situation shows just how much confidence Babcock has in them.
The Wings finished the game with 31 shots to the Oilers’ 26. The Wings played as complete of a game as they have this series, and Manny did what he had to do to keep the Wings in it. He was shakey at times: the save on Torres, the turnover to Smyth, and the two five-hole goals. But the bottom line is that he was solid down the stretch, especially near the end of the second period when the Oilers had nearly four minutes of power play time. If the Wings can get some scoring from Shanahan, Samuelsson, and Datsyuk, they will be in a good position of putting the Oilers away. Being at home for Game 5 should be enough to give the Wings the edge, but who knows. Let’s just hope we never see referees Marc Joannette and Dean Warren again this playoffs. That was a travesty.