Archive for June, 2008

Dominik Hasek retires

Dominik Hasek announced his retirement from the NHL today. It’s the second time he has done so, having stepped away from the game following the Wings’ 2002 Stanley Cup win. However, this time it’s for real. His Hall of Fame career is over.

Dom’s career in Detroit was mostly an “up” one, with just a couple “down” points. He looked good this past season, but his age was beginning to show at times. His less-than-stellar performance in the playoffs led to his demotion to the bench in favor of Chris Osgood, who in turn earned the starting job in 2008-2009 with his own performance.

Hasek leaves the League a winner, if not quite on top (as the backup goaltender).

Good luck in the future, Dom, and thanks for your time here in Detroit. You played major roles in two of the best seasons the Wings have ever had.

As for the Wings, they are in a position to move on. With Chris Osgood’s renaissance and Jimmy Howard on deck, they are looking pretty solid in net next season. That said, it may not be a bad idea to bring in a veteran who could provide some stability in case Howard is still not quite ready to make the leap.

An explanation of Johan Franzen’s injury

Helene St. James reports that Johan Franzen had what is called subdural hematoma, or what amounts to a bruise on the brain. He had to wait until the “collection of blood” went away before he could do any physical activity.

Thank God that’s over and done with. I was a little concerned when I a Ken Holland comment after Game 6 that Franzen did not have a concussion. The question obviously was, “What was it, then?” It was still a serious problem, but fortunately it’s not something long-term.

End of Season Thoughts

I don’t know about you guys, but that was one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve had as a Red Wings fan. The only year that comes close in the years since I’ve followed the team is 2001-2002. Impeccably assembled, expertly coached, and exemplarily lead, this year’s squad was certainly the best we’ve seen since that year and one of the best in team history.

I had confidence in the Wings’ ability to go all the way this season ever since their elimination at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks last year. I felt then that they were just a bounce or two (or injury or two) away from the Finals at that time and that with much the same roster this season together with another year’s worth of experience, they could do it. It was my expectation going into this season that they would learn from their mistakes and finish the deal.

Throughout the regular season, all the signs were good. Though there were obviously concerns about their troubles with the Central Division, they easily handled most of the Western Conference. Throughout this, they were doing such unprecedented things as sweeping California or Western Canada road trips. They also handled the Eastern teams theyt faced relatively easy, with a couple road bumps in Ottawa and against Atlanta.

The February skid was definitely cause for concern, but the obvious explanation for that was injuries. It became obvious that the Wings had a great chance to suceed if they just remained healthy. Injuries threw a definite wrench in the works because they were playing a team system to a degree I don’t think they ever have. The system could overcome small numbers of injuries to players of varying positions, but losing 2/3 of the blueline over that skid really threw things off. Fortunately, they seemed to meet their seasonal injury quota in that month alone and did not have that kind of trouble again.

Going into the playoffs, my expectations and hopes were as high as ever. I thought they’d easily handle the Predators and the shock of their eventual troubles in the first round was enough to make me more cautious. Looking back, I’m now glad they faced that adversity. The Preds gave the Wings a scare when they made the series 2-2 and exposed something of a composure weakness. Fortunately for Detroit, Nashville didn’t have the firepower to really bring the hammer down and the Wings were able to learn their lesson from a position of relative safety. Another first round opponent may have been able to turn a dream season into a nightmare.

With Colorado, I thought we had a potential classic series coming. Prior to the series, Colorado looked formidable and memories from the regular season games in which the Avs played the Wings very closely seemed to indicate we’d see some great hockey on both sides. In the end, the Wings had an easy time of it as the Avs’ got the injury bug with a vengeance. If anything, it was a cautionary tale to Wings fans as they same thing very much could have happened to the Wings.

The Stars series was worrisome going in. Dallas had pulled off two big upsets on their way to the Conference Final so it was obvious that underestimating them would be a mistake. Fortunately, they came out flat for the first three games and the Wings were able to take a stranglehold going into Game 4. A couple Stars wins later and something of the fears stirred up in the first round by the Predators returned. Winning four games in a row against the Wings proved to be too much for the Stars, however, and we got to see what we were denied last season: Detroit with a Stanley Cup Finals berth.

By this series, my confidence in the Wings was complete. I knew the Penguins presented a major challenge with their skill and style, but I also knew that the Wings were the better team. I couldn’t see the Pens beating them over the course of seven games, though I did expect things to be close. That confidence was bourne out by the Wings’ shutting the Pens out in the first two games. Pittsburgh’s Game 3 win started to make things interesting, but the Wings appeared to shut the door on that with a Game 4 win.

Going into the potential Game 5 Cup clincher, I was attempting to remain cautiously optimistic. I certainly didn’t want to take anything for granted. The game was midly disappointing until the third period when it looked like the Wings’ defensive effort was going to seal the deal. The Pens’ game-tying goal in the final minute was a soul-crusher. Overtime was miserable. Every time the Wings had a glorious scoring chance, they seemed to be on the cusp of joy only to be denied by some freak bounce or a Marc-Andre Fleury save. Then the Pens ended it and I started to have visions of the series going to Game 7 and ending on a freak pro-Pittsburgh bounce.

I didn’t think Game 6 would be fun and, to be honest, it wasn’t. No doubt this was due to the fact that the two teams had technically already played it with nearly three full extra periods tacked on the end of Game 5. Both sides looked tired and the game lacked the raw excitement and heart-stopping power of Monday’s meeting. Game 5 also influenced my comfort level during Game 6. Despite the fact that the Wings were capably holding down a 3-1 lead going down the stretch, I found myself unable to relax. Fortunately, this prepared me for the Pens inevitable second goal and with the stress of the final minutes.

As the clock wound down to the final seconds, my thought process was something like this, “Hey, there are 10 seconds left. I can relax a little. Hey, there are five seconds left, I can be happy now. WAITNOICANTHOLYCRAPTHATWASCLOSE! Is it over? Is it over? YES!”

At the moment, it was hard to believe. As I said, I had hoped for and expected it all season, but when they finally did it, it seemed surreal. Then that pride that comes with this kind of thing came over me along with the usual giddy kind of joy.

Watching Nick take the Cup and then start the hand-offs with Drake, I noticed that I felt closer to this team than those of the past.

Don’t get me wrong, like any hardcore Wings fan, I’d claimed ownership over all previous Red Wings teams and had the one-sided familiarity that comes with watching certain players for years. With this group, however, I think my sense of closeness and familiarity comes from watching guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, and Jiri Hudler begin their careers and grow into the players they are today. It comes from watching guys like Dan Cleary and Chris Osgood redefine themselves and it comes from seeing the rest of the veterans buy wholly into Mike Babcock’s mentality. Make no mistake, a change has come over the Red Wings organization since Babs arrived and in many ways it’s like watching a whole new career develop for some of the older players.

With some of the old legends of the past, I arrived as a fan after they had already defined their place in the League, after they were already legends. I did not get to see that development. I learned to appreciate players like Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan as they already were. With regard to fans that had seen that development, I was a newcomer and always at a slight disadvantage relative to their experience. With this crop of Red Wings, I’ve gotten to watch them develop to where they are now and I’ll be there to see them go wherever they are headed from this time on. I have a real feeling of having been there at the beginning.

It’s a subtle distinction because as I said above, I’ve always claimed the Wings as my own, but this team really is mine, as much as any sports team can be. It may not have the big name Hall of Famers like the teams of the 90s and early 2000s did, but as a younger fan willing to accept this, I feel more attached to this team than ever before.

I don’t mean to imply that I don’t miss the days of The Captain, Shanny, and the others, because I do miss them. However, I’m not going to be one to excessively mourn the passing of those days. The Red Wings team we have now is the next generation and will be the stuff of legends soon enough. This Cup was just the first step.

Do you claim these Red Wings as your own?

Stanley Cup Champions!

Update (7:25 AM): Unfortunately, “More to come” is probably going to mean Saturday. Life has gotten very busy at my end, with my new job and stuff I’d had to take care of when I get home. It’s killing me not to be able to comment more on this yet.

Thanks for your comments, everyone. If you’re going to the parade, enjoy! - Matt

They’ve done it!

What a season and what a finish.

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on a great year!

More to come.

Game 6: @ Pittsburgh, 8:00 ET

Tonight is the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Detroit leads the series 3-2 with wins in Game 1 (4-0), Game 2 (3-0), and Game 4 (????????2-1). Pittsburgh won Game 3(3-2) and Game 5 (4-3 3OT).

Pittsburgh is on the brink of elimination once again and must find a way to force a Game 7. Some keys to the game for the Pens:

Build off Game 5. The Pens were widely outplayed for the bulk of Game 5. They did, however, have their moments that night. They need to build on those tonight and find a way to control things more.

Evgeni Malkin. I thought that Malkin, as obvious as it is that he’s enormously fatigued, looked better as the night went on in Game 5. The Pens need him to be strong tonight.

Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury showed himself capable of stealing games and possibly the series Monday night. The Wings dominated Pittsburgh in every space on the ice except for the crease because Fleury was stellar. If he’s that way again tonight, good things will happen for Pittsburgh. Remember, he shut the Wings out for a full three periods Monday night.

I don’t anticipate any lineup changes for Pittsburgh tonight. Sergei Gonchar (back spasms) said he would play, though if he’s hurt, his effectiveness will be curtailed somewhat.

For the Wings, the only way this game could be more important is if it were being played on Saturday instead of Wednesday. In my mind, they face a must-win situation here because Game 7 will be a crapshoot at best. Some keys to the game for the Wings:

Be the storm. As I said before Game 5, the Wings need to start better. They didn’t do that Monday night and in the end it killed them. They have to bring the hammer down on the Pens early and then keep it there until that final buzzer.

Depth. I thought Jiri Hudler and Darren Helm were among the Wings’ best players Monday night. That has to be true again tonight. The Eurotwins will be getting a lot of attention in Mellon Arena and it will be the task of the depth players to do what they can to alleviate that pressure by peforming offensively.

Chris Osgood. I’m not going to follow the herd and call Osgood’s performance Monday night his worst of the playoffs. I thought he looked solid. He certainly gave the Wings the chance to win. He will need to be at his best tonight, however. He’ll need to match Fleury save-for-save and more.

The only lineup change I can foresee is a possible switching in of Chris Chelios for Andreas Lilja.

Tonight is not going to be a fun game, folks. It will take a gritty, gutsy effort from the Wings to pull a win out in the Igloo. It’s something they are fully capable of doing.

Quote of the Day

Babs finally breaks his code of silence:

“We talk about scoring more goals in the National Hockey League. We want more goals. No, they don’t. Don’t tell me that. I’ve never seen anything like that in my whole life.”

- Mike Babcock on two goaltender interference calls in overtime in Game 5