Posts filed under “2007-2008”

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.

This is my Game 5 reaction post

A few posts today pretty much sum up my feelings on the game:

First, Megan’s. I had a similarly bad night of sleep and I’m not sure how I made it through work on only about five hours of sleep after sleeping badly heading into Monday as well.

Second, Bruce MacLeod has some rational thoughts on the game that are good.

Third, IwoCPO’s got a great post here. 34.7 seconds has a sinister ring to it today.

I don’t even want to contemplate the outcome of the series if the Pens force a Game 7. Horrific thoughts of another overtime game flash through my head every time I think about it. The Wings simply have to put this away tomorrow in Pittsburgh and it’s clear from last night that they will have to play the game of their lives.

I’ve watched this team develop a work ethic like you wouldn’t believe, but I never thought I’d see them play as hard as they did last night only to lose. They will have to find a way to outdo themselves if they want to take a game in Mellon Arena with the Pens as amped up as they are sure to be.

Game 6 will not be fun, folks. Not at all.

Lastly, to all of you who were whining about how this series wasn’t exciting enough: go screw yourselves. That is all.

Game 5: vs. Pittsburgh, 8:00 ET

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

On the cusp of elimination, Pittsburgh faces a must-win situation here. They simply have to have their best game of the series. Some keys to the game for Pittsburgh:

Sidney Crosby. Tonight’s the night for the Kid to really stand out. The Pens need him to be at his best.

Composure. The Penguins need to keep their heads no matter what happens tonight. If they lose their composure, they lose the game. If they keep it, they have a chance to win.

Evgeni Malkin. If this guy is anything less than a neutral force, the Penguins lose. If he can find it within himself to return to even half form, their chances increase. However, if he is just dead weight and the mistake machine he’s been, they’re in trouble.

It doesn’t look like Pittsburgh will have any lineup changes tonight, though rookie defenseman Alex Goligoski was recalled from the team’s AHL affiliate apparently in order to fill Kris Letang’s spot in the luxury box. I’m sure the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins appreciate that as they are in the AHL Finals at the moment.

Joe Louis Arena will be packed to the rafters tonight, but there is only one guest the Wings will be thinking about: Lord Stanley’s Cup. The prospect of hoisting that particular chalice should motivate the Wings to play their best game of the season.

Some keys to the game for Detroit:

Be the storm. Megan pointed out to me the other day that we’re always talking about how the Wings will need to weather the storm at the start of games. She made a good point: why can’t the Wings be the storm? If the Wings come out flying tonight and are able to carry it through the game, it will be very hard for the Pens to stop them.

Eurotwins. This is one of those games where your best players really need to be your best players. Although the stats may not indicate it, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have had a great series so far. A big performance tonight would be a fitting cap to it all.

Chris Osgood. In my mind, Osgood has been one of the best, if not the best, stories of the playoffs. The Wings will need him to be stellar again tonight.

The only lineup change tonight should be Tomas Holmstrom’s return from a hamstring injury. If he does make it back, Darren McCarty will be out.

This should be a great game, folks. I can’t see Pittsburgh laying down so we should get some exciting hockey as long as the Wings don’t take things for granted. Given their track record in that regard, I don’t think we’ll have a problem there.

I can’t wait.

Game 4: Wings 2, Penguins 1

The Detroit Red Wings moved to within one win of the Stanley Cup with their 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins last night in Game 4 of the Finals.

Some thoughts:

… I didn’t think the game started out very well. For all the reports of the Wings being angry and ready to give the Pens a thrashing, they seemed flat in the opening twenty minutes. Their passing was off for the whole first period and they took some really stupid penalties over that span as well.

… I thought Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart in particular had rough first periods.

… The Wings’ play gradually began to improve as they rebounded from the early Marian Hossa goal. Nick Lidstrom’s goal at 7:06 of the first was huge. Although it wasn’t technically a power play goal, it may as well have been. It cut short the Pens’ momentum and allowed the Wings to ease into the game.

… I thought the second period was largely uneventful and pretty evenly-played. As we headed into the second intermission, the game had a definite “next goal wins” feel. The third period was looking like it’d be a doozy.

… The third lived up to expectations. It was some of the most exciting, stressful hockey of the season.

The Wings kicked things off with a great shift on the part of the fourth line and Brad Stuart. Stuart’s efforts to keep the puck in led directly to Jiri Hudler’s goal at 2:26. Jiri’s shot just made it in behind Fleury and gave the Wings a lead they had to savagely defend for the remainder of the period.

… Mid-way through the period, Kirk Maltby went to the box forhooking. Andreas Lilja soon followed after a fairly weak interference call. The subsequent kill of the 5-on-3 was incredible, with Henrik Zetterberg taking center stage. His play at the side of the net on Sidney Crosby saved the game from overtime and his activity in the passing lanes really made it difficult for the Pens to get anything going. In that one shift, Zetterberg showed in a nutshell why he should win the Selke this season.

… I’d give the Pens credit for not giving up as the game wound down, but they really just did what they had to do and that was fight like heck to tie things up. Anything less than a monumental effort would have indicated a team that doesn’t belong there. Unfortunately for them, their monumental effort was not enough. In the end, the Wings’ own monumental effort won out, with the help of a few fortunate bounces. The Pens made it interesting down to the final seconds. A great finish.

… I though Chris Osgood had a stellar game for the Wings. Say what you want about the number of shots he faces, the man has been there to make the save much more often than not. He was much more solid-looking in Game 4 than he was Wednesday.

… Some people may question Babcock’s decision to play Andreas Lilja instead of Chris Chelios in Game 4. I think it paid off well as the big Swede has maybe his best game of the playoffs.

… Brad Stuart got better as the game went on, just like his teammates.

… One thing the Wings will need to do better Monday night is make the Pens pay for their aggressiveness more. Pittsburgh was forechecking very hard and pressuring the points on the power play heavily much of the game and the Wings were unable to get the puck moved up ice fast enough to get behind the Pens, especially in the first 40. If Pittsburgh is that aggressive Monday night, Detroit will need to move the puck faster.

… One win from the Stanley Cup, folks. Game 4 Game 5 (it was late - ed.) is going to be epic.

Game 4: @ Pittsburgh, 8:00 ET

Update (3:50 PM): The anonymous CBC playoff blogger has a pre-game post worth reading. - Matt

Update (1:27 PM): An encouraging report from Brian Compton of the NHL’s Western Conference Champtions Blog says Holmstrom looked fine on the ice today. Compton writes he’ll be “shocked” if Homer doesn’t play tonight. - Matt

Tonight is the fourth game of the Stanley Cup Finals Detroit leads the series 2-1 with wins in Game 1 (4-0) and Game 2 (3-0). Pittsburgh took Game 3, 3-2.

The Penguins showed up to play Wednesday night and finally made this something of a competitive series. A Pittsburgh win tonight would make things really interesting as the two teams head back to Detroit. Some keys to the game for Sidney Crosby and Company:

Score first, score early. It worked Wednesday and would force the Wings to alter their gameplan. Detroit is less effective playing from behind.

Power play. With Therrien still whining about obstruction, my guess is the Pens will see more power play tonight, if only because the officials have been subliminally influenced. The fact that the Mellon Arena crowd will gasp at everything the Wings do should also increase their chances. The Pens need to capitalize on these opportunities by putting on sustained pressure at the least.

Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury was very strong in Game 3 and will need to repeat that performance tonight. He gave up few second chances, something that will be huge tonight if the Wings come hard.

It looks like the Pens are planning on using the same lineup tonight.

Detroit got a taste of what happens when you let down your guard against a team as offensively talented as Pittsburgh Wednesday night. That they only lost by a goal is a testament to their own ability. Tonight they need to build on their Game 3 third period performance and pull out the strangehold win.

Some keys to the game for Detroit:

Take the crowd out of it. The Igloo crowd was impressive Wednesday, but it was allowed to be far too vocal. The Wings need to score a quick goal or two or otherwise dominate the Pens so that the crowd shuts up. That way Pittsburgh won’t get that emotional fuel and the officials will be slower to make crowd-influenced calls.

Power play. I don’t expect many chances here, but the Wings need to capitalize on what they do get. The power play has been bad so far in this series, with the second unit outshining the first. They  need to score with the man advantage more often than not tonight.

Eurotwins. I’ve been seeing headlines asking where Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have gone in his series and I’ve laughed them off for one reason: they have been playing quite well even though their offensive production is down. That said, I’d like to see them net a few pucks tonight. Datsyuk in particular has been playing with fire, as evidenced mostly by his physical play, but the Wings really need them to be at their offensive best tonight.

Tomas Holmstrom (hamstring) is a game-time decision tonight after practicing this morning.If he’s in, I hope he’ll be more effective than he’s been since about Game 4 of the Stars series.

It looks like Andreas Lilja remains in. Chris Chelios was understanding of his “scratch” status when the Wings were winning, but something tells me he’ll be less so if he remains out following a loss.

If we have more hockey like we saw in the third period of Game 3, we should have a heck of a game tonight.