First off, I have to say I disagree with what seems to be the concensus view among my fellow citizens of Hockeytown. This wasn’t Â result of a poor effort. It’s splitting hairs a bit, but I thought the Wings’ effort was quite good. Good enough? Obviously not. But let’s not discount the Penguins here. Those guys played a heck of a game, and that’s the single biggest reason we’re headed to Game 7. Not officiating, not bounces, not the Wings’ 95% effort (instead of 100%)*. Anything less from the Pens last night, and they’re clearing out their lockers today, not gearing up for a chance at winning this thing.
That said, the Wings’ lack of a killer instict and that extra 5% is, well, killer. Their effort, while not “pathetic” (as I’ve seen it characterized in the past 12 hours), lacked that finishing touch. Any other night, and it would have been good enough. But last night? Not so much.
The encouraging thing is that Pittsburgh absolutely played their hearts out, and still barely beat the Wings in their own arena. That this wasn’t a blowout should be evidence enough for you that the Wings played a game that against most opponents would have resulted in a win. What they didn’t do is go that extra mile, especially early on.Â Holding the fort against Pittsburgh’s attack (for the most part) for the first half of the game wasn’t enough last night.
On to more specific observations:
… I’m not going to complain about the officiating except to say that I just wish the refs had called the Pens earlier in the game. Not because the outcome would would have been different (the Wings’ impotence on the PP is a point for discussion below), but because it may have averted a some dangerous and stupid stuff. Calling Pittsburgh early could have turned them off to some of the antics from guys like Cooke (dirty hits) and Gill (continual obstruction) by sending the message that stuff like that wouldn’t be tolerated. As it was, the message was sent that it would be tolerated, and that’s not cool.
Calling two token penalties in the third doesn’t exactly make up for that.
… Those two power plays are my only real sore point last night as far as the Wings are concerned. They completely squandered those opportunities. At no other time in the game was their lack of killer instinct more on display. When a team is granted consecutive chances to tie a game up, it has to take advantage of at least one of them.
… Matt Cooke is a complete [illegitimate son] who had me, in the heat of the moment following his hit on Datsyuk, wishing someone would end his season with a check. Not proud of the fact that I basically wished injury on someone, but I absolutely hate that guy. There is maybe one other Penguin that I despise more at the moment.
… And that’s Evgeni Malkin (though Kunitz is right behind him). The guy’s a neat package of superstar offensive talent, Caesar-like arrogance and Russian mobster-like thuggery. A guy like Tootoo is dangerous because he’s stupid and reckless. A guy like Malkin is dangerous because he’s malicious and devious. And he gets a free ride because he’s a star. Absolutely disgusting. In my book, being a superstar is not a license to be a jackass piece of trash cheapshot artist.
… Enough negativity for the moment. How about that Henrik Zetterberg? He and Chris Osgood are duking it out for the honor of being named the Wings’ playoff MVP, and while Oz may have gained the lead last night, I’m not counting Hank out. The guy is having one heck of a series. His shot off the post was heart-breaking, as where his other two glorious scoring chances, but no one else on the team can match his intensity right now (with the exception of Osgood). The guy is in Â zone, as evidenced by his Smart Play of the Year while on the PK in swiping the puck out of the zone with his glove when his stick broke.
… The other Eurotwin, Datsyuk, had a strong night as well, but I’ve got a lingering feeling of disappointment in the guy. Some great plays (most notably his pass springing Cleary for the breakaway), but I was hoping for something more. One incident in particular stands out in the third: with the puck in space and a Pittsburgh player down on his knees, Pavel shot it right into the players’ skate. I dunno, something about that play struck me.
… Descending back into negativity for a bit: Marian Hossa. It sounds shallow as a fan to criticize a 40-goal scorer, but I’m really getting tired of watching him flail around the ice (when he even does that). Hurt or not (who isn’t at this point?), his performance this playoff, and this round in particular, has been immensely disapointing. The guy has all the reason in the world to step it up against Pittsburh, which may be the problem, I guess.
It’s time to get over it, though, Marian. Friday’s your last chance to cement your legacy as a Red Wing before contract negotiations restart, and while the Wings front office is likely more forgiving than the fans (they’ll keep in mind what he’s capable of, not just what he did or didn’t do), your chances of landing that contract will increase if you’re a major contributor to the win in Game 7. You came here for a Cup. How much do you want it?
… Kudos to the Penguins for their heck of an effort. I disagree with some of their tactics (high hits, obstruction that’d make a pre-Lockout team blush, etc.), but it’s hard to argue that those guys laid it all on the line and left nothing on the ice. The final minutes as the Wings pushed and the Pens held the gates in a classic example of a sports Last Stand had my heart all but stopped, and my face numb from the tension.
… Marc-Andre Fleury, to his credit, bounced back from being pulled with what have to be his best 60 minutes since the third period and first two overtimes of Game 5 last year. This game was a real goalie duel. I wonder how he’ll do back at the Joe, though.
… The Wings are going to need nothing less than the game of their lives Friday night if they’re going to win this thing. The home crowd has to be crazy and the Wings’ effort has to be historic.
I’ve never experienced a Finals Game 7 when I had a stake in one of the teams. Regardless of how the Wings play, this game is going to take years off my life. Any mistake could mean the end of the repeat bid. People like to call Game 7’s the peak of the hockey experience. Now that we’re faced with one that will decide the championship, all I can think is “this fracking sucks.”
One way or another, this series will end Friday night (or Saturday morning if the hockey gods are feeling particularly sadistic). I’m confident in the result, but I’m still terrified.
*That 5% comes largely out of the offensive side of things. Defensively, with a few exceptions, I thought the Wings’ effort and hustle were virtually impeccable. It’s on the offensive side that the lacked that extra oomph.