Posts filed under “2008-2009”

An Unexpected Smile

I’ve been searching the Internet, wondering what I’m gonna read all summer, when I came across something that made me smile.

We will not have to worry about McCreary making dumb calls and no-calls during the finals or even the playoffs next year. Why? Well, that’s the wonderful part. McCreary is retiring after the regular season. The last game of the 2009-2010 season will be the last time we see Bill McCreary.

Thank You

First off, thanks to the Wings for a heck of a season. A disappointing finish, but given the adversity this team faced, from the Stanley Cup hangover to the post-season injuries, I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. This hurts like crazy, but thinking about Nick Lidstrom having surgery in the third round and coming back to play has me in awe of this group’s will to win. That they fell short should in no way take away from that.

To the Pittsburgh Penguins, congratulations. You did something I didn’t think any team could do: win a Stanley Cup Final Game 7 in the Wings’ building. You took the championship on our home ice, in front of thousands my fellow fans who paid for those tickets out of shrinking paychecks, in the heart of a state needing something positive to happen like you wouldn’t believe and from a team that knew all that and for whom that knowledge was a driving force. I’ll never forgive you for it, but I have to respect that you did it.

I can already the praise songs and see the love letters sung and written to and about Sydney Crosby, and while I don’t want to go to far down the “sour grapes” route, I will say that the knowledge that Sid will now be marketed even more than before (didn’t think it was possible, did you?) has me feeling sick already. I’m already expecting to see him ranked with the all-time great leaders by those with little or no perspective.

One last thing along that line of thought. This warms my heart: “Mr. Ilitch … kept walking when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman approached him under the stands and tried to shake his hand after Friday night’s game.” No more words need to be said, eh Wings fans?

Back to the Wings a moment: of all the guys on the team, I’m especially disappointed for Chris Osgood. The guy did everything possible to earn this team the Cup, and falling short by one goal is killer. I hope that this run has opened a lot of folk’s eyes and that he can get some of that crowd off his back. Not too much, though! I like “chip-on-the-shoulder” Ozzie. If he’s up against the media and fans again next year, I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Now, I want to thank all of you who took the time to stop by the blog this season and take part in the discussion. Doing this is infinitely more fun when the community is lively, so I can’t overstate how much I appreciate your input. You guys are great, and helped make this season even more memorable than it might have been.

There’s a lot more to say about this team, their run and the players. With the end of the season, however, I’ll probably take a lighter posting load, though I won’t drop away for an official break until after the first few days of free agency.

We saw how the team turned the disappointment of losing to Anaheim in 2007 into a championship a year later. It’s hard to be too positive after a loss like this, but I will say that if any team can do it again, this one can. As IwoCPO said, “98 to 12.”

Peak Battle

(my final use of that playoffs-as-mountain-climb device)

This is the battle that decides it all: who gets to stay on top of the mountain, and who gets thrown off the peak. One game to seal one team’s destiny, or in the case of the other, one game to start the building of one. If Game 7’s in general are the height of the hockey experience, Stanley Cup Final Game 7’s have to be up there in the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

That’s fitting, because this is going to be a breathless night for the fans. Win or lose, surviving this night without losing a good decade off the end of our lives from the stress is going to be tough.

It’s the awesome finality of Game 7 that has me feeling nauseated already this morning. There’s no opportunity to respond to a loss with a dominating performance. There’s very little room for making up for your mistakes. It can go either way. It has to be one of the few times a stat showing such a definitive home team advantage–SCF Finals Game 7’s are 12-2 historically for the home team–provides so little comfort.

Stats mean nothing. What matters is what the two teams do on the ice, tonight. This game is going to be epic. Both teams know what’s at stake, and both teams will be at their best. It really will be a battle.

It’s going to be awesome to watch. It’s going to be terrible to watch. I can’t wait for the puck drop, and I dread it at the same time. The paradox of a fan faced with a Game 7: complete confidence in his or her team, but in the same space, nervousness and fear.

Despite the nervousness and fear, I know this:

The Red Wings can do it. They will do it.

And we’ll look back at tonight as a great, historic moment, as we forget the stress-induced agony of watching.

Tonight the Cup returns to Detroit, to the ice of Joe Louis Arena. And Nick Lidstrom will hoist it again.

After the Wings throw the Penguins down the mountainside.

Game 6: Wings 1, Penguins 2

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  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. 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  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.

Game 6: @ Pittsburgh (3-2)

First off, check out Bill’s post at A2Y today. There’s really not a whole lot more that needs to be said, but I’ll try anyway.

Twitter reports say Pittsburgh was quiet at the morning skate today. You can read that two ways: They’re unsettled, or they’re serious. I think it’s the latter. For all their immaturity and petulance, those guys know what’s at stake tonight. It’s a sobering thing to have the Cup in your building and not be the team with a shot at taking it. Malkin, Crosby, Fleury and the gang are going to be at their absolute best tonight. We’re not headed toward another meltdown. We, and the Wings, have to assume that those guys will take care of business.

If the Detroit lets them.

That’s the thing. This isn’t going to be a cakewalk. The Pens aren’t going to roll over in their own building. The Wings know it, and have to be prepared to play their absolute best, and to take care of business from their perspective. That alone doesn’t guarantee success, thanks to the vagaries of playoff hockey, but the Wings sure as heck aren’t going to win this thing if they put on a performance anything like the did in Games 3 and 4. They need to exceed their Game 5 performance, or this is for sure going to 7. At their best, they’re still at the mercy of bounces and officiating, but all they can do is their part, and that’s to put forth their best effort of the playoffs and the entire season.

This game has the potential to be epic. So much, in my mind, depends on the first few minutes. If Pittsburgh can get an early goal or two, the Wings are in for an all-out war. If the Wings can pot a couple, considerable wind’ll be taken out of Pittsburgh’s sails (though they wouldn’t be done). If neither team scores, we’re in for a nailbiter.

The Wings need to own those first few minutes, to establish their game early, and carry it through 60 minutes. They can’t afford to take any shifts off, least of all early on when the crowd will be blowing the roof off, and Pittsburgh will be at their most amped. For really the first time in this run (that I remember), they have to be the team causing the storm that needs weathering, not the other way around.

If the presence of the Cup in the building is a sobering though for Pittsburgh, it has to be that as well as  motivational factor for Detroit. They start the night a possible 60 minutes away from taking it again, and if that doesn’t motivate them to be at their best, I don’t know what will.

7 hours and 20 minutes until the broadcast starts. Probably another 20 until puck drop. Good luck thinking of anything else for an extended period of time today.

Game 5: Wings 5, Penguins 0

Heading out in a few, so this won’t be comprehensive:

… Datsyuk looked “eh” on his first shift, but got a chant from the crowd early. He looked better in his next shifts and really never looked back. The chemistry of that line was great, and made them the best of the night.

Pavel’s presence obviously wasn’t the only thing that spurred the Wings on to victory last night, but you can’t discount the impact he had. Between his physical play, and his stellar passing, he was an obvious factor in the Wings’ confidence.

… Despite what Babcock says, I do think Zetterberg was tired in Games 3 and 4, and that a combination of the day off and the adrenaline of playing with Datsyuk made the fatigue fall away. There is something to be said about the contrast between being scored on and doing the scoring, and the two situation’s effect on your energy level, but that doesn’t mean Hank didn’t need some weight taken off his shoulders in terms of assignments.

… A further word on Crosby: the guy obviously has leadership potential, and is a better leader now than he was even last year. That’s great. My point is that he sometimes gets put on a pedestal and is overly praised for the little leadership-y things he does, when in fact he has a long, long way to go before he’ll earn a spot on that pedestal. Case in point: in Game 4, he got slashed by Maltby, and went down like someone had snapped his neck. He then proceded to lay there facedown for a ridiculous amount of time. Last night, he slashed Zetterberg, who fell, but immediately got up and continued playing. That’s as stark a contrast as you’re going to see.

… I couldn’t believe Kronwall just walked out of the corner like that with the puck and scored. I wish the forwards did that more often. I think the Pittsburgh defense was completely caught off guard by it. Incredible play.

… How about Hudler’s pass to Zetterberg for the fifth goal? Nice of you to show up, Jiri.

… Holmstrom was a factor for once as well, throwing a great screen on the Rafalski goal.

… Hossa, despite not scoring, had a strong night, I thought. His play to Filppula was heads-up, and he played with a physical edge that ended up making him the leader in hits for the night with 8. He hit the post once, as well. He may be poised to have a big game Tuesday.

… Malkin has a lot to learn about class. Being a  superstar isn’t everything, Evgeni. You stuck a knife in your team’s back last night. Great work.

… It’s hard to decide who I hate more: Kunitz or Talbot. Kunitz is a donkey that runs around trying to hurt people, like his buddy Cooke, and looked like a complete ass when he tried to goad Helm into a fight. His tangle with Lidstrom was also the opposite of class. Talbot, on the other hand, targeted Datsyuk’s foot in one of the most disgusting displays of classlessness I’ve seen in a long time. A worthless player.

… Osgood wasn’t tested in a big way, but was his steady self. He didn’t have bad games in Pittsburgh, but he did respond to less-than-stellar performances with a strong one last night.

… The unheralded star last night? The JLA crowd. I’ve been critical of the JLA fans in the past for making the Joe sound like a glorified restuarant, but last night they were great. They were loud virtually the whole night, chanted Datsyuk’s name, Osgood’s name, and “Crosby sucks!” They sang during play, and stood for the final  few minutes. All things a playoff crowd should do. Great stuff, guys.

… The Wings need to pick up where they left off Tuesday, and finish this thing in Pittsburgh. Going to Game 7 is not an option. Pittsburgh will be desperate and will be fueled by their home crowd, so the Wings will have to be ready to really ratchet up the level of play. As well as they played last night, I think they really only hit about 95% of their ability. They need to make it 100% and will need to sustain it for 60 minutes. Nothing less than their best ever effort.

One more.

More Like It

That is what happens when the Detroit Red Wings play at a high level for 60 minutes. Heck of a game. This is what they needed all series. A full game of great effort, and great team play. What a contrast with Game 4.

Datsyuk looked like he hadn’t missed a game, and provided further proof of his world-class status. He is a great, great player, and it showed tonight.

Zetterberg looked like a man freed from wrongful imprisonment, and had all the exuberance you’d expect from him for that. Another great night for Z, and no sign of the fatigue that held him back in Pittsburgh.

Kronwall and Rafalski redeemed themselves with a goal each and strong defensive play.

I’d point out more individual efforts, but singling players out almost takes away from the great effort by all if I don’t just go down the roster list one by one.

As schizo as the Wings can be, the Pens may be worse. The team that showed some increased maturity through four  (with some obvious exceptions)  really fell apart tonight. Malkin in particular is showing his childishness with some of the dumbest penalties I’ve seen. Kunitz wasn’t far behind, and neither was Talbot (height of classlessness to target Datsyuk’s foot). And neither was Crosby. It was really a meltdown in relative terms on par with Chicago’s or Calgary’s worst. Ridiculous on their part.

A word on Crosby: I don’t want to hear another word about that guy’s leadership. If he was the leader people claim he is, he wouldn’t have been on the bench for the final 5:52 of the game. You can say Bylsma was resting him for Game 6 all you want, but true leaders finish games and show their team how to finish with pride and class. Crosby’s performance tonight as exemplified in the slash on Zetterberg, and his lack of presence on the ice in the final minutes, puts the lie to the leadership claims. The guy has flashes of it, but so do a lot of players. He still has a lot to learn about wearing the C. It’s not just scoring goals and notching assists.

The Wings have to go into Pittsburgh with the same resolve and an even better effort Tuesday. As well as they played tonight, they can still be better, and they’re going to need it in Game 6. Even for all their pathetic immaturity, Pittsburgh can take this to seven if the Wings let up at all.

More tomorrow.