06 May 2008

Playoff Preview: Detroit vs Dallas

Dallas is totally screwing up my playoff pool right now - both of them, and Elly's too. And they shouldn't be - throughout the regular season it was Dallas who nipped at our heels before San Jose did, going on a tear that closed the gap from a 17 point lead to 8 in a matter of six games. We should have known better than to count them out. Dallas is a well put together team, more so than the Predators of round one or the Avalanche of round two - and Dallas is going to be a tough opponent (then again, I said that about the Avs as well).

Why the Wings are going to win:

First and foremost, depth. That's not to say that Dallas is over there running a one line team, but the Detroit is literally overstocked with playoff-capable guys. The Datsyuk-Zetterberg-Holmstrom line is always formidable (and looks to be sticking together for now), but the second line of Filppula-Franzen-Samuelsson is just as scary. The Hudler-McCarty-Helm line looked spectacular against the Avalanche. Every line is trouble. The hard hitting combo of the finally healthy Niklas Kronwall and trade deadline acquisition (thanks again Connie!) Brad Stuart is just worrisome to opponents as the skilled playmakers Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. And Dominik Hasek, despite losing his job to Chris Osgood and playing pretty damn shaky in those two series two games, isn't yet something suited only to laugh at either. And the truly scary thing is the guys waiting in the wings - maybe they aren't the most talented guys, but the Wings don't have a single liability. Lose a forward (potentially Filppula) and Kirk Maltby with all his playoff experience is ready to join his former grind line partners. A defenseman, and Andreas Lilja is ready - and sure, sometimes he's sketchy, but the fact is for the better part of the season he was out there every night, and while he it's obvious the organization (rightfully) doesn't trust the final top four d-man spot to him, look at the season we had with him there. This leads to the biggest asset the Wings have going into this series - the puck possession game they can play constantly with this much talent means the pressure never lets up. There's never a chance for the opposition to breathe; the Wings just keep coming - and they're not afraid, anymore, to play a down and dirty style hockey game - which is exactly what we expected last series, and exactly what we might get this series.

And in tandem with that depth and pressure, sheer goalscoring. In the first series, Johan Franzen along put up as many goals as the Colorado Avalanche as a team. Throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs, Detroit scored 38 goals total. Of course, Dallas scored 35, a very comparable number, but can the Dallas defense neutralize powerhouses like Franzen (11 playoff goals so far), Zetterberg (7) and Datsyuk (5) easier than Detroit can Dallas top producers Brenden Morrow (7), Mike Modano (4), and Jere Lehtinen (4)? Doubtful.

And then there's goaltending. Detroit's stellar defense plays a huge role in the success of its goaltenders no doubt, but Chris Osgood, while he might not be the sort of goalie to steal games for us, is certainly the sort who won't lose them for us, either. Since he replaced Hasek in game in game 5 of round 1, he hasn't lost yet. And while it might be jinxing it to mention it - and (you knew it was coming) while it certainly isn't anything you want to play real faith in - it's hard to ignore that Dallas' Marty Turco, while playing out of his mind at some points not only this year but in last years' playoffs as well, has a 2-10-5 lifetime record against the Red Wings, which includes an 0-7-2 record in Detroit, where he has posted a 3.38 goals-against average and a .882 save percentage. Ouch, Marty.

Finally, the Wings believe. Countless members of the team, the organization, the fanbase, have mentioned that this is the best Wings team they've seen since the last cup. Will it be easy? Of course not. Maybe they won't be able to dominate the way they did in round two, maybe they'll have to dig deeper through their wealth of skill, talent, grit, determination, confidence, than they have up to this point. But can they do it? You bet. They're simply too well put together at team not to - and I think they know that too. They're smart. They're scary. They're healthy. And it would take a hell of a lot to get past them feeling the way they do right now.
But Dallas flys under the radar, even having the season they did. So, being that that the series hasn't started yet and we're all still friends here, I've enlisted the help of Untypical Girls' Cat (who guested along with me on episode 12 of the INAPB podcast) to counter my predictions and tell me what we've got to look out for.

Why the Stars are going to win:

Despite how frightened most people I know are of this series (and me, too, I'll admit it freely), I really think the Stars have a shot. You can look at the regular season record against the Wings all you want, but this is a different beast. You want reasons? Oh, I'll GIVE you reasons.

The acquisition of Brad Richards at the trade deadline didn't look so awesome in the month of March. And then, suddenly, the playoffs hit and BOOM! Dallas had three capable scoring lines, centered by Mike Ribeiro, Mike Modano, and Brad Richards. Not to say that the Stars had no depth in scoring beforehand, but having a guy like Brad Richards, who exhibits some patience with the puck and makes smart passes, certainly helps. Winger Brenden Morrow has been nothing short of a William Wallace-esque leader in the two series that have passed, always able to give a little bit more to get his team into it. No one will soon forget that quadruple-overtime game and the goal Brenden scored to win it. Some lesser known names have stepped up as well - Stu Barnes has suffered concussion-like symptoms since that big hit in a game against San Jose, but Toby Petersen (Steph's note: Really? Really?), the fourth-line center, stepped up and picked up his minutes in that magical game six. Antti Miettinen was the one to score the Stars' first goal in game six, Loui Eriksson has six points in the playoffs, and Joel Lundqvist has four. If these guys can keep playing at this level, I have no doubt that they can push through Detroit's defense, good as it is.

The Dallas defense has been pretty awesome since Sergei Zubov got back to 100% (although he'll argue that he's only at 99% - possibly still upset with himself about those two intercepted passes?). I will fully admit that Detroit's defense is absolutely incredible, and Dallas's might not match up. Sure, we have Zubov back, but we do still have three rookies back there (Nicklas Grossman, Mark Fistric, and Matt Niskanen). There are, though, two guys who have been incredible. St├Ęphane Robidas took a puck to the face and came back to the game after suffering a broken nose (insert your own joke there about poor Robi and his poor nose). Mattias Norstrom surprised the hell out of me with his five points (two goals, three assists) and fairly awesome play. Philippe Boucher suffered an unfortunate injury in the Anaheim series, but he is apparently skating again, which has to mean he's close. Right? RIGHT?!? One could say that the Dallas blueline will be outmatched, like, hardcore. Then again, you could have said that about the Ducks as well, who have an experienced and talented blueline. The Stars seemed to handle that okay.

And, of course, goaltending. You know what? I don't even want to talk about it too much. Everyone is making a big deal out of Marty Turco's record at the Joe, but this has been the season of shaking monkeys off backs. I'm fairly certain Marty can shake this monkey off, too. Sure, he has a 2-10-5 lifetime record against the Wings. Sure, he's never won in Detroit. But you know what? Right now he's boasting a 1.73 GAA and a .929 save percentage. Those aren't numbers I'd want to mess with, even if I am Chris Osgood with a 1.52 GAA and .937 save percentage. Marty seems to have a fire in him right now, a certain determination, and that will fuel him through this series.

The Stars have asked me to believe, and I have. I will continue to, despite how scared and nervous I might get. The Stars have faith in themselves. People are comparing this 07-08 team to the '99 team that won the Stanley Cup. This team will have to fight hard, undoubtedly. Will they? I have no doubt in my mind. Will their fans believe in them? I think so - I certainly will. Every member of the Stars organization believes that this team has what it takes, and I do too.
Interesting, I think, how similar the reasons are for both teams to prevail - this series really is a question mark.

Game 1 -- Thursday, May 8, 7:30 p.m. Dallas at Detroit
Game 2 -- Saturday, May 10, 7:00 p.m. Dallas at Detroit
Game 3 -- Monday, May 12, 8:00 p.m. Detroit at Dallas
Game 4 -- Wednesday, May 14, 8:00 p.m. Detroit at Dallas
x-Game 5 -- Saturday, May 17, 1:30 p.m. Dallas at Detroit
x-Game 6 -- Monday, May 19, 8:00 p.m. Detroit at Dallas
x-Game 7 -- Wednesday, May 21, 7:30 p.m. Dallas at Detroit
Another thing to love about playing Dallas - reasonable travel and none of those 10 p.m. games. I have yet to see who has nabbed the rights to which games, but I will update this list when the information is available.

Around the Web:

As usual, your Detroit blogs:
And our new opponents:
Cat makes a strong case, but I remain unconvinced. It'll be a hard-fought battle but I'm not ready to throw anything in yet. For more of my reasons why, check out this week's I'm Not a Puck Bunny Podcast (episode 14) where, while technical issues made me unable to actually interact with anyone else on the show, I did manage to review this past series and preview the current.

I'll be at the game tonight in section 223 watching Al twirl octopi once again; feel free to stop by and GO WINGS!


Cat said...

we're all still friends here

Hee! I guess we'll know later tonight whether that will stay the case. Sadly, I have to work (can you believe it?!) until about 7.30 or 8, at which point I will be listening on the radio. Thank god for DVR.

CKim said...

Love the post! Good notes for both teams and I’ll be watching intently. Thanks for trying to come on the show; we really appreciated it! The sound clips made it in without any hitch and I can’t wait for the game to start!

And you’re welcome for B-Stu. =) Although, I don’t know how I feel about all these articles coming out with him saying that he’s really happy in Detroit… I read another one yesterday!

CKim said...

Everyone is making a big deal out of Marty Turco's record at the Joe, but this has been the season of shaking monkeys off backs.

I totally just visualized Turco standing there sharking his shoulders with little monkeys on his back.

Steph said...

Cat, I hope you don't hate me QUITE yet - if we go up 2-0 I'll steer clear of you for a couple weeks :P

Connie, I'm glad the sound clips worked at least! Without my real laptop here I haven't tried to listen to it yet but rest assured when I get home tomorrow I'll be listening in for all the fun I missed out!

As for B-Stu he looked great tonight! Very noticeable, throwing his weight around and trying to entice us to bring him back.