31 May 2008

Here we go again

The Wings took a day off yesterday to putz around on a mini golf course and try fly-fishing (your available entertainment in Pittsburgh, folks). I took a day off yesterday to celebrate a friend's birthday, but I see Elly managed to sum up Wednesday's game rather eloquently without me (although my sentiments differ slightly).

Tonight, however, all bets are off. Trash talking will be out in full force - both teams need this victory; the Penguins to keep hope alive and continue turning the series in their favor, and the Wings to rub them out at home and take the series back to the Joe in hopes of finishing it off on Monday night.

The Detroit Zoo has gotten in on it - for the duration of this series, the Penguinarium is no more:

Other fun facts:

  • Penguins forward Adam Hall, responsible for the game winning goal Wednesday evening, is a native of Kalamazoo, the town I currently reside in. By scoring that goal he has accomplished quite a feat - he's temporarily overtaken Yankee Derek Jeter as the most hated athlete hailing from Kzoo by the people of the city.
  • Elly and I both guested on the INAPB Podcast yesterday evening - we were both busy and were only able to record sound clips, which might actually be a good thing, as it spares everyone having to hear us snipe at each other. Here is the link to listen, if you're interested!
T-minus 6 1/2 hours until Game 4 - GO WINGS.

29 May 2008

A lolcat for every occasion

Re: Game 3

Go Pens

28 May 2008

2-0? Someone get me a stiff drink

It's a dark road ahead, and being down 2-0 makes it even worse, however the real kicker is the lack of even a single goal for Pittsburgh. Are the Pens going to get shut out completely in the face of the Red Wings' oppressive style of play? Will Therrien be fired? Will Pens fans desert in droves and become Blue Jackets worshippers?

No, and while it's fun to make up outrageous tag-lines, the fans, and the team, are far from out of the hunt, and it's extremely heartening to see the online community (NHL.com included for the most part) supporting and not discounting the Penguins as they have so many times in the past. Yeah, the Detroit fans and some fence sitters are already planning their parade, but the loyalists are here for the long haul. It hurts to see the boys clobbered by Detroit, but one solid fact about this Penguins team is that they can come back anytime, and hopefully, anytime will be tonight on home soil. Yes, this is a pep talk, but after the giant kick in the nuts that was game 2, a little pepping can't hurt. Go Pens? Go Pens indeed.

Am I going to post links to all the great articles floating around? No, I don't have three hours free in my life right now, but I will say that tsn has a great spread, not only of the Penguins and Wings, but of the entire hockey world right now, and in particular this little gem which talks about past Cups and playoffs stats. Definitely worth a look.

So what would bring a sparkle to the eyes of Pens fans around the world tonight? A bit more aggressive D and not being pinned in their own zone for 56 minutes a game are some obvious ones, a goal would be nice, or seven, and some hard pressure on Osgood, but I think there is something even more obvious and to the core that Pens fans would appreciate....and it has been taken off of the internet. So here is a call to anyone that has it/remembers it/can find it/knows where heavy.com has put it: find the Hasek Knob Hockey. Put it up on your blogs, embrace the wonderful love of knob hockey playoff goodness (With permission, of course)! I hope they'll put out Penguins ones, I can only imagine what those would be like.

Since I have not had the opportunity to post anything for the previous two atrocities, I'll catch up with a lolgwins (Go there. Feel the love) that expresses my emotions for games one and two:

Let's just forget that's Phoenix and make it red and white.


24 May 2008

Updates From Toronto

  • Elly and I are trash-talking already (part of this might have to do with the fact that I tricked her into going to Philthy McNasty's for drinks tonight) between coffees.
  • I might have successfully swayed Sherry, with whom we met up with this evening, to cheer for the Wings - I told her neither Chris Chelios nor Dominik Hasek are playing in Game 1.
  • Johan Franzen won't play tomorrow night - he was on TV at the bar I was at, and I won't lie, I got really excited when I thought it was because he'd be back. Fortunately he's practicing, and it won't be long.
  • VS contacted me with some information and a video to share (it's their playoff anthem which I still love for the gigantic writhing octopus) and the promise of "some swags". An interesting bit of information from the document they sent:"During the Conference Final round, in which VERSUS aired nine exclusive games, the network witnessed dramatic increases in household ratings (up 71%), total viewership (up 77%) and viewership among Men 18-34 (up 152%), Men 18-49 (up 109%) and Men 25-54 (up 79%), making it the best-rated, most watched Conference Finals since 2002. Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers on May 11 was the most-watched and highest-rated hockey game on cable television in the last five years (1.7 HH rating and 2,345,834 viewers) and VERSUS’ most watched telecast ever." Always good news.
  • Tomorrow is the start of everything - until then, GO WINGS!

21 May 2008

Playoff Preview: The Battle of NPI

It comes down to this, folks. The Detroit Red Wings vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Cup. Me vs. Elly. I made a really awesome Battle of NPI banner for the blog, but my computer overheated before I thought to save it. I'm smart, I know.

We at NPI think the highlight of this series is that it is going to have to be some amazing hockey. The two best teams in the league facing each other head on, the likes of which each other has never seen - not since preseason. Whichever team takes this series is going to have to be nearly perfect to do it.

Key Matchups:

Offensively, everyone is talking about the one-two punches of Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin vs. the Eurotwins and Selke finalists, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. There's basically no arguing these are the two most exciting, skilled combinations in hockey. Both duos have 40 point between them (20 goals and 20 assists for Pav and Hank, 13 and 37 for Sid and Geno), and both have proven themselves absolutely deadly. Perhaps because neither of the Eurotwins singlehandedly saved hockey (I kid), they don't seem to get the league-wide attention Crosby and Malkin do - but perhaps this will be the season that ends that. The Penguins pair is glamorous and offensively gifted, but the Red Wings duo excels at both ends of the ice, as obvious by their twin Selke nominations, and may be the more well-rounded. Either way, neither can be taken lightly.

Of course these aren't the only weapons for either team - Pittsburgh is finally getting their money's worth out of 20-point Marian Hossa, and the Wings, until he was sidelined with concussion symptoms, had a 12 goals in 11 games scorer in the Mule, Johan Franzen, as well as Tomas Holmstrom being a pest in front of the net. And of course something must be mentioned of the WWGRD phenomenon creating Gary Roberts - just not sure what that something should be (I'm a fan of the bracelets, for the record - but I'm going to have to boycott them through this series). Each team has established secondary scoring and substantial depth.

Both teams look strong on the defensive front. The Penguins who were originally thought to have a suspect blueline going into the playoffs added Hal Gill to compliment Sergei Gonchar among others. The Wings, however have the unflappable Nicklas Lidstrom (if they take the Cup this year it will be his fourth with the team, an honor he shares with the Grind Line and Holmstrom) and his new partner Brian Rafalski who combined are at least among, if not, the best defensive pairs in hockey. And then there's Niklas Kronwall and new addition Brad Stuart - don't call the Wings a soft team. These two will hunt you down. They will find you. And they will smear you across the boards. This defense has been a huge part of the Red Wings' success - they've seriously limited their opponents shots on goal, and if you can't get the puck on the net, you can't put it in, either.

And finally, the goaltending. Veteran Chris Osgood, a cup winner but often criticized as being the winning goaltender on a team that could have taken the cup with a pylon in net, fighting to prove his goaltending worth against relative newcomer, though not without any credibility to his name, Marc-Andre Fleury. Osgood (10-2, 1.60 GAA, .931 SV%) stole the start from Dominik Hasek and has been stellar ever since, but surely the Wings defense has played a huge part in that. Fleury (12-2, 1.70 GAA, .938 SV%) has been the Pens go-to goalie from the beginning and likely the stronger overall between the two, not to mention he's managed an admirable 3 shutouts so far, but he's also got inexperience working against him. Osgood should be on a mission - if he takes the Cup this year will it redeem him against all the trash talk he's heard since his last victory? The worst goalie to win a Cup is one thing, but I'm not sure you can argue the worst goalie to win two cups.
When it comes down to it, the teams are incredibly even-looking. Which will wind up on top, the youthful Penguins or the renewed Red Wing dynasty? Will we stay friends? Will the series be everything that's being predicted of it? We can only hope.

Game 1 -- Saturday May 24th, 8:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Detroit
Game 2 -- Monday, May 26th, 8:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Detroit
Game 3 -- Wednesday, May 28th, 8:00 p.m. Detroit at Pittsburgh
Game 4 -- Saturday, May 31st, 8:00 p.m. Detroit at Pittsburgh
x-Game 5 -- Monday, June 2nd, 8:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Detroit
x-Game 6 -- Wednesday, June 4th, 8:00 p.m. Detroit at Pittsburgh
x-Game 7 -- Saturday, June 7, 8:00 p.m. Pittsburgh at Detroit
Let's get it done before Game 7, okay guys? I'm lined up to go see The National in Pontiac that night.

Around the Web:

Elly and I are off to Toronto for the weekend so posting opportunities through Game 2 will be slim - thus, we refer you to some solid blogs from both teams to keep you posted in our absence.

Representing the Wings:
And the Penguins:

Friends & Foes
When your team has been disposed of, is it time to jump on the bandwagon of one of the potential Cup champs? Whether the answer is yes or no, everyone seems to be swaying at least one way or another. Through this final stretch of the season, the Red Wings have lured in such esteemed bloggers as Katebits (at least for the day!), Kirsten and Nadine, and the Penguins, meanwhile, have earned the loyalties of Cat (by way of latent understandable Wings hatred) and have been Connie's sweethearts from the beginning...anyone else? So far the Wings have it 3-2; Heather apparently likes both, and Sherry is leaving it up to whomever between Elly and I are more convincing over the course of this weekend in which we'll all be in Toronto. Let us know who you're rooting for and we'll add you to the list!
Once again, the series promises to be amazing - I can only hope it follows through. Hold on, folks, it ought to be quite a ride.

20 May 2008

Six Long Years (Wings 4, Stars 1)

The Red Wings put on a pretty damn good show tonight, in the face of an opponent who wouldn't go away, who really did scare us, even if just a little, even if we weren't about to admit it. The Stars fought until the end, and they were far better than they were given credit for being. But the Wings looked great and they did exactly what they needed to do - work as a unit, a gritty, determined, talented unit, that really, really wants to lift Lord Stanley's Cup. Now they just have to beat Pittsburgh. One step away. Be proud of them.

Game One of the Battle of NPI will be Saturday night at 8:00 pm - Elly and I are taking a mini-vacation to Toronto and will catch it together. With luck we'll get a preview post up before then, but for sure if neither of us kills the other, you'll hear from us after the weekend is over.

In the meantime enjoy these:

This is what everything is for.

19 May 2008

The Ghost of Edmonton Suck

I didn't post after Sunday's disappointment because I didn't have the words. The Stars latched onto this series and hauled themselves back into it and I felt that empty feeling of momentary panic in my stomach just like Christy. It has since subsided. I believe we can win this game and I believe we can win this series. But this is what it really comes down to, boys, because this is the thing that hurts the most:

Don't let this be what knocks you out.
We want a Battle of NPI (congrats to Elly and the Penguins!).


18 May 2008

Someone pinch me

Courtesy of Gettyimages.com


Go Pens.

15 May 2008

The Curse of 10 (Stars 3, Wings 1)

How many times in the past few years have the Wings gotten to a 9 game winning streak? And yet 10 always seems to be inexplicably out of our reach. So maybe we should have expected it.

In general, the Stars outplayed the Red Wings last night. They the game for good reason - unfortunately for them there's going to be no one talking about the effort they finally mustered up and the hockey they finally got it in their heads to play. Because everyone is talking about Tomas' Holmstrom's rear end.

In an absolute debacle of a call, Kelly Sutherland, the center ice official, waved off a Pavel Datsyuk goal - which would have been the first of the game - on an interference call, claiming that Holmstrom was in the crease.

You tell me where the interference is.

When pressed to explain, the league conceded that his skates were outside of the blue paint, but that the call had been made because his backside was "hanging over the crease." ("I don't think that's a rule," says Henrik Zetterberg. Me either.) As if that weren't bad enough, the other excuse floating around is that it was a makeup call for a missed interference call on Homer in Game 1. Completely embarrassing. The idea of a perfectly legit goal being called off as basically an "oops we got it wrong" is disgusting. (Matt Saler [On the Wings] has a great post about this.) Congratulations, NHL, after making me think you had it in you to do something right (the fines assessed to Mike Ribeiro and Chris Osgood after Game 2) you go and spoil it with nonsense like this.

It's true you can't say that goal was the gamebreaker, but scoring the first goal in four straight games is quite the demoralizer. The Dallas Stars were playing great hockey last night, but there's no doubt in my mind that that call energized them, that they took something from it and went on to play better hockey, while it seemed to stick with the Wings in a much more negative manner. In some ways you can't blame them, but in others, things like this happen, and you can't use it as an excuse for not playing up to the necessary level.

Still, I have to say, most of last night's game is summed up by Datsyuk's reaction to his goal being waved off - "That's bullshit." (How great is his reaction there, actually? Not just the words, but the exasperated "whatever" screw-you hand wave? You can almost see him rolling his eyes despite the grainy Youtube quality. Pavel knows how inane that call was.)

And that's really unfortunate, because the Stars did play the better game, and they should be recognized for it - it's very unfortunate that they (hopefully!) won't have a win that isn't sullied by shoddy officiating and bush league "makeup" calls.

Podcasting again!

I once again guested on Finny (Girl with a Puck) and Connie's (A Queen Among Kings) "I'm Not a Puck Bunny" podcast, with Sherry (Scarlett Ice) and Cat (Untypical Girls). This week we spent a good portion of the time talking about this Dallas/Detroit series with reactions from both sides as well as the recent Fabian Brunnstrom sweepstakes, so plenty of things of interest for Detroit fans! As always you can check out this and every week's episode at http://imnotapuckbunny.podbean.com.

14 May 2008

Hockey vs. Rent

There's been much ado in Hockeytown for the past few seasons over the declining attendance, but this season it seems even our own sportswriters are chomping at the bit to call out the Detroit faithful. Joe Hass over at Behind the Jersey and Dave at Gorilla Crouch have both already covered the matter of Mitch Albom's latest attack on Wings fans over with a completely valid (and completely brilliant) mixture of facts and appalled outrage at his gall to first scold us and then suggest such this:

"I know the economy is bad. I'm not telling people to hock the jewelry or find a job.

But we're not talking 100,000 spots here, either. There are enough fans and money in our area to fill those absent clusters. Hey, if we can fill Lions seats, we can fill Red Wings seats."
Now, I'm just one fan, and heck, I'm probably not even the fan Albom is targeting with this argument, but for just a few minutes let me deign to think myself important enough to explain why at least one fan has only been to two games this postseason -both with tickets I got for free.

I just finished undergrad. I'm living in an apartment two and a half hours away from the Joe, where I have a job that pays me, well, enough to cover rent, Center Ice, and the occasional trip to the bar. And no matter how much the ticket costs, it's already $55 in gas to get home. The absolute cheapest tickets for round one were $45 on top of that - not so bad right? But really, those are the seats at the very top of the arena, a few rows at most, and the next best come in at, $55. We're already up to $110 and that's without the service fees, because when you're 2 hours away you can't really go pick up your tickets from the Joe box office.

Those tickets in the picture above are mine from Games 1 and 2 of this round. $140 for seats in row 11 out of (I believe) 23 in the upper bowl, and $200 for seats halfway up the lower bowl. And they were great, both seats. Amazing atmosphere, fans, everything. The fans aren't acting like their claim to Hockeytown is dying. But if I hadn't gotten lucky enough to snag a couple corporate tickets from my dad? Heck no, I wouldn't have been able to get anywhere near the Joe - even the cheapest tickets this round clock in at a bank-account damaging $75, plus service charge, plus gas - and then you have to talk somebody else into paying that much to go with you.

Sure, Mitch, you probably weren't talking to college students in that article. You probably weren't calling for people to flock in from all across Michigan. In fact you were probably referring more to locals who still have stable jobs in our faltering economy, people who can maybe shell out that much for a game. But before you accuse Hockeytown of dying, think about all the people, all the fans, who would love to be at these games and simply can't do it.

I don't mean this to be a whiny woe-is-me I can't afford hockey tickets post, because I understand - I understand that ticket prices can only be knocked back so much (which they did this year, slashing some drastically) and that there's always going to be people who just have to wait it out until they hit the point where they can afford it, and I'm not blaming anyone for that. But, Mitch, don't knock the fans like me. We're doing what we can. We'd love to fill that arena if we could.

Say whatever you want, but whether I'm there or not in person, it isn't for lack of love for the game, the playoffs, or my team.

In 45 minutes the Wings will be trying to sweep the Stars to win the Western Conference Finals and advance for the chance to lift the Cup again for the first time since 2002, and if they do, when they come triumphantly back to the Joe to face their next opponent, I know a whole lot of people who would give anything to be in that arena spurring them on. Hockeytown isn't dead. GO WINGS.

13 May 2008

Unstoppable (Wings 5, Stars 2)

Early on in the season the Wings garnered a sort of reputation as a "3rd Period Team" - a team who, even if they faltered early, seemed to get it together and pull things off in the waning minutes of the game (remember Brett Lebda and that Minnesota game?). Of course there have been some notable exceptions to this idea - in fact there have been several games where the third period proved to be their downfall (how about the subsequent L.A. disaster, or the twice-blown lead in Nashville?).

Still, in this vein, what the Wings have been succeeding at continues to be sheer relentlessness - and for the second series in a row the opponent, lauded for this same quality, has failed to match their strides. Last night the Wings post a 5-2 victory over Dallas, giving them a 3-0 lead in the series - not unsurmountable, but a whole new level of challenge for the Dallas Stars, who now sit on the brink of elimination.

I feel like this image does a nice job summing up the current emotions of both teams right now.

Once again last night the Stars looked better than they had previously, knotting the game at two (goals from Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit and Nicklas Grossman - his first in the NHL - and Brad Richards for Dallas) until Jiri Hudler scored a breakaway goal off of a great pass from Niklas Kronwall to put the Wings up again. Shortly after, Henrik Zetterberg made a fool of Richards, beating him on a one-on-one, the goal which seemed to put an end to Dallas' hopes for the evening. Before the game was over, Datsyuk notched his third, completing the first hat trick of his career, and the third Wings hat trick in these playoffs. Even with Johan Franzen missing at least three games now, the Wings' offense has remained deadly.

Despite the "festivities" at the end of Game 2, there was little retaliation from either team in Game 3, at least of the sort that could have gotten them into trouble. While it would have been nice to see Darren McCarty wail on Mike Ribeiro just for old time's sake, I'm very grateful the Wings took out their frustrations over the whole deal in a purely winning-oriented manner. Their discipline and strength of character (with few exceptions; I concede the Osgood spear the other night) is another of their strong suits and has definitely been making a difference for them - even if Marty Turco disagrees:
"When the intensity rises, we like our chances in that regard, too," Turco said. "We don't think much of them on a personal, character level. We think that's to our advantage."
Really, Marty? Don't get me wrong, I like you, but maybe you should worry more about the Wings' outstanding ability to get pucks behind you than their characters, not to mention the fact that your highly-touted play coming into this series has fallen rather flat.

Wednesday night's Game 4 in Dallas (once again at 8:00 p.m. EST) should be interesting - the Wings have an opportunity to complete their second sweep in a row and secure a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals, but one can only assume the Stars will be putting out all the stops to keep their spectacular season alive. I believe - but no one can completely count the Stars out yet. GO WINGS!

11 May 2008

Keeping it Going (Wings 2, Stars 1)

The Red Wings won last night to go up 2-0 in the series against the Stars. Since one of Dallas' main accomplishments thus far was two quick road wins in enemy territory, being able to stymie them so far this has to give the Wings a pretty good feeling about the series.

Then again the Stars came out much harder last night than Thursday. They controlled the puck better, they looked more dangerous, more alert, even their supposed deadly powerplay connected to give them the one goal (a Stephane Robidas slapshot) they would earn for the evening. Not to mention the Wings were out Johan Franzen, a huge blow given his playoff production so far (the man has 27 goals in 27 games - same as the Eurotwins combined). Defensively, the Wings looked very good, but as Matt noted, "I don’t think the Wings have fully hit their stride in this round." The good news is, they're still playing well enough to win, and we can add "yet" to that sentence and hope for the best.

Unfortunately for Stars, their improved play still wasn't enough. They scored a pp goal, but they went 1/6 on the evening and couldn't put anything together in the second, despite the Wings spending half the period in the box. It was apparent their frustration from the first game carried over into the second.

Tomas Holmstrom was great; he continued getting in their faces despite some abuse from Stars goalie Marty Turco (whose aggressive behavior, including a couple cheap shots on Holmstrom and Val Filppula, finally cost him, as he was called for slashing), and he got the entire team so wrapped up in his antics that oftentimes they let up spectacular scoring opportunities for the Wings, including the Henrik Zetterberg eventual gamewinner. Things like this are why Homer is such a huge asset to this team.

It doesn't help the Stars either that Chris Osgood is playing like a man possessed. At least twice I was absolutely convinced the Stars were going to tie the game, only to see the puck slide back down the ice on the stick of a Wing. So good, in fact, that when Mike Ribeiro slashed him two-handed across the chest from behind the net at the end of the game and he went down writhing in pain (which I will admit, now, was extremely silly looking and unnecessary on his part) every fan in the Joe went dead silent as I can only imagine visions of Dominik Hasek in net passed through their heads. And wouldn't you have?

Speaking of that hit, whether or not Osgood intentionally jabbed at him with the butt end of his stick, and I'm not saying he didn't as he certainly did hit it, that sort of intent to injure slash is never okay, and I hope the league is aware of this when meting out judgment.

But what's even more not okay? Throwing trash on the ice. Yeah, Wings fans, I know, you weren't happy - I wasn't either, but I kept my beer securely in my lap. There's absolutely no reason to be hurling towels, wrappers, hot dogs, half-drank cups of beer (especially this - those people sitting below you really don't deserve to get splattered), on the ice. The team doesn't appreciate it, the officials don't appreciate it, the management doesn't appreciate it, and it just makes you look like a jerk. It's completely unnecessary and totally tacky - way to show pride in our arena. Congratulations you guys, you just negated all that whining you did about Don Cherry calling us rednecks. I know this is a good series and I know it's getting all our emotions up, but that's no excuse. Please, guys, don't help make Detroit and its fans look as bad as people say it is - stay classy, guys.

Game 3 is Monday night in Dallas at 8:00 pm (who else loves our travel schedule these playoffs?) - GO WINGS! And of course, here are some Game 2 photos!

09 May 2008

And finally, it is friday.

After a week's worth of waiting, the final day is here. In less than an hour the start of what will undoubtably be an epic series awaits, and with it comes the possibility of a chance to stand on the Cup stage...or take a jump off a cliff at being defeated by the Flyers.

I'm not going to do a finals preview (especially not after Steph's Wings/Stars dazzling post!), everyone knows what this final is going to be about. Physical, chippy play, breakout plays and solid goaltending; all the makings of a super conference final. If your stomach isn't in knots, you had better figure out what's going on.

Want a nice preview? Check out these bad boys (and girls!):
Empty Netters (solid as always)
The Pensblog (essential)
The Sidney Crosby Show (anything and everything you ever wanted to know about Sid)
Going Five Hole (great collection from around the web)
And, of course, NHL.com has a nice spread up.

Enemy territory more your thing?:
Flyers.Femme and Eager to go Psycho, my HLOGin' sistas
The 700 Level (pretty solid Philly blog)

Honestly, that's about as deep as I went into Philly territory this round. I get enough lore from the fans around here, asked for or otherwise.

Being a big fan of the lolcats site, I was pleased to see this version pop up on the net. Go there. Love it. (big thanks to The Pensblog for that particular gem)

Now it's almost time to drop the puck, and I have to venture out into the bar world with Flyers fans. Only one thing left to do:

Go Pens.

EDIT: Thank you, Blogger, for posting this a day late. Sheesh.

Make 'Em See Stars (Wings 4, Stars 1)

The post title seems to be the slogan the Wings are going with heading into these conference finals against the Dallas Stars - they were even giving T-Shirts emblazoned with it at the Joe for an impromptu red out. It's a fitting one, given the outcome of the game one, in which the Wings defeated the Stars 4-1 and took a 1-0 lead in the series.

The new addition for this years' playoffs? Flames shooting from the scoreboard when a goal is scored. Awesome.

I was in attendance and didn't take any notes, so this may be a little sparse - but I made plenty of observations:

I'd be really interested in knowing how much time the Wings were in control of the puck vs the Stars. It seemed like, especially during a large chunk of the first and second, literally every time the Stars had possession you barely had the chance to hope they didn't take advantage of it before the puck was securely on a Wing's stick again. Maybe, as suggested by several sources included Mike Babcock, they were still feeling the effects of that Sunday night marathon, but the Stars showed a remarkable lack of skill in passing and puck control.

Similarly, we were told to fear the Dallas powerplay - which did look a little bit scary shortly into the first period when the Wings took an early penalty, but the second pp of the night was absolutely abysmal, and it didn't look too much better from then on. Dallas' only goal was scored at even strength. The Wings on the other hand, went 3 for 5 on the pp with only Valtteri Filppula's breakway goal coming at even strength. If their pp continues to click like this for the rest of the series they're going to be scary.

For Dallas to have a chance in this series, their best players really need to shine, and last night they all but didn't show up. Brenden Morrow scored the lone goal, which is a plus for them, as he's a force the Wings really need to be able to contain, given his play as of late. But Brad Richards? He was so unremarkable that I spent all night referring to him as "That guy with Fedorov's number" until I finally realized oh, that's him? - not impressive.

Despite the numbers, Marty Turco didn't look horrible - and while it was fun to chant Turrrrcoooo with the masses, you almost felt bad for him. The guys in front of him were majorly letting him down, and nothing he let in was a complete softie. Despite getting as many goals put up against him, he looked much better than Jose Theodore ever did last series. His stick save on Henrik Zetterberg's wraparound attempt - an almost sure goal - was awesome, and it forced Chris Osgood to make a quick brilliant save of his own to keep the flow of the game in our favor. However, he wasn't the goalie he'd been made out to be either, and the Stars are going to need him better if they

For the Wings, I thought Dallas Drake had a really good night. Twice I saw him make extremely nice takeaways - and both times until I saw his number I thought it had been Pavel Datsyuk, quite a compliment. Filppula looked really good as well, especially given his status was questionable after he twisted his leg in the last game against Colorado. Then again the entire Wings team seemed to be really in sync all evening long. They let off the gas a little at the end, but luckily the very frustrated Stars team was still unable to take advantage. Still, they're going to need to put out a full 60 minute effort to keep the series going the way it is now. Game two will be a completely different beast.

My photo gallery from the game (mainly shots from warmups) is here, but here are some of my favorites:

I have managed to pick up tickets to Game 2 (Saturday at 7:00 pm) as well, so expect more on Sunday, after the drive back to Kalamazoo! And of course, GO WINGS!

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!

05 May 2008

Bring it on, baby

Thank heavens. Watching the third period gave me ulcers, but seeing the Penguins go to work in OT, stepping it up and playing the way that everyone knows they can....just a thing of beauty. Don't suppose the NHL can postpone the start of the conference finals till after my finals, eh?

A quick congratulations to Dallas, who by winning in an amazing 4 OT marathon, has officially killed my Western conference hockey pool. Thanks, Stars.

03 May 2008

Get Out Your Brooms! (Wings 8, Avs 2)

I know, I'm way late on the uptake - but Thursday was a night of celebration (though not at this bar, because the @#%&head bartender refused to put the game on any of their half a dozen televisions - a move which would have resulted in one less TV showing half naked girls in music videos), and this weekend I spent working Western's last MAC softball games of the year.

Thursday the Wings completed their sweep of the Colorado Avalanche in a decisive 8-2 rout that sends them to the Conference Finals for the second year in a row. With prospect Fabian Brunnstrom in attendance, the Wings Swedes apparently dressed to impress, notching all 8 of those goals themselves. Tomas Holmstrom got one, and Mikael Samuelsson two, but it the real stars were two other Swedes. Johan Franzen's second hat trick in three games (the first player to do so since Jari Kurri, 23 years ago), and 9th goal in the series (a feat which broke a Gordie Howe record). His first goal of the game, a quick (47 seconds later) follow up to Tomas Holmstrom's with 39 seconds left in the first, served to be the dagger in Colorado's heart - following it the Wings took off, scoring four in the second and one more in the third. The Mule continues to be on fire. Not to be totally outdone by Franzen, though, Henrik Zetterberg scored twice as well; the second of which was an amazing goal he put in while on his back on the ice (you know it's good when it even made the top play on Sportscenter the next morning):

Jose Theodore didn't look Game 1 bad, but he didn't look good either - and neither did backup Peter Budaj. Then again, they weren't getting a whole lot of help either, and having forwards who were scoring goals like that Zetterberg beauty isn't going to help anybody's confidence. Chris Osgood on the other hand, is doing his damnedest every single game to keep our faith in him firmly secured.

Despite the scoring circus the game turned into, however, the Avalanche stayed classy. I know I wasn't alone in worrying that he last few minutes of the game would turn into a brutal, cheap-shotting injury-fest, as the Avs tried to goon it up and leave their mark before their season ended - but they didn't. And that's awesome. Jibblescribbits sums it up perfectly:
Even though they were completely outplayed by Detroit, their character never sacrificed their class by gooning it up in defeat. Detroit fans remember Calgary last season, and Avs fans remember the Wild this season. Yet the Avs carried themselves with class and, despite being down 8-2 in an elimination game, still were trying. True character is revealed in tough times and no matter what the Avs proved they are nothing if not a team of character. So be proud of them, despite the pitiful game.
Losing in the manner they did is never easy, especially for a team who expected more out of themselves, and who didn't - or couldn't - play in a manner equal to their potential. And still, the Avalanche came out of the series demanding a certain respect for the way they responded. Kudos to them.

While the game was fun to watch, and it was fun to alternately cheer, gape, and laugh in disbelief as goal after goal went in, and while it's always awesome to watch your team sweep, especially playing as dominantly as Detroit did, on the other hand, it was bittersweet. No one though the rivalry was going to come back full force, but nearly everyone predicted a hard-fought series from both teams - and in the end, the Avalanche just didn't have enough gas in the tank to provide that. Of course, the ridiculous amount of injuries probably didn't help, either. Fans of both teams were pumped up expecting a series they didn't get (though perhaps they should have, as the Wings are now 8-0 against the Avs on the season), which was a little disappointing - not that I'm complaining about the actual outcome, either.

Other sources on Game 4:
The Wings' opponent for the WCF hasn't been decided yet, as San Jose pulled it off again last night when Joe Pavelski scored the OT gamewinner to push a Game 6. If you'd asked me halfway through the season who I'd rather play, I would've said San Jose, because Dallas was terrifying. Coming into the playoffs I'd have said Dallas, because San Jose was terrifying. At the beginning of this series I would've said San Jose, because Dallas was terrifying - are you sensing a pattern? Either way, the Wings are on a roll and looking forward to the rest, so fans have no reason to be anything but optimistic.

Finally, a round of thanks to all the Avalanche bloggers for their help, their banter, their vehement hatred, and their commitment throughout the series - it's a fact that you always end up reading blogs of teams you might never have bothered with come playoff time when they're the opposition, but you don't always find blogs you intend to keep reading afterward. Thanks for being along for the ride, guys! (And, of course, GO WINGS!)