24 June 2008

The Difference a Year Makes

The draft has come and gone, I've started a new job that has rendered me busier than I've spent a summer in years, and I've once again been slacking on coverage. Expect a post soon on the status of the newest Red Wings - although my Wings blogger fellows have given the matter ample coverage in the meantime, should be starving for something to read.

Watching the new little draftlings take the stage, I realized we've heard little on the status of last year's acquisitions and thus decided to do a little digging and figure out what they've all been up to:

Brendan Smith (1st round; 27th overall)

Brendan Smith, like Jon Ericsson, had converted to playing defense not all that long ago, and he even skated as a fourth line forward in his last game with Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA) this season.

Of course, that game was his first back after suffering a back injury (a "bulging disc" - serious ow) that cost him the majority of the season. He scored six points in his first four games, and ten after the first seven before sitting out more than half of the season. Very unfortunate considering the potential the season had for him, but Smith hasn't given up and will be back with the Badgers next year.

07/08 Stats:

Wisconsin Badgers (CCHA): 22 GP, 2 G, 10A

Joakim Andersson (3rd round; 88th overall)
Andersson played with three separate teams last year, moving between Boras of the Swedish second level league, and Frolunda, both the under 20 junior league team and Swedish Elite League. While he looks to have made little impact in the elite league, he'd only played one game at that level before this season, and cearly tore up the J20 league scoresheets, so perhaps Andersson just needs the time to accustom himself to the higher levels, where he should earn a full time spot next season.

07/08 Stats:

Boras (Swe-2): 33 GP, 6 G, 17 A
Frolunda (Swe-J20): 6 GP, 8G, 2 A
Frolunda (Swe): 9 GP, 1 G, 0A

Randy Cameron (5th round; 148th overall)
Randy Cameron played with Moncton of the QMJHL, putting up 39 points in 62 regular season games (the Wildcats missed the playoffs), the same point total as last season. In fact, he scored 5 less goals (and made up for them in assists), showing little offensive improvement. He was one of Moncton's leading scorers, but then again, Moncton was a rebuilding team with a 21-34-5-10 record (second worst in the QMJHL). )

07/08 Stats:

Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL): 62 GP, 12 G, 37 A

Zach Torquato (6th round; 178th overall)
Zach Torquato was the most visible of the Wings' 07 draft picks, owing to the amateur tryout he had with the Grand Rapids Griffins. He began the season resuming his role with a struggling Lake Erie (whom he captains at the age of 18) and still managed to notch a point per game (67 in 66 games). From my experience watching him in Grand Rapids (meaning this part is purely an opinion) he's a very slight guy, and he looks smart out on the ice and is great at putting the puck in the net (twice this season he scored two shorthanded goals in game) but he isn't as fast as you'd expect for someone smaller (he is 6', but certainly looks smaller on the ice), and doesn't skate all that well. His point a game pace in Erie dropped to 1 in 11 when he moved up to Grand Rapids, but he certainly showed flashes of promise as well. Torquato was Detroit's highest-scoring junior prospect this past season. Look for him to perhaps return with Grand Rapids next season?

07/08 Stats:

Lake Erie Otters (OHL): 66 GP, 25 G, 42 A
Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL): 11 GP, 1 G, 0 A

Bryan Rufenach (Round 7; 208th overall)
The Wings went off the chart to draft Rufenach, who had played just a handful (although he was a point per game player in 06/07) of games for the Lindsay Muskies the year before. This year he played on scholarship for Clarckson in the NCAA. He's been compared to Niklas Kronwall in terms of skating but unlike Kronwall nothing about his season seemed particularly remarkable. He was, however, only a freshman, and didn't receive a whole lot of ice time, which will likelky be improved upon as he is now a sophomore.

07/08 stats:

Clarkson (NCAA) 35 GP, 3 G, 3 A
Certainly a lot of room for improvement - but the kids seem to be doing all right. After all, Jonathan Ericsson didn't jump from Mr. Irrelevant to a top four projected defenseman overnight, either.

Next up - the newest Red Wings.

19 June 2008

Playing Catch-up

Let's not lie, the summer is, well, (save for a few particular dates) slow in terms of good juicy NHL news. Still, the past few days have brought a bit of interesting news where the Wings are concerned:

  • First of all Igor Larionov, who was eligible to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame last year, was elected this year. Larionov helped the Wings win three cups in eight season and gets referred to as the Wayne Gretzky of Russia - making this effectively a no-brainer. "The Professor" gave a quote, when asked about his time with the Wings, that I think really sums up the team, and the team's ideals as a whole - and just why they're as successful as they are:
"To play the style that I was taught to play back in Russia, which was back control, puck-possession and skating, and the creativity that you saw, and more important, to have a coach and an organization that was driving to win the Stanley Cup […] Those eight seasons with the Red Wings, I put in comparison with the eight seasons with the Red Army team and the national team. That was success. That was fun. It was unbelievable support from the fans. It was incredible.”
Congratulations, Igor, and best wishes for the future - it's an honor you completely and totally deserve.

  • I didn't make it to the Darren McCarty signing after all, but NPI correspondent Lady did! Here's what she passed along to me:
"McCarty is a super nice relaxed guy. He said that morning he'd been driving all around because his son had a baseball game, but that every day is a good day when you win the cup. I should have paid extra and had him draw a heart around Osgood and write "No one messes with my Ozzie" by it. The Wings are adorable and full of so much amazing bro-love."
She also sent some pictures my way but as they're personal shots that she and her boyfriend are in, I'm disinclined to plaster them all over the internet. Looks like everyone involved was having fun though!
  • This is the cutest video I've seen yet of the post-parade celebration at Cheli's - a big chunk of the team singing along to "We are the Champions":

My favorite part is Henrik Zetterberg holding up the mic for Nicklas Lidstrom - the Captain sure has been doing a lot of singing lately, hasn't he?
Finally there are plenty of upcoming events as well - of course the NHL Entry Draft is tomorrow and plenty of our fine blogger friends will be in attendance including Pookie and Schnookie (McCrotch) of Interchangeable Parts, Patty of Penalty Killing, Heather of Top Shelf, and Alix of the Humming Giraffe, so be sure to check out their respective blogs for coverage of the event itself, and stop back here for news of the Wings' draft selections!

12 June 2008

The 2008 NHL Awards - A Liveblog...sort of!

A good friend in Toronto invited me to hit up this year's NHL Awards with him - alas, the ever-escalating gas prices but the kibosh on that plan, and here I am in my living room with some green tea ginger ale and a tiny TV - and of course taking notes. I do, though, want to shout out a thank you for the offer, and I hope it's a great time!

  • The awards open with a whole lot of yapping most of which is not as funny as Ron McLean hopes it will be. Still, it's almost refreshing that year in and year out you never stop feeling embarrassed for him when listening to him talk. It's almost like listening to your dad make bad jokes at a family reunion - except at least you're not related. Anyway! I'm watching this alone in my living room because the bars we checked with didn't expect to be showing it - so of course I'm taking notes:
  • There's a shot of Henrik Zetterberg and girlfriend Emma Andersson, who looks cute as usual in her little yellow dress - I don't know why, but I've really grown to like her. For a couple that isn't in the spotlight very often, they just seem rather sweet. The camera also pans to Marian Illitch while McLean tells us all stories about Little Caesar's. I love my owners, but sometimes you have to wonder if they get sick of being known as "The pizza guys."
  • Martin St. Louis announces the Pearson award - he basically looks like he a robot, and I think if he lets himself get distracted by showing any sort of emotion, he'll forget the words to his very stilted, awkward speech. Alex Ovechkin, on the other hand, who takes the Pearson (yay!) has to unfold himself a little piece of paper full of notes, and then says he's nervous and apologizes. Ovie is always so adorable and personable that it's really hard to remotely dislike him.
  • Dominik Hasek takes the stage to talk about the Jennings, which he and Chris Osgood won this season - apparently Ozzie's still busy being sexy in Hollywood. I understood every single thing Hasek said (which included mention of yesterday's Czech Republic/Portugal Euro 2008 match - he says the Czechs looked better in the second half.) and I feel his English has gotten about a billion times better since the last time I heard him talk. A mysterious phenomenon indeed.
  • Craig Simpson makes a "The kids are all right" reference. Um. Please don't.
  • Guy Carbonneau presents the Selke, and Pavel Datsyuk's highlights video starts with a glorious slow-motion shot of him spitting. Come on guys, really? He wins it anyway. I was, I won't lie, sort of hoping Zetterberg would take it (he apparently only came in third!), but Pavel definitely deserves it as well. Mike Babcock gives him a pat as he walks up, but Zetterberg is nowhere to be found - oh well, they'll probably share it anyway. He also stammers as he speaks, which is super super cute. Then he says I love you to his family! Cute again! Followed by, "I want to speech longer but my English so..." Everyone laughs - I wonder what he'll say now when he wins the Lady Byng?
  • They honor the guy (I'm sorry I didn't catch his name fast enough) who basically saved Richard Zednik's life - that's really cool of them.
  • People (Cassie Campbell and Adam Graves) never realizes that back and forth speeches sound seriously silly. Check out that alliteration! Meanwhile, the King Clancy goes to Vincent Lecavalier, who thanks people for....recognizing that he gives to charity? He makes up for it by speaking French, but that hair is a serious knockback.
  • The Masterton, meanwhile, goes to, as predicted, Jason Blake. Not that I don't think he deserves it, but I really would have liked to see Fernando Pisani win. (Chris Chelios? He's just old. Come on! Everyone overcomes being old! Whether or not he's on my team!)
  • Red Kelly! He's the last to win the Lady Byng three years in a row - does this mean good things for Pavel Datsyuk? (Also, Kelly makes this award sound far more like a "real award" with his speech, slightly stilted and slow as it may be.) Kellly massacres Datsyuk's last name, but he wins again! As predicted, he admits to not knowing what to say this time and rushes off the stage.
  • In an act of ultimate irony, Charter Cable interrupts the NHL awards to thank me for using their service - their service that I have done nothing but damn since the Centre Ice fiasco earlier in the season. I hate you Charter, I hate you good - stop wrecking my hockey!
  • Ovechkin's talking about the last Caps game of the year - which I was at! I agree, Ovie, it was fun. Here's Scotty Bowman to present the award, with Cammi Granato who looks somehow very awkward in that dress. As of right this moment, I am officially annoyed with the little kids presentations. The way he just said "Things are looking gooooo~oood in Motown" horrified me. Bruce Boudreau wins the Jack Adams - and while I wouldn't have minded Mike Babcock taking it, obviously, like I said I was at that last Caps game, and I definitely think Boudreau deserves it for this past season. He gives a very sweet, likable speech, too. Yay Bruce Boudreau!
  • McLean wanted that Sean Avery joke to be way, way, way funnier than it was.
  • Mike Bossy and Wendel Clark tell me all about being a rookie and winning the Calder trophy. All I cared about from that clip was Martin Havlat looking adorably Zetterbergish. I love Nicklas Backstrom, but I hate Chicago, so we'll leave it at that Pat Kane takes it. (Okay no, I can't leave it alone - his speech annoys me. Stop already!)
  • NHL Lifetime Achievement award? Gary Bettman announces something he could never ever be the recipient of (you know, ignoring the fact that you probably have to play to pick it up) and then gives it to somehow I highly doubt, regardless of what he says, he knows anything about. But Gordie Howe! (One of the letter readers calls something "fierce" and all I can think of is that damn kid from Project Runway last season. Arghhhhh.)
  • The crowd shot before Gordie's speech features Nick Lidstrom! He looks very nice as usual - really, 38, Nick? I don't believe it. Hasek gets a highlight during the speech too, and he and Nick both still look at Gordie with the sort of awe you'd expect from a fresh faced rookie, not long-time Red Wings. It's kind of (really) cool that he still inspires that.
  • Jarome Iginla is adorable, talking to the little kids (who are less annoying in that brief moment). And wow, that little diabetes kid has some crazy memorization skills! Good job!
  • The kid in the Canucks jersey says his favorite player is Henrik Zetterberg! I like him already! Someone in the audience absolutely yelps - part of me wants to believe it's Pavel, loving on his Eurotwin partner.
  • NPI ex-Oiler favorite Jason Smith got a smiley two-second clip in the 'warrior' highlight package!
  • You can't imagine the Norris going to anybody but Nick Lidstrom, right? Right. His wife gives him a little kiss (cute!) and soft-spoken Nick goes up to accept his billion and fourth (okay sixth) Norris. His barely-there Swedish accent is strong tonight - but he doesn't feel like an encore singing performance, apparently.
  • ...really? Martin Brodeur? Again? Sure the guy's good but...really? Boring. Boring, Vezina award-givers.
  • Alex Ovechkin wins the Hart, surprise surprise! Who wants a t-shirt? (But no, I'm glad he took it - and even more glad he's "nervous again". Adorable! And he loves you!)
And we're done! I'm still bitter that (at least in the States) we got no Stompin' Tom Conners (and plenty of the annoying kids) and also there should have been far more shots of Zetterberg - though they're now focusing on Pavel who somehow isn't paying attention to the camera despite it being literally right in his face - and that's cute too. Oh there's Henrik, chatting up Gordie Howe - is he getting something signed?

Anyway, congratulations to the all of the winners - while the quality of the NHL Awards show might be uh, questionable, it was fun.

11 June 2008

D-Mac is back again!

Darren McCarty will be signing autographs at the Taylor Gibraltar Trade Center on Sunday June 15th from 1-3 pm! For those like me who watched him all through this season as he made his way back to the big leagues, this is awesome - except I have Tigers tickets that afternoon for a game that starts at 1 pm, so I'm not sure I'll be able to make it.

I saw Valtteri Filppula and Dan Cleary at Gibraltar last year, although it was at the Mt. Clemens location, and it was a blast. You're ushered through the line fairly quickly, but you get a minute or two to chat (or, in my case, poke fun at Jiri Hudler) with the players. One word of advice though - since this doesn't sound like it's an actual sports card show this time, look for something to get signed (there's a $30 fee per item) in advance, or your only options will likely be a choice between a couple 8x10 glossies - nice quality but not always the picture you might have chosen!

If anyone else happens to make it, be sure to let NPI know all about it (with pictures!)

In the past few days...

1. Wings' Czech madman goaltender Dominik Hasek has retired (for real this time):

"I know it's 100 percent the right time to say good-bye," Hasek said. "Physically, I feel great. It's all about passion and motivation. I just don't feel I'm ready to compete at the highest level. I don't want to disappoint anyone."
Say what you will about Hasek (and there's plenty to say), but his contributions to the Wings and to the position of goaltender itself, cannot be discounted. While his play did drop off this season, he still backstopped the team in part to the victory we've all been basking in. He combined with Osgood for the lowest GAA in the league even without looking as strong as he has in the past. And don't forget last year when he was the legitimate #1 and helped take the team to the Western Conference Finals. Dom even handled himself incredibly gracefully despite the disappointment of losing his job to Chris Osgood in the playoffs - which, don't lie, we didn't all expect. At any rate, I wouldn't have minded him sticking around another year if he'd decided to, but this is a good decision for him. The Dominator always wanted to be number one, and what better way to go out but on top, with another Cup-winning season as your last memories in the NHL.

2. Stanley Cup winning coach Mike Babcock has signed a contract to be back for three years. Babcock is the first coach to win 50 or more games each year for his first three with a team - and now he will have the chance to do it for three more. The Wings announced yesterday that Babcock signed a deal worth $1.5 million a season and loaded with bonuses, which makes him one of the highest paid coaches in the league - as well he should be.

Babcock is a Jack Adams finalist this season, and for good reason. Of course he has an amazing team to work with, but his coaching style itself is an absolutely huge part of the Wings' success. Says Ken Holland:
"I think Mike has been the perfect fit for our team. He's pushed our team to be harder, go to the harder areas. He's challenged our team to play harder every night and I think our team for the most part every night plays hard. A large portion of that credit goes to Mike.''
Very true. He knows when to push the team, when to back off, when to take them to resorts in Pittsburgh, and he seems to have maintained a good relationship with them on top of it. Every time you hear the players talk about Babcock it feels like genuine respect - and that's one of the most important things for a coach. And the man has a record, these past three years, of 162-56-28. 162-56-28! I for one am thrilled that he'll be back for another three years, looking to tie Scotty Bowman as the only coach to record four straight 50-win seasons. Here's to you, coach - I for one am hoping he can take it to six.

Plus, he has absolutely perfect hair.

3. (And the most important) Nick Lidstrom and Chris Osgood are bringing sexy (and Stanley) back:

Justin would be proud, boys (and how cute is Nicky Lidstrom singing "We're bringing sexy back"? Oh so very.)

07 June 2008

To the victors go the spoils

Yesterday afternoon the Detroit Red Wings and 1.4 million of their greatest fans celebrated Lord Stanley's Cup coming back to Detroit after 6 long years (I know, I know, that really isn't a long period of time at all for something like this, but it was extra sweet for Wings fans after being expected to flounder some in the age of the salary cap to have rebuilt on the fly, capturing their 4th Cup in 11 years). I drove out with a few friends to spend the day in Detroit celebrating and it was totally worth the four hours total in a car and the $5.99 I just spent on aloe to soothe my horrible sunburn to see the team as happy and triumphant as they were. My friends and I managed to snag a nice elevated spot near the corner of Woodward and Congress to watch the whole parade, and then headed over to Hart Plaza for the rally afterward.

Some photos and highlights:

Al the Octopus was crowned victor of the Stanley Cup.

My friend and I at the start of the parade - you can imagine how sunburned I got.

I was incredibly excited to see Jiri Fischer riding on out of the scouts' trucks - he'll get this name on the Stanley Cup for the second time, albeit for a very different position this time.

NPI Griffins favorite Kyle Quincey with Mattias Ritola - I wonder how it was decided that Ritola was the one to get his name on the truck over Quincey, who played more games both this and last season. He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself regardless.

My favorite from last season, Jiri Hudler, seemed to be having a blast - perhaps aided by some foreign liquid type substance - cheering, blowing kisses to the crowd, even at one point getting up on top of his truck. The best part, however, had to be his speech during the rally. I took a video of it, but this one (you can hear him after Darren McCarty) is much better:

Thank you, Jiri, for making me love you even more.

Tomas Holmstrom tipped his hat and bowed to the fans.

Valtteri Filppula.

Dallas Drake was given custody of the Clarence S. Campbell bowl for the duration of the parade.

Pavel Datsyuk, with his wife and daughter, took care of the President's Trophy.

One of the best parts of the parade was seeing Henrik Zetterberg making his way down Woodward using the Conn Smythe trophy as a hat. It was sunny outside, but wasn't it a little heavy, Hank?

He did lift it to resounding cheers from the crowds, though.

And of course, captain Nicklas Lidstrom finished off the parade holding Lord Stanley high.

We were standing much farther back at the rally, but had the opportunity to get closer and take some pictures toward the very end, when the players were passing the up around up on stage and waiting for photo opportunities. I like that someone (Derek Meech is my guess) is assaulting Niklas Kronwall with a hug off to the right hand side.

Overall, the parade was a huge success and a lot of fun. Several other Wings got to speak at the rally, as well as coaches, owners, local broadcasters, and the like. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick deigned to show up as well, although his speech - even his promise for free beer - was drowned out by the audiences resounding boos. Afterward the part went back to Cheli's Chili Bar, where apparently it got a bit raucous, as the Cup was dented during the festivities. Many of the local establishments expected to nearly double their usual intake for the day, which is great for a city like Detroit with its wobbly economy - and great for the team, as it shows just how devoted and proud its fans are.

I also want to extend a huge congrats to Christy of Behind the Jersey - I saw who I thought looked like her driving around a red corvette at the parade, and as it turns out, it was indeed! Sounds like an awesome day and a great opportunity.

Stay tuned for the adventures of the Cup this summer; NPI will be attempting to chronicle them as long as moving and working don't get too much in the way. And of course, Go Wings!

05 June 2008

Your 2008 Stanley Cup Champions


What a series. What a game. Thank once again to everybody who contributed around here throughout the season; first and foremost to my amazing co-blogger Elly - our friendship did in fact (I think!) endure this last series of the 07-08 season - but also to everyone who commented, everyone who read, everyone who just lurked every once in a while. Without you, we wouldn't have a blog.

Nick Lidstrom becomes the first European captain to lift the cup. Henrik Zetterberg wins the Conn Smythe. The Detroit Red Wings take home Lord Stanley's Cup in 6. The parade is tomorrow at 11.

Congratulations, boys, the summer seems a little sweeter now.

04 June 2008

Playoff Algebra

I watched that heartbreaking Game 5 sitting hunkered down on a couch next to at least three other people I consider to have become hockey fans in large part because of me (this is not to brag about myself at all, but rather to admit to the fact that I have been forcing my obsession on all of my friends and am surprised they still stick around), entreating them to watch, to learn, to love the playoffs and to see their team through it, trying to explain to them what it feels like to watch your team lift Lord Stanley, to even be, yourself, in the same room with the greatest prize you can imagine.

And the whole time, what I found myself constantly explaining to them was, "I want x player to win the cup because y." Then I saw this post of Dave's, which was along similar lines, and I thought about it, and that really honestly is part of the reason I want this so badly - of course you always want to see your team win, but more importantly I want to see each individual little piece of the team to succeed. I want this for all of them.

I want Nick Lidstrom to lift the Cup as the first European captain to do it, after all the years he's given to this team and how he's quietly been the best guy out there nearly every night.

I want Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk to lift the Cup and prove once and for all that they are in fact one of the greatest duos in hockey. Ever. I want, I admit, to know that my Eurotwins, my stars, were brighter than the dynamic Crosby/Malkin pair. I want to see the looks on their faces when they jump on each other afterward like they do after every goal, because you know they will.

I want Chris Osgood to lift the Cup for all the years he's spent being "the worst goalie to win the Cup." I want the remarkable season he had when no one expected it out of him to be rewarded.

I want Darren McCarty to lift the Cup because what he did was amazing. Say what you will about how he let his life degenerate in the first place, but can you imagine struggling through the IHL, to the AHL, to the NHL, working back to the form you were in years ago because you only just now realized how much you love and need this sport - working all this way back and being able to lift Lord Stanley for your efforts? No better reward exists. And I want to see him lift it alongside Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby, the Grind Line reunited.

I want Dallas Drake to lift the Cup because who knows, it could be his last year, and the fact that he's been in the league this long and through so much pain (seriously look at his face), celebrated 1,000 games played, and this is the first year he's even gotten to the finals.

I want Brian Rafalski to lift the Cup because of how long he spent apparently stifled in New Jersey, because he came home to Michigan and broke out, broke his career highs all over the place, and fit in so spectacularly.

I want Brad Stuart to lift the Cup because I want him to stay here, I want the fact that we rescued him (no offense Connie!) and brought him in to a place where he could shine to mean something. I want our one trade deadline acquisition, our little minor notch on the day, to become a huge piece of a championship.

I want Johan Franzen to lift the Cup because hot damn. Two hat tricks in three games, 29 goals in 28 games. Because he destroyed our expectations of him and then some.

I want Tomas Holmstrom to lift the Cup for every goal he's had called off, for every time his "large backside" has been in OR out of the crease with the same result, because he's been the pest we needed and his role is one of the most under appreciated. And because his Knob Hockey is the funniest thing ever.

I want Dan Cleary to lift the Cup because I want to think about all of Newfoundland nearly exploding. I want to see a kid who barely made the team in the first place, who floundered elsewhere, make the most of breaking out in Detroit.

I want Niklas Kronwall to lift the Cup because it would be the perfect end to his year, a season he finally got through without a rash of fluky injuries, and it would prove what a powerhouse he is in a way no one has gotten to see before.

I want Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula and Darren Helm to lift the Cup because I watched them in Grand Rapids and I saw them become, a little bit, what they are, and because they're the future, the "rookies" that we so often have passed up in the past.

Hell I even want Dominik Hasek to lift the Cup because yeah, he wasn't great, and yeah, people don't like him, but look what he still did for us this year and last year and who doesn't want to retire on a note like that. I even want Chris Chelios to lift it because it'll give one more thing for VS to tack on when they tell us how old he is every game. I even want Andreas Lilja to lift it because while I profess my hatred for him and he scares me, he's been an integral part too. I even want Brett Lebda to lift it because Kirsten loves him and he's a Chicago boy and that's almost hometown. And I even want Mikael Samuelsson to lift it because even though he can't score on an opening the size of the broad side of a barn if it killed him, he somehow manages to pull off the weird quirky ones that really, really matter.

Tonight is huge. We were so close we literally tasted it. 34.7 seconds away. Let's make it zero.

I want x player to win this cup because y. The whole team.

I want the Detroit Red Wings to win the Cup because I love this team, as a whole, in fractions, in pieces, and every single one of them deserves it. I want it, and they want it, and they're ready to fight for it. GO WINGS.

02 June 2008

Too stressed to make a blog post title

Well, as they say, tonight is do or die for the Penguins season. Will they pull off a historic win? We can only hope, and if this playoff run is any indicator, then the Penguins have a fighting chance to come back in a surprise burst of offensive glory, at least once more, and give us all hope of a game six with their ability to keep in the game.

The Wings are a scary team, and they have proven it over and over in this series, showing the fans why they topped out the league this year by a cool 11 points. Pittsburgh has stood up, gotten beaten down, bruised, but not out, and if the killing blow does come tonight then at least we can say they put up a fight and maybe, possibly, finally stop hearing about this team's inexperience. No one ever stops learning, but does getting to the Cup finals count as enough credibility to get them out of the nursery? When does a young team just become a team?

I don't have much to say about game 4, and if you look around the blogosphere, most people have already said it: the Pens should have had that game. They put pressure on, they made Osgood wake up and work for his saves, but sadly, fate was against them (as was the clock) and they couldn't seal the deal. Was it defense, lack of scoring, should Fleury be fed to the wolves for that awful save on Hudler? Or, perhaps, should Pens fans look at the big picture and realize that while the Penguins aren't beating back the Red Wings with a magnificent show of force, they're playing in the Stanley Cup, their first appearance in over 15 years and barely two years after they were scraping the bottom of the entire league in points. Do or die, win or lose, sink or swim, creamy or chunky, the Penguins are a team that their fans can be proud of, should be proud of, and they have given us a series that will be talked about for years to come.

Of course, Penguins fans would be a hell of a lot happier if we could talk about our team's magnificent comeback win against the titan Red Wings, how the Penguins offense exploded for a 5-4 all-out overtime battle in game 5 with a hat trick by Malkin to silence all his critics and secure a long and lucrative contract with Pittsburgh, thus ensuring the powerhouse duo of Crosby and Malkin on the tag line for years to come.

Hey, if you don't dream big, why dream at all?

8 pm.
Go Pens.

01 June 2008

One More.

It's getting harder and harder to make an objective blog post. With every game the Red Wings win, it's harder to sit down and type up a post about what was good, what was bad, how the game went, who scored and when and how.

Part of it is because this far along, you watch the game like I did, in a room full of your best friends, biting your nails and rocking back and forth holding your breath when it's tied 1-1 heading into the third and you know, you know, the next goal takes the game. Or when the boys are up 2-1 and suddenly all those obstruction arguments Therrien's been giving have gotten the Penguins a 5 on 3 that could turn the entire game around if the Wings make just one little mistake. Part of it is sheer pride and part of it is because as a hockey fan you can't help but shiver when you think of any team, especially your own, hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup. Just one win left. Looking at that image on the Wings' website right now is with that one lowly little number still clinging to life at the far bottom bottom right gives me chills. One more game.

Last night the Penguins lost at home for the first time in, as we've been reminded approximately four thousand times between CBC and NBC, three months. There was some concern when Tomas Holmstrom sat out, but Darren McCarty took his place and the Wings persevered. Personally I'm glad he got to play a Finals game, to basically complete the story of his comeback - I bet he never thought it'd get this far.

The game was incredibly tight, tense, and spectacular. Marian Hossa scored first for the Penguins giving the collective Wings fan base a coronary, but captain Nick Lidstrom netted the tying goal at 7:06 in the first to even things back out and calm us all down enough to resume drinking our beer, at least for a little while. The second period was uneventful and scary even - so you knew the third was going to be a serious stress test. Luckily for Wings fans, Brad Stuart was able to slide a puck to Jiri Hudler who, despite saying he wasn't expecting the puck at all and "barely knew where the net was," deposited it behind Fleury, top shelf gloveside with a nice little backhanded flip - ironically a sort of improvised version of his favorite shootout move. It was great to see him get the gamewinner and I sort of adopted him as my Wings rookie last season and he hit some rough patches this year.

The one goal lead was hardly enough to quell the stress, and the rest of the period was almost painful to watch, though the Wings performed marvelously. Just when the feeling was starting to set in that the Wings would be okay, the unthinkable happened - Kirk Maltby went to the box for hooking and Andreas Lilja was called for a questionable instance of interference only moments later leaving the Wings forced to defend a 5 on 3 for an incredible amount of time. Fortunately the Wings performed exactly the way a Stanley Cup winning team should be expected to, and the group of Henrik Zetterberg, Nick Lidstrom, and Niklas Kronwall shut the Penguins' best opportunity of the night despite their monumental effort - Lilja should be thanking god, because despite his very solid play all night long, a game tying goal on a call on him would have sent him once again to Wings fans' doghouses. Zetterberg in particular tied up Sidney Crosby's stick and made an amazing maneuver with his skate to save what would almost inevitably been the tying goal. When asked if that sequence was the best he'd played in his life, Zetterberg answered, "What part?"

Crosby, however, was less impressed:

“He made a good play on me; he got my stick,” Sidney Crosby said. “I don’t think he did anything out of the ordinary besides what any other guy would do on a 5-on-3.”
Zetterberg's response?
"I don't know. I couldn't hear him. I think he was a little frustrated."
Beautiful, Hank. Sounds like Crosby's inexperience is surfacing - but you can only imagine the level of frustration the Penguins are facing right now. Zetterberg, on the other hand, may have just won himself the Selke in one quick move - and Pittsburgh failed to take even one shot during the duration of the two man advantage.

Game 5, Monday night, 8:00 PM, gives the Red Wings a chance to win the Cup at home in Detroit. The Penguins are a determined team who refuse to give up, and with that in mind may generate entirely different results than their past two visits to the Joe - but Wings fans have no reason to be anything but optimistic that soon the city will be able to celebrate the way they haven't since 2002. I want to see Nick Lidstrom be the first European captain to lift the Cup. I want to go downtown and see the parade that I missed six years ago when I was only fifteen and couldn't quite understand the way I do now just what it feels like to come this far. Monday. One more game. Don't kill me, Elly.