A Wild Game Seven

The Colorado Avalanche joined the Detroit Red Wings in exiting the playoffs early, falling in overtime of Game Seven to the Minnesota Wild.

The Wild became just the eighth team in NHL history to bounce back from a 3-1 series deficit with two wins on the road. They defeated the Avalanche, 3-2, in Games Five, Six and Seven.

After winning Game Six in overtime just over one day earlier, the Wild stuck with the Avalanche to force the overtime period, where Andrew Brunette deked out Colorado netminder Patrick Roy and won the series.

Brunette skated down the left side of the Colorado zone after picking up the puck from Sergei Zholtok. He switched to his backhand as he skated around a sprawling Patrick Roy and slid the puck into the net.

“I was going to shoot from out, but I didn’t think I would have a great shot,” said Brunette. “I didn’t think I could beat him, so I tried to go to old faithful.”

Colorado had their chances to put the Wild away. They scored the first goal of the game 6:16 into the second period when Peter Forsberg knocked in the rebound from a Joe Sakic shot. After the Wild tied it, the Avs reclaimed the lead when Sakic one-timed a pass from Alex Tanguay past Minnesota goaltender Manny Fernandez while on a 4-on-3 power play with only 6:45 left in the third.

The Wild never quit. They tied the game at one when Pascal Dupuis sliped a backhander past Roy while on the power play. Marian Gaborik‘s power-play rebound goal tied the game at two with 4:28 remaining in regulation.

“We are a resilient group,” Brunette said.

The Avalanche became the second Western Conference team to be upset in the first round following the Red Wings’ four-game loss to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. It was Colorado’s second-straight Game Seven loss after bowing out to the Red Wings in the seventh game of the Western Conference Finals last season.

The Wild will advance to play the Vancouver Canucks, who defeated the St. Louis Blues in Game Seven of their series. The West’s other matchup will feature the Mighty Ducks and the Dallas Stars.

Is it Okay to Laugh Yet?

It has been less than a week since the sudden end to the Red Wings’ run to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. Many Wings fans are still in a little bit of shock. Some are in denial. Some are already looking ahead to next year.

For the second time in three years, Detroit is the victim of a first-round upset. While many of us woke up Thursday morning in mourning, I think most of have come to terms with the fact that the Red Wings’ early playoff demise is not a death. There will be a next year for Detroit.

And maybe by looking ahead to next year or looking back to 2002, we can find a way to laugh about what happened this season.

Within hours of the Red Wings’ Game Four loss to Anaheim, a doctored photo featuring former Iraqi Information Minister Mohammad Saeed al-Sahaf, now famous for declaring that U.S.-led coalition forces were not in Iraq when they were in actuality already on the outskirts of Baghdad, standing in front of Joe Louis Arena appeared on several hockey-themed Internet message boards.

In the photo, the Information Minister is dressed in Red Wings garb and declares, “There was no sweep. The Detroit Red Wings defeated the infidels from Anaheim swiftly and mercilessly. The defense of Curtis Joseph is inpregnable. The Stanley Cup will soon be ours.”

It’s just a game, the Red Wings will be back next year. Fans will deal with this season’s shocking end how they wish, but by now, we should all be able to laugh at that photo.

Early Summer This Year

The Game
Henrik Zetterberg scored the first goal of the game, his first-ever playoff goal, but Steve Rucchin scored the last goal of the game, and that, as it turned out, was the important one. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim completed their quarterfinal sweep of the Red Wings with a 3-2 overtime win.

The Red Wings looked much better to start Game Four than they had looked previously in the series?not completely up to their potential yet, but certainly better. They were driving to the net and trying harder to put the puck high against Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and that extra effort led directly to Zetterberg’s goal late in the first period. Brett Hull stripped Petr Sykora of the puck in the high slot area of Anaheim’s zone. Hull pushed towards the net, and Zetterberg came with him on the right side. Hull made a quick pass across to his linemate, and Zetterberg lifted a quick wrist shot over Giguere.

Confusion on a call let the Ducks tie the game up just under two minutes later. Mathieu Dandenault knew he was about to get a penalty for high-sticking on a delayed call. He looked to have touched the puck, and the other Wings on the ice slowed in anticipation of the whistle, but that whistle didn’t come because Dandenault never actually had possession of the puck. Adam Oates took the puck away, brought it into the zone, and sent it across to Paul Kariya. Kariya had a clear shot on Curtis Joseph and was able to put the puck into the top corner.

The second period was scoreless, although both teams had their chances. The Grind Line brought havoc to the Ducks’ zone, creating multiple quality scoring chances. Rob Niedermayer was so frustrated by Joseph’s excellent saves during an Anaheim power play that he took an ill-advised cross-checking penalty, negating his team’s man-advantage and giving the Red Wings a shortened power play of their own.

Jason Krog scored early in the third period, and the Ducks promptly shut down. The Red Wings still managed to get through to the Ducks’ zone, but rarely were they able to get the screened shots or deflected shots which seemed to be the best way to defeat Giguere. Mathieu Schneider took an interference penalty with just 5:23 left in regulation, further thwarting the Wings’ chances.

Then, with 2:15 left to play, the Red Wings finally got a break. Sergei Fedorov eluded the Ducks who had been dogging his steps all series. He went into the right corner, one on one against Keith Carney, and won the battle for the puck. Fedorov threw it out in front of the net, and it hit the skate of Niclas Havelid. It bounced. It bounced right past Giguere and into the net.

Fedorov played like a man possessed for the rest of regulation time, seeking to win before overtime started, but Giguere regained control of himself and sent the game to the extra session.

At 6:53 of overtime, a little after 1:00 am in Detroit, a little after 10:00 pm in Anaheim, Rucchin scored his series-winning goal. Carney was allowed to take the puck behind the net. He centered it out front to Rucchin, coming up the high slot all alone. Rucchin one-timed the shot up and over Joseph for the win.

Now What?
There could be changes in Detroit this summer. Not drastic ones, surely. But there will be financial considerations, with no further playoff revenue coming to the team. Ticket prices may have to be raised for next year. It may be harder to keep free agents like Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Darren McCarty, Luc Robitaille, and Jason Woolley, and certainly it could be more difficult to lure free agents from other teams.

But these are matters for later. It’s time to rest now, time to carefully roll up the car flags and stow them in the trunk, time to fold the banners and set them gently in the closet for next year. Time to regroup and heal, time for our young rookies to become stronger and time for our veterans to rest their strength.

The 2002-2003 season is over. But Jiri Fischer will be fully healed by fall, and Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Dmitri Bykov show much promise, along with a host of other young prospects who played in the minors or the European leagues this year. The team’s veteran core will remain intact, contributing and teaching. There’s always 2003-2004.

There’s always a next year for Hockeytown.

Hope Springs Eternal In Hockeytown

The naysayers and harbingers of doom are very loud, second-guessing Dave Lewis and Kenny Holland, taking down the red and white that so proudly decorated our city just a week ago, and packing it all in.

“It’s over,” they say. “Cujo isn’t good enough. We should have picked up Belfour. Put the jerseys away, put the car flag in the trunk, and what on earth are we going to do with the leftover octopus?” Or worse yet, telling BRETT HULL, the fifth-leading goal scorer of all time, how to score a goal on Jean-Sebastien Giguere. “You gotta put it high, Brett, you blasted old goat!” (Like someone with over 700 goals needs scoring advice from people who’ve never picked up a hockey stick!)

I was driving around Metro Detroit yesterday on various errands, and I noticed a distinct LACK of red and white, in comparison with this time last year. Not too many car flags. Not too many banners. Not too many “Go Wings” signs on the message boards outside bars. It’s as if people are ashamed and embarrassed to be still cheering for the Red Wings in what the “fans” have already named a losing battle.

Well, I say to you, you SHOULD be ashamed. But you should be ashamed of YOURSELVES! Listen, we as fans have absolutely no control over whether the Wings pull it off tonight or not. We can make voodoo goalies or follow any wacky hockey superstitions we want, but in the end, it’s up to the players themselves. What the fans do have control over is the spirit of Hockeytown. And Hockeytown?the Hockeytown I have come to know and love– is not a place that gives up before the final buzzer sounds.

While I was out driving yesterday, a man on a motorcycle pulled up next to me while I was stopped at a red light. He had two Wings flags hanging off the back of his bike, and his long hair had red and white ribbons braided into it. He looked over at me, saw my car flag and my own red and white ribbons, and we smiled. A quick thumbs-up. Then the light turned green and we were off about our business.

The poll right here on DetroitHockey.net shows that 75% of respondents believe that the Wings will pull it off and win four straight. Admittedly, only eight people have taken the poll. But for a larger slice of Hockeytown, try the recent poll on the Red Wings’ official site, DetroitRedWings.com. Now, they’ve just changed to a new question, and I can’t get the exact numbers for you since they don’t archive their polls, but over 2000 respondents still believed the Wings would win the series, compared to about 1300 people who thought the Ducks would put them away tonight.

So it looks like the true fans outnumber the fair-weather fans. The fair-weather fans are just louder and more obnoxious.

It’s 1:30 pm. Nine hours to go. So what if only two teams in history have rallied from an 0-3 deficit? One of those teams was the New York Islanders against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1975. Dave Lewis was on that team! Coach Al Arbour told them then to take it one shift at a time, one period at a time. Lewi knows how it can be done! So what if the Wings haven’t been scoring? Tomas Holmstrom showed them how to do it late in Game Three?park in front of the net and chip the puck high. Do you think this is a team that will let Homer get bruised and battered in front of the net for nothing? So what if you think Joseph hasn’t been good enough? Here’s what I think of that opinion: Joseph’s goals against average in the playoffs is 1.89. His save percentage is .925. Those are not numbers that can be faulted. “Goaltending is not an issue,” according to no less an authority than Steve Yzerman. “You’re going in the wrong direction if you’re looking at that.”

The Captain had plenty more to say. “I’m confident we can win the next game,” Yzerman said. “It’s not like I’m doubting my team or we’re doubting ourselves. I’m perfectly comfortable coming into Game 4 and confident in our team that we’ll play well and we’ll win the game.”

If Steve Yzerman, future-hall-of-famer, the man who battled back from an unprecedented knee surgery to play again, warrior and leader extraordinaire, is confident, that’s good enough for me. One shift at a time, one period at a time, one goal at a time, one game at a time.

Tempting Fate

In spite of a late rally after Tomas Holmstrom finally cracked the armor of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, in spite of outshooting the Mighty Ducks once again, in spite of the huge amounts of ice time logged by Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and Steve Yzerman, the Ducks took a 2-1 win in their first home game and now lead the quarterfinal series 3-0.

The game started off well for the Red Wings. The Grind Line played well, with Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby, and Kris Draper taking it in turns to post themselves in front of the net to screen Giguere and try to grab up stray rebounds or redirect shots on the way through. Curtis Joseph made two big saves early against Steve Rucchin. The Red Wings even got the first power play of the game late in the first. Brendan Shanahan had a good chance to score from his customary spot at the left faceoff circle. He had beaten Giguere, but the puck clanged off the crossbar.

A turnover at the blue line let the Ducks open the scoring early in the second period. Stanislav Chistov barely managed to drag the puck around Dmitri Bykov, but got the pass away to Samuel Pahlsson. Pahlsson took a quick shot which rattled into the net.

Mathieu Dandenault thought he had evened the game up with a long shot from the blue line just a minute later, but the play was whistled down because Detroit had had too many men on the ice. Shanahan and Steve Yzerman had a good chance to score shorthanded on the resulting penalty, but Shanahan’s shot was just low enough that Giguere could catch it in his glove.

The Red Wings certainly had their chances to score, but again Giguere played an excellent game, and his defensemen picked off most rebounds before Detroit could get to them.

The Ducks increased their lead early in the third period. Joseph came out of the net to clear the puck away, but his pass bounced off the leg of Chris Chelios and back to Chistov. Joseph scrambled to get back, and Henrik Zetterberg scrambled to help him cover the empty parts of the net, but Chistov put the puck off Zetterberg’s skate and into the net.

Pahlsson took a penalty for holding the stick of Luc Robitaille (and thus denying Robitaille a strong scoring chance) at 6:22, and the Red Wings finally got on the board within six seconds. Holmstrom went to the front of the net, got shoved around as usual, and was rewarded with the rebound from Lidstrom’s shot. He lifted the puck up and over Giguere, making it a one-shot game.

The Red Wings scrambled after that, trying to beat the solid goaltender one more time. They pulled Joseph from the net for an extra attacker with just over a minute left to play, but Giguere was able to control all his rebounds, and the Red Wings finally just ran out of time.

The count of shots on net was 37-26 favoring Detroit. The best-of-seven series will continue Wednesday night from Anaheim.

Everybody Off the Bandwagon – Now We See Who the Real Fans Are

What remains is not for the faint of heart. It will take people with great dedication to stand by the Red Wings as they face a great threat to their defense of the Stanley Cup.

It’s easy to be a fan when the Red Wings are holding championship parades and signing big-name free agents; when they’re on incredible winning streaks; when they’re dominating the league.

Are you still loudly chanting, “Let’s go Red Wings!”?

Or are you now saying, “They never should have signed Joseph,” traded for Schneider, hired Dave Lewis. “They should be more like the Stars,” Avalanche, Senators, Flyers.

“They should rebuild, this team isn’t good enough.”

“Wait until next year.”

Next year, you might not be a Wings fan, so you might as well quit now. The real fans will be the ones who suffer the agony of defeat or the joy of victory.

At this point, we don’t need people who aren’t completely behind the team. Get off the bandwagon, it’s real fans only from here on out.

Ducks Take 2-0 Lead Back Home

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim rallied back after being down by a goal late in the third period Saturday to claim a 3-2 win over the Red Wings and stretch their lead in the first-round playoff series to two games.

Down 2-1 with 6:26 remaining in the third, Anaheim forward Jason Krog skated in on top of Detroit goalie Curtis Joseph and beat him to tie the game.

Just over two minutes later, after a botched breakout pass by Chris Chelios, Rob Neidermayer sent the puck to Steve Thomas, who skated in alone and blasted a shot past Joseph, giving the Ducks the lead.

Anaheim had taken an early lead on a goal by Stanislav Chistov but Detroit battled back in the second periond.

Just 2:14 into the second, Jason Woolley picked up a rebound and ripped it past Mighty Ducks’ goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Four minutes later, Luc Robitaille knocked a fluttering puck down behind Giguere to give the Wings the lead.

Giguere kept the Mighty Ducks in the game, making several key stops and giving the team a rest while he dealt with a long “equipment problem” similar to the incident when he was “shaken up” in Game One. Giguere finished with thirty-four saves.

Joseph made twenty saves on twenty-three shots in net for Detroit.

Game Three will be on Monday night in Anaheim.

Home Ice No Benefit in Game One

The wacky 2002-2003 Game One home ice jinx has spread throughout the NHL. The Red Wings succumbed with a 2-1 loss in triple overtime to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, making the New Jersey Devils the only one of the teams with home ice advantage to win their playoff opener.

The Red Wings started out quite well. They got a power play chance early when Ruslan Salei was sent to the box for holding, and good passing allowed the Wings to capitalize. Igor Larionov sent the puck up to Tomas Holmstrom behind the net. Holmstrom sent it out across the goal crease, and Brendan Shanahan was able to wrist the puck in past goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Anaheim was able to get on the scoreboard late in the first period. Kurt Sauer took a shot on net from the right boards. The shot was deflected by Mike Leclerc on its way through. Curtis Joseph was able to make the save, but the rebound slid out at an awkward angle and Adam Oates was able to get to it and flip it into the net.

The Ducks came on strong in the second and third periods. They had a golden opportunity to score late in the second: 29 seconds of 5-on-3 power play time with Mathieu Schneider and Darren McCarty both in the penalty box. Fortunately for Detroit, Steve Yzerman won the faceoff and sent the puck deep into the Ducks’ zone, killing off most of the 5-on-3. Joseph was amazing in net and was the key reason the game went to overtime.

The Red Wings completely dominated the first two overtime periods. Luc Robitaille thought he won the game with 10:39 left in the first overtime, but review showed that his shot deflected off the bottom of the crossbar and never crossed the goal line.

That was the way it went for Detroit in overtime. Shots were blocked. Shots were deflected up and out of play. Shots rebounded in just the right spots that no Red Wings could get to them easily. In the end, though, the game belonged to Giguere, who had a phenomenal game, stopping 63 of the 64 shots he faced and setting a new record for a goaltender in his playoff debut. In the end, Giguere kept the Ducks in the game, knowing that an overtime game is a one shot game.

That one vital shot came early in the third overtime period. The faceoff came to be deep in the Red Wings’ zone. Steve Rucchin won the faceoff back to Paul Kariya, who sent a hard wrist shot over the shoulder of Curtis Joseph. Joseph was accidentally screened by Sergei Fedorov, and couldn’t see the shot coming until it was too late.

The Red Wings will regroup and come back at it on Saturday afternoon to try to even up the series with their second home game.

Wings Better Off With Anaheim Matchup

With Detroit’s loss to Chicago and Dallas’ win over Nashville on Sunday, the Red Wings’ first-round playoff picture came into focus and revealed that Detroit will play the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the opening round.

Had Detroit defeated the Blackhawks to claim the Western Conference’s first seed, they would have matched up with the Edmonton Oilers.

A first-round matchup with the Mighty Ducks will be better for the Red Wings than one with the Oilers would have been. The Ducks are a more defensive team than the Oilers, allowing only 193 goals this season compared to the 230 goals scored on Edmonton, but are coming into the playoffs with a slightly worse record. Anaheim is 5-2-1-2 in their last ten games, while Edmonton ended the season 5-1-3-1.

Anaheim also plays a less offensive game than Edmonton. The Oilers have scored a total of 231 goals this season while the Mighty Ducks have scored only 203. Edmonton utilizes the speed of forwards Mike Comrie and Radek Dvorak to pressure opposing defenses. The Ducks do not have the same speed at the forward position and can’t apply the same amount of pressure.

History is in the favor of a matchup with Anaheim over one with Edmonton. The Red Wings are unbeaten in the playoffs against the Ducks, having swept them in 1997 and 1999. In two series’ against Edmonton, the Red Wings are 2-8.

The Ducks are the weaker team from a goaltending standpoint as well. Jean-Sebastien Gigure has never appeared in an NHL playoff game. Edmonton’s Tommy Salo has stolen series’ from the Dallas Stars in 1997 and Colorado Avalanche in 1998.

Despite not claiming the first seed in the Western Conference, the Red Wings are in good position with their matchup against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. They should not see as tough a series as they would have against the Edmonton Oilers.

Note from the writer, 4/11/2003: Tommy Salo was not the goaltender between the pipes for Edmonton’s upsets of Dallas and Colorado in 1997 and 1998, it was instead now-Red Wing Curtis Joseph. I failed to double-check my “facts” and apologize for any confusion. I still stand behind my belief that Anaheim is the better opponent for the Wings to be facing.