In spite of the terror of Joe Thornton (whose aggressive play reminds me a bit too much of 1995's New Jersey Devil's defensive standout, Scott Stevens), the Red Wings are poised with the momentum necessary to win this tough series against the very big, very tough, defensive-minded but offensively talented, San Jose Sharks. It's been a see-saw battle in the second round for the Winged Wheelers, with momentum changing game-by-game, if not period-by-period. I am officially in playoff fever now, though. I've even taken a short break from my beer-related thinking to post some thoughts on this playoff series. Wow! I must be suffering from playoff fever!
Lang, the enigmatic forward with the quick and accurate snap shot, finally scored a big goal early Thursday morning! About time, Robert! Bertuzzi, one of the meanest big men in the NHL, has not done much of anything, and even less of what he's done has been smart. Bertuzzi also has been one of the sweetest puck-handling of all NHL big men and in this series-in fact especially in the last game-he has not been able to keep a puck on his stick for two seconds. Get with it Bert! The Wings need a fired up and physical Todd Bertuzzi in this series, where they're outmatched in size and meanness, to win. But more importantly, they need the surprise deftness with which this guy can stick-handle and score. That's totally missing so far. I hope to see it today.
The Wings have the speed to change the game on these rough and ready Sharks. They have the experience. They have the goaltending in Hasek. They have the four-line arsenal and the puck-possession to wear down the Sharks' fine defense. So far, though the games are low-scoring affairs, the Wings have played inconsistently. The last game they lost, in San Jose, they came out flying and scored the first goal, outshooting the Sharks in the first period by oh, 20 to 7, not counting the ringer off the post or the several blocked shots and missed nets. They eased up a bit in the last half of the second and played lackluster in the third. That cannot continue! This team is the better team. Even the Sharks know that.
As Scotty Bowman said recently: "Whatever happened to the new NHL"? Yeah they're calling all the cheap non-hooks and even a few obstruction penalties, but the truth is, the Sharks obstruct-within the limits of what the "new NHL" allows-on every play. Watch as they go after the puck in tandem, and block, one-for-the-other, on puck movement and puck takeaways. They hit the Red Wings players long after the player has passed the puck or sent it into the offensive zone. They cross-check the players playing the puck, regularly and their goalie whacks every Red Wing that comes near him. I guess that's the new NHL, eh?
To be fair, there are many admirable qualities to this Sharks team. Thornton is a monster. He is big and strong and has the uncanny ability to get the puck in the right board area, hold it long enough to see a streaking left winger come towards the net, and deliver a perfect one-timer pass to that winger for an excellent scoring chance. Credit him for many of the scoring chances the Sharks get. That said, why is it the Wings give him so much time with the puck in that spot? That must improve. Also the Sharks seem to have an uncanny ability to block shots and clearing passes. They have especially been good at the latter. The Wings ability to clear their zone and handle the puck better in these crucial circumstances must also improve.
I believe the Wings will win this series but to do so, they must improve in those areas. Thornton will not go away and neither will Grier. Grier's been fairly quiet so far but had his best game Wednesday night. The Sharks are for real. The Wings are better but need to carry the play again, like they did Wednesday night, for three periods to win. No lapses and no stupid penalties by Bertuzzi. The puck possession of the Wings could be the thing that wears down the Sharks' defense like it did in the last game. In that case, costly turnovers proved deadly and the game was won. Let's hope the series goes the same way.
Datyuk and Zetterberg will combine for some goals today. Lang could improve on his lackluster performance, as well. Holmstrum can be the goal crease pest with the uncanny hand-eye coordination that baffled the Sharks last game. And Hasek could be the stone wall he needs to be. Today's game will be the game that turns the tide of the series. It may be the game where more than three goals are scored for one team. If the Sharks open up at all, that could be the crack in the defense the Wings are looking for, but don't count on it from a Ron Wilson coached team. Wings in six!
I don't even want to think about the other two teams in Detroit playing right now, because this is the most important series of all to me. Still, I will say that the Pistons series against the Chicago Bulls should be another nailbiter, especially due to the defensive play of former Detroiter, Ben Wallace. I look to the Pistons to win it but it could go either way. As for the Tigers, they are playing well and Sheffield is starting to hit. If the pitching remains solid, they could contend again. It's good to be a Dteroit fan right now! If the Lions could improve, we'd be in sports heaven. Why didn't the Lions draft a top-rated Offensive lineman in the draft? Oh well, I guess we really needed another good wide receiver, since we let Mike Williams go...Matt Millen, you better improve a whole lot this year or you might get dismembered by a rowdy mob of Detroit Lions' fans come Winter.