Tag Archives: 2008 playoffs

Ongoing Perfection. Game 2: Detroit 3 Pittsburgh 0.

Hard to imagine the Detroit Red Wings could be better in Game 2 of the 2008 Stanley Cup final than they were in Game 1, but it seems that just when you think you have the Wings figured out, they shift into another gear.


Monday night at Joe Louis Arena, the Wings made the Pittsburgh Penguins look as silly as, ohh, penguins.


In fact, Pittsburgh was so out of this one that even though they managed to get more shots on net in Game 2 than they did in Game 1, most of the shots were unscreened dump-ins from the blueline.


Meanwhile, Detroit plays the game the way Minnesota Wild assistant general manager Tom Thompson always wanted his hockey team to play.


“It’s like the difference between European hockey and Canadian hockey in the 70s,” Thompson once said. “In Canada, we always wanted to shoot the puck into the opposing zone. Our theory was, if it’s in your zone, you can’t score. In Russia, their theory was, it doesn’t matter what zone it’s in, if we have the puck you can’t score. That’s the way Detroit plays. They always have the puck.” 


Last night, playing that frustrating puck-possession style, the Red Wings took 34 shots at Marc-Andre Fleury while holding Pittsburgh to 22, mostly weak ones. There were times when Chris Osgood must have thought he was sitting on his porch having a lemonade as he watched the traffic go by. 


Ozzie now has two straight shutouts to start this year’s final. That’s only happened on three other occasions — Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons in 1926, Frank McCool of the Leafs in 1945 and Martin Brodeur of the Devils in 2003. That’s pretty good company.


Of course, to give credit where it’s due, the Red Wings shutout heroics start with a defence that has been all but impenetrable. Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart, Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall have been particularly good and the relentless checking of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Dan Cleary and Johan Franzen has certainly given the Wings control of the neutral zone.


Meanwhile, the Penguins have spent more time marching to the penalty box than they have toward the Red Wings net. This March of the Penguins is not what Pittsburgh fans had in mind.


Of course, Pittsburgh fans probably thought Evgeni Malkin was going to show up (he was minus-2 with no shots on goal last night).


If the Penguins didn’t have Sidney Crosby, the outcome would be worse than a 2-0 deficit, two straight shutout losses and two straight embarrassments.   


Game 3 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. The Pens will have to win one of the next two to force a return to Detroit. They should get at least a split at home.

But then again, based on the first two games of this series, there is no guarantee. 


The best of the best on display. The 2008 Stanley Cup final.

Finally. After a couple of days of annoyance, the Detroit Red Wings finally disposed of the upstart Dallas Stars and will now meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup final.


Monday night in Dallas, the Red Wings blasted the Stars 4-1 as former Winnipeg Jet, Dallas Drake, had a goal and an assist. Detroit took out the Stars in six games and now the Stanley Cup final will begin this Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena (all games are in the evening and all games will be on CBC).


For a Winnipegger, the Wings-Dallas series was kind of eerie. Back in 1996, the Jets played the Red Wings in what turned out to be Jets’ final playoff series in the NHL.


In Game 5 of that year, the Jets went into Detroit trailing three-games-to-one and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin stood on his head to send the series back to Winnipeg for Game 6. In Game 6, Detroit shredded the Jets, beat them 4-1 and ended the series — and the Jets NHL tenure — in six games.  


So what happens in 2008? Trailing 3-1, Marty Turco goes back into Detroit, stands on his head and forces a Game 6. In Game 6, Detroit shreds the Stars, wins 4-1 and closes out the series in six games. And 39-year-old Dallas Drake, who was on the ice for the Jets in 1996, scores a goal and adds an assist for the Red Wings.


Oh, what could have been (if Gary Filmon’s P.C. government of the day had a collective brain bigger than a walnut).


As it is, there is something special on the horizon. 


Granted, it took a bit longer than we anticipated, but the Stanley Cup final is perfect. Wings-Penguins is just as it should be.

These are the two best teams in hockey. The Red Wings are the President’s Trophy winners and the Penguins have required only 14 games to go three rounds in the playoffs in order to reach the final. This is Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Gonchar and Hossa against Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Lidstrom and, hopefully, Franzen. This is hockey.

We’ll talk more about these two teams this week. The final doesn’t start until Saturday. But make no mistake, this is the best final fans could have anticipated. In fact, it just might be the best final in decades.


Will officiating ever change? Or do we need video replay for everything?

I’m a video replay proponent. After a life of playing, watching, coaching, writing, broadcasting and complaining about sports, I have come to the conclusion that there isn’t anyone, anywhere, who can officiate any sporting event properly, at any time. 


Can’t be done.


There are no good officials. They are all bad. It’s just that some are worse than others. When an official once asked me during a basketball game (he was pissed off, by the way), “What do you want? For all of us to go home so you’re left calling your own fouls?” My response was swift and to the point. “Yes. Save us all a lot of aggravation and get your ass out of here.”


Sadly, he wouldn’t leave.


Even in this world of performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals, I still believe most athletes are invariably honest while most officials either don’t have a clue or are just plain crooked. If you left it up to the athletes, they could could call the games themselves and be (a) a lot more accurate and (b) a lot more honest.


Case in point, Wednesday night in Dallas.


There was Red Wings’ agitator, Tomas Holmstrom, stationed where he always is, right in front of a goaltender, when Pavel Datsyuk ripped a shot past Marty Turco. It was clearly a goal, 1-0 Detroit.


But that’s when Kelly Sutherland decided that it was a good time to wave it off and say Holmstrom was in the crease.


There were blind people who saw it differently, but Sutherland stuck to his guns. It was, clearly, one of the worst calls in playoff history, but he was sticking to it. Of course, he could. You can’t use replay on an “in the crease” call.


Oh, how convenient. This call is based completely on a referee’s discretion. Period. 


Interestingly, later in the game, there was little doubt Loui Eriksson was in the crease when Stephane Robidas shot the puck at Chris Osgood and Eriksson just changed places in the crease to pop in the rebound. This time, Sutherland let it go. In the old days of makeup calls, Sutherland would have disallowed both but in today’s NHL, two wrongs don’t make a right but a dozen or so, do.


“Kelly’s a good referee, he just blew the call. That’s life,” Wings coach Mike Babcock told the assembled media during the post-game news conference. “But make no mistake, these officials meet before games and talk about players. The fact it was Holmstrom near the crease meant at least one goal would be disallowed.”


I’m not going to jump to conclusions and say the fix was in. Frankly, I don’t care. But to say Sutherland allowed a pre-game meeting to get in the way of his good judgment is probably true. After all, Sutherland was as close as he could possibly be to Holmstrom without getting hit by Datsyuk’s shot. It was such an egregiously bad call that it shed a nasty light on the entire NHL. Can anyone say WWE?


There is now little question that “in the crease” calls need to be reviewed. If this one had been reviewed, it would have counted and Sutherland wouldn’t have looked like (a) an idiot, (b) Blind Pugh or (c) a fixer.


Fortunately, Sutherland’s call affected the outcome of only one game, not an entire series. The Wings should close this thing out on Saturday, anyway.


However, in such times as these calls become important (like overtime in Buffalo in 1999), it would be best if the NHL let replay — or better stated, the truth — decide the outcome. 


Obviously when a bunch of guys in striped shirts — oh yes, guys who try to do the best they can — try to do it alone, it just doesn’t work.


10 things to think about heading into the 2008 NHL Conference finals…

1. The readers’ poll on Canoe yesterday asked, "Who will you cheer for now that no Canadian-based team remains in the playoffs?" Fifty-eight per cent (as of our last check) had selected the Pittsburgh Penguins. Like Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa fans, they will be disappointed. If not in May, certainly in June.


2. When Brenden Morrow scored the winning goal at the 9:03 mark of the fourth overtime period early on Monday morning, it was quite appropriate. Morrow was the best player in the series and definitely the best player on the ice Sunday night/Monday morning.


3.  A piece in Sun Media by Toronto-based Mike Zeisberger suggested that in the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia Eastern Conference final "there will be blood." Perhaps that’s true and if it is, the only blood shed will be Pittsburgh’s. Had the Rangers played as tough in Games 1,2, 3 and 5 as they did in Game 4, they might have beaten the Penguins. Pittsburgh will back off and if the Flyers sense it, that collection of grinders and bangers will go straight for the jugular.


4. As we mentioned yesterday here at the RCSBlog, Pittsburgh’s Ray Shero deserves a lot of credit for making the necessary moves to acquire Marian Hossa at the trade deadline. Hossa has clearly paid dividends in the post-season and would make a great Penguin forward for the next three or four seasons. However, the Pens have to think about the future and according to the team’s director of hockey administration, Jason Botterill, the priority is to get Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin signed to long-term deals. According to the NHL Players Association, the salary cap will grow to about $57 million for 2008-09. It’s still not enough to sign Crosby, Staal, Malkin AND Hossa and have a supporting cast that can continue to lead the Penguins as far as, say, a Conference final. Watch for the Montreal Canadiens to make a concerted effort to sign Hossa this summer. Unrestricted free agent, Michael Ryder, is as good as gone from Montreal and Hossa will be Bob Gainey’s prime target.


5. Let’s go back to Brenden Morrow’s performance on Sunday night/Monday morning. Granted, the game was 129 minutes and three seconds long, but Morrow played 51 minutes. He not only scored the winning goal, but he had seven shots and get this — 19 hits! Who has 19 hits in a hockey game? No matter how long it is.


6. Let’s go back to Rangers’ head coach, Tom Renney, for a second. He should be fired for not dressing Colton Orr in Game 5. Just the thought that Orr could goon up Crosby or Malkin changed everything in Game 4 (won 3-0 by the Rangers). When he wasn’t around for Game 5, the Penguins had nothing to fear.


7. Remember when Ottawa Senators head coach Bryan Murray accused the Penguins of throwing their final game of the season in order to play Ottawa instead of Philadelphia in the first round? Guess it doesn’t matter now.


8. Great news for an old friend yesterday. The Vancouver Canucks announced that Laurence Gilman has joined the Canucks as the team’s  Director of Hockey Administration. Gilman a Winnipegger, joins the Canucks after spending 13 years in the Phoenix Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets organizations. He had many jobs during that time including, most recently, as the club’s Senior Vice President & Assistant General Manager for five seasons. In addition, Gilman served as general manager of the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage. Gilman, who is 43, graduated from the University of Winnipeg in 1991. 


9. Guess Ron Wilson’s in trouble in San Jose. In fact, he might not be the Sharks head coach by the first day of the NHL entry draft. Wilson is terrific when he’s winning, but a complete pain in the ass when he’s not. Back in 1998, when Wilson coached the Washington Capitals, he was doing what he always did — using the post-game news conference to let the media know that he knew everything about the game and the rest of us knew nothing. After the news conference, Kevin Allen of USA Today told no one in particular, "Am I ever glad I got to cover hockey before Ron Wilson invented it." 


10. If they want — if they really care enough — the Detroit Red Wings will play eight more games and then raise the Stanley Cup.