Monthly Archives: April 2010

Hockeytown Bounces Back

As Nicklas Lidstrom celebrates his 40th birthday, he’ll get his wish of moving on in the playoffs. Every Red Wings fan sat on the edge of their seats waiting for the victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. We knew they’d win. You can never doubt your team, and Red Wings fans get harassed whether the team wins or loses. But are the Wings the most detested team moving into these playoffs?

I’ve never heard anyone despise Ovechkin and the Capitals. The Washington Capitals are fun to watch and the talent on the team works hard with much less fanfare than their captain. Ovi has been criticized for grandstanding by such notables as Don Cherry, but the guy makes plays. Ovi boasts he’s the greatest player in hockey right now, and maybe he is. But his antics don’t bother me, if he can play great hockey. Unfortunately, we won’t see Ovi postseason unless he decides to be a guest commentator on Versus.

I’m betting the most despised team would be the Pittsburgh Penguins. Matt Cooke is not loved by anyone after his blow to Boston’s Marc Savard. The hit, incidentally, caused fast-track implementation of the ban on blindside hits. Sid the Kid also has a reputation that varies from spoiled to snub. Defending champs get that kind of dislike mostly because the fans want to see another team advance, rather than a dominant force. Just like the Red Wings, welcome the Pens to the circle of scorn.

Detroit will play San Jose in the second round. The Sharks didn’t want to play the boys from Hockeytown to advance because the Wings have momentum, but also because San Jose want to break their problematic journey kinks from year’s past. In what will be a great series, both teams have so much to give. San Jose needs to win as they have topped the charts for years. Their fans are poised to be champs. They want the Shark Tank to be deadlier than it has in the playoffs. Great season, but the Sharks have to deliver well into the next round. Good luck!

Detroit needs to win because it’s expected. Haters, fans and the media all expect Detroit to be in the race every year. With 19 playoff seasons, there’s a reason why passion in Hockeytown is ridiculously bonding. Families talk Wings, all over the country Michiganders become friends over the Wings, and more than not, random fans dig the style of Detroit’s play as purist hockey fans.

Whatever team may play for the Stanley Cup, first round playoff hockey is so compelling that the pundits brag about the excitement that no other sport has in such competition. What the Detroit Red Wings have done is enough to support their cause of winning the Stanley Cup. Drowning in the conference race, then taking over in fifth, and beating the fourth seed shows their climb and determination.  Losing for Detroit is not an option. Detroit fans have chewed their nails to the wick, but this week they’ll have to wash their gear for the next battle. So here’s a prayer a Red Wing fan sent to me:

“Our father who art in Detroit, hockey be thy name. Thy will be done. The cup will be won. On ice, as well as in the stands. Give us this day our hockey sticks, and forgive us our penalties, as we forgive those who cross-check against us, Lead us not into elim…ination, but deliver us to victory. In the name of the fans, “Lord Stanley”, and in the name of the Wings. Amen – LETS GO RED WINGS!!!”

I’m quite certain the Penguins have the same type of prayer or chant. With the rich history of the emerging teams, what’s amazing about this second round of the playoffs is four of the Original 6 teams are in. The Montreal Canadiens, The Boston Bruins, the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks bring a rich tradition of classic hockey history and fandom. Can’t wait for the classic hockey banter, the retro-wear, but the biggest question is who will bring back the mullet?

Western Conference Wows

Experts have taken their picks, but the wow factor in the Western Conference has delivered on its promise of being the premier conference this season. So many teams have so many guns that can fire as seen in the jimmying of the standings. Now embarking into the depth of the quarterfinals, compelling match-ups make for some great hockey.

San Jose can beat Colorado. But how did the youngest team in the NHL stun the Sharks in the first game? Game 2 in the Shark Tank bit brutally on the Sharks who battled an unexpected talented eighth seed. The scoring was insanely upbeat with six goals in the second period as goals were exchanged back and forth in a rally to win. Desperation won that game for San Jose who could not lose on home ice in that situation. Devin Setoguchi stepped up after having a mediocre year and scored two goals including the OT goal to give the Sharks a lifeline. Much was expected of Setoguchi, but seems his fervor for winning is back.  Now that the series heads to Denver, the Avs may feel more relaxed but the Sharks are a great road team. Don’t forget the altitude in Denver that has caused gasping and tiring quickly of the visiting team. The Sharks took goaltender Craig Anderson to task in Game 3. With 51 saves on goal, and a goal in OT the Avs victory deflates the Sharks who trail in the series. Avs go up 2-1 in an anything goes attitude, totally Zen.

The Detroit Red Wings made it in decent positioning to meet the Phoenix Coyotes in their first road playoff game since 1991. Calder cup candidate, Jimmy Howard, has been put to the test by an impressive Coyotes team who proved they were not done in the desert. Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader returned from the minors just to make the playoffs and tenaciously took pucks away and made plays, including a goal to give the Wings the lead in the third period of Game 2. But Henrik Zetterberg rocked it with a hat trick, six shots on net, five hits, and won 10 of 19 face-offs, all in 17 minutes of ice time. Valteri Filppula also took home two goals and an assist. Coyote coach Dave Tippett has been praised for his turn around team making the playoffs and many say the choice candidate for the Jack Adams Award. Game 2 peaked with eleven points scored. Phoenix takes the lead in the series 2-1.

The Nashville Predators cannot be looked at as a pansy team who cannot beat the Chicago Blackhawks. Nashville is tough and they have nothing to lose. Shocking the Hawks at home with a 4-1 win must have caused some rioting on Michigan Ave. The downfall of Chicago could be their youth, but the productivity is there. The Nashville Predators are scrappers. No doubt the goaltending is a major issue with Antti Niemi lacking playoff experience, but can the blueliners keep the puck out of Niemi’s zone enough to win the series? Duncan Keith, Brent Sopel and Brent Seabrook are heavy hitters and can take the Hawks to the next level if they concentrate. Nashville can sneak up on their opponent. Series tied 1-1 after the Hawks got their mojo back sticking the Preds with a Game 2 shutout.

I’ve been impressed with the Los Angeles Kings this year, but I’m not betting on them to win against the Vancouver Canucks. Taking the Canucks to overtime in Game 1 proved some stamina and skill in the Kings, and their passion is there. But the Canucks are approaching their time to take the whole shebang. Perhaps the Canucks blueline is weaker than most other teams, and the Kings have Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson who may be enough to keep the Kings in the race. The Canucks are running out of time to play for the Stanley Cup. The Kings finally have some success, but the Canucks have been rolling and need to prove they are for real.  Look at top line performances in Kopitar, Smyth and Williams versus the Sedins and Alex Burrows as an indicator in production. Series tied 1-1 after the Kings made a surprising OT push in Game 2 with a goal by Anze Kopitar.

My roots are in the West, so it’s been a pleasure to see the Western Conference build up some strong teams that have taken the critics away from the hockey dominant Eastern Conference. Not saying that the Eastern Conference games are not as thrilling, but that’s another story. I’d love to see the Buffalo Sabres rectify their 1999 loss to the Dallas Stars, and to see Ryan Miller rewarded for his monumental goaltending abilities.

Detroit’s a Done Deal

Hanging on in the Western Conference, the Detroit Red Wings illustrated why they could be playing for the Stanley Cup this season. Detroit remains in a topsy-turvy situation with Nashville Predators, the Los Angeles Kings, and the Colorado Avalanche for placement within the conference. All healthy and ready to defend last year’s near victory, the Red Wings have been creating a buzz around their powerful play that looks like a championship team. Even the Naysayers’s reviews praise their talent and excellence of play yet the reluctance to come out and say that the Wings would be there till the end.

The Wings will not face the San Jose Sharks in the first round. Bad karma has inundated the Sharks in the past, and the Wings could bring the bad luck their way. The Sharks want to avoid the Wings in the first round; every NHL guru has stated that fact. But the other teams are dreading taking on the Motown momentum.

The Chicago Blackhawks are familiar with their Midwest neighbor yet most in the hockey world would not like to see either team out too quickly. Chicago’s stellar performance team would be missed further along in the playoffs, as it seems like a year where their chances for the Cup are quite good. However, the Hawks are young and playoff experience could be their downfall.

If Detroit has to face the Vancouver Canucks, I will cringe. Have you seen the Sedin line with bad boy Alex Burrows? If you haven’t witnessed their rigor and skill, you’re living under a rock. Burrows was the breakout player at the end of last year and he’s still showing the NHL audience what he can do. He’s one of the most exciting players to watch with awe-inspiring goals and a tough guy ability to rough up the game, and they love him in Vancouver.

The Phoenix Coyotes have played extremely well and hushed the harsh criticism early in the year. With their Czech line of Martin Hanzal-Petr Prucha-Radim Vrbata, they can dominate in play. Wojtek Wolski came via a trade and has stepped in for firepower. While the Coyotes are doing well, the Red Wings may be able to cause the Yotes to stumble. Yandle, Fiddler, are a just a few surprises Phoenix has to offer. Bryzgalov has been a steady force for Phoenix in net.

Nashville and Detroit are battling right now for points, and the Predators can take Detroit down if the Wings aren’t on their toes. I’ve seen it sitting in the third row, sold out crowd at Joe Louis Arena, and being stunned and in denial at the masterwork of Nashville taking control of the game. Their bench is deep too.

The Los Angeles Kings finally made it but they won’t last.Too little playoff experience will hurt in the end.Many players have stepped up such as Wayne Simmonds, Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty, but only Anze Kopitar can score the type of play needed to win. After the Olympic break, the Kings slid a bit.

We can add up all the points, look at the standings and predict outcomes. Well, try to predict an unpredictable state of circumstances. The San Jose Sharks are living proof of playoff  woes. No one really knows who will take the stretch for the Cup, but one thing is for sure, the Detroit Red Wings will be in the hunt.

Spring Forward for the Frozen Four

The Michigan Wolverines will not be bringing their pack of wild fans to Detroit’s Ford Field this year for the Frozen Four.As a Wolverine fan, I’m bummed.Last year, the Michigan State Spartans graced the Final Four in Detroit creating a bond between Spartan and Wolverine basketball fans.No such luck with the hockey.

Michigan faced Miami in the semi-final last Sunday. At the end of a 2-2 tie, overtime ensued. Michigan took control in overtime out shooting the RedHawks of Miami,with three close calls on net.Much talk about Michigan outplaying Miami can be directed to a controversial call involving a play by the Wolverines where the puck crossed the line, but seemingly after the whistle.It was a clear goal, but deemed invalid.I can only imagine the conversations in Ann Arbor right now.

In 2008, Michigan made it to the Frozen Four in Denver, but lost to Notre Dame.Hanging out with Michigan hockey fans brought me back to the excitement of Yost Ice Arena. Michigan’s captain, Kevin Porter, was the Hobey Baker winner that year. Porter was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes, but had minimal play and sent to the minors. He was sent to the Colorado Avalanche in a trade this year that sent Wojtek Wolski to the Yotes in exchange for Porter and Peter Mueller.

The Hobey Baker Award is given annually to the top American college hockey player. Hobey Baker was captain of both the Princeton hockey and football teams, and his college classmate, F. Scott Fitzgerald based a character off of Baker in his novel, This Side of Paradise.This year, Detroit Red Wings prospect and Maine sophomore forward Gustav Nyquist is one of the three finalists for this year’s award.New Hampshire’s Bobby Butler and Wisconsin’s Blake Geoffrion were also announced as Hobey finalists.Buter has signed a free-agent contract with the Ottawa Senators, and Geeffrion was drafted by the Nashville Predators.The award will be presented on April 9 at Detroit’s Ford Field.

But despite the lack of top teams such as Denver and the defending champs, Boston University, the Frozen Four boasts some top dogs and underdogs.The Boston College Eagles and the Miami-Ohio RedHawks have fought for the title in the past few years.This should be a great game as both teams know each other’s style of play.Miami comes into the competition ranked No. 1 in the nation, while Boston College ranked No.3.

The Wisconsin Badgers are synonymous with hockey and have won six national titles.And they also have senior tri-captain,Geffrion, who leads the Badgers with 27 goals.Can’t say the Badgers won’t bring it, because they will and will make it difficult for their opponent, RIT.

As with an unexpected bounce off the boards or a wide slapshot, no one could accurately hit the target of RIT.The Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers came from the bottom of the standings to take a spot in the Frozen Four.Only in their fifth season as a Div. I team, this was just their third eligible postseason bid for the tournament.The Tigers have claimed  a Division II national title in 1983 and a Division III championship in 1985.RIT’s leading scorer and a Detroit native Cameron Burt must be thrilled to play with such a home crowd at such an amazing time for his team.

While the Michigan Wolverines prepare for another season, we can celebrate a few ties to my hockey home state of Michigan.My call is that Miami will take a home-field advantage, being only fours hours from Detroit, and will fight to the bone to beat Boston College.It’s the RedHawks’ time to win the match-up.Wisconsin will be tough, yet many will be cheering on the RIT Tigers, the underdog in the year of the Tiger.