Sunday, June 7, 2009

Hey, I Recognize Those Guys...

Good lord, where to start? These are the kinds of games that you want to relish and relive in your memory. Which is good, because I sometimes still have nightmares replaying last year's Game 5. Not that this will ever relieve the sting from that loss, it goes a long way toward removing the unpleasant aura that still hangs around it. (Interesting to note, the Wings have won all three of their Game 5s during this playoff run, which is nice since it tends to be an important one in a 2-2 series like two of them have been.) For the first time in this series, the Wings actually showed up and played Red Wings hockey. It was quite a pleasant experience, and I can only hope that they realize that they need to bring the same stuff for Game 6.

I'll start off by stating the obvious: Dangle Dangle's return was epic. I wanted nothing more than for him to score, but I'll settle for two assists any day. He looked good out there. He was making plays and backchecking and doing the little things that nobody outside of Detroit appreciates. There were a few moments where he looked a little slow, but having him back in the lineup was a huge boost.

The other player of note tonight? Chris Osgood. The man has now posted three Stanley Cup Finals shutouts in the last two years. Take that, Ozzie bashers. Tonight was a big game, and nobody shows up for big games better than #30.

The first period was fairly typical of Wings games this season. Except for the part where I'm pretty sure the first whistle didn't come until the first commercial break. I'm not going to lie, that was pretty fun to watch, from the standpoint of a pure hockey fan. No other sport can compete with that.

The Wings didn't start out too well. During the first few minutes, I was majorly anxious. I even had to put my traditional playoff game Slurpee down because I kept choking on it/nearly poking my eye out on the straw. This says a lot about my emotional state, because nothing keeps me from a good Slurpee. It's an addiction surpassed only by my allegiance to the Red Wings, and possibly roller coasters.

Then the Wings seemed to figure things out. They started carrying the play. They were taking it to Pittsburgh. But then Kronwall was called for a penalty. And I was devastated. At that point, I decided that they were going to lose and that I would be forced to spend all of next season watching clips of Crosby carrying the Cup during commercial breaks.

We all know that the PK has been pathetic all season, so my fears were at least partially justified. Needless to say, I was thrilled when the Wings managed to kill it off. Sammy, who I semi-unfairly criticize a lot, turned in a nice defensive play that took away a scoring chance. After the kill, I started wondering to myself if that PK might have been a statement. I didn't dare say that out loud, and immediately turned my thoughts back to other things, but I was thinking it.

Not long after they killed off the penalty, Datsyuk set Cleary up for what ended up being the game winner. I don't know what the injury was that made his status questionable, but thank goodness it wasn't serious enough to keep him out. And for Datsyuk, talk about making an immediate impact after missing seven games. Welcome back, Pav. We missed you.

Going into the second period, I was feeling cautiously optomistic. I liked what I was seeing from the boys, but a one-goal lead doesn't mean a whole lot in the NHL. So I returned to my spot on the couch (Yes, I have a spot. Nobody is willing to sit within arm-flailing distance of me during hockey games.) and re-assumed my semi-fetal position. Little did I know what was in store for me.

In the second, the Wings did what they do best: they scored a lot of goals and really pissed their opponents off while managing to not take a single penalty. And the result was beautiful.

During the Finals, the powerplay, much like the PK, has been a bit of a trouble spot. Troubled enough that it allowed a shorthanded goal during Game 4. The boys chose a heck of a time to break out of their slump. They scored three goals in less than ten minutes, all on the powerplay. It looked just like the second period on Thursday, but happier. The Pens pretty much unraveled, and it had shades of Game 4 of the Chicago series. Somehow, this was much more fun, though.

Filppula is another guy who I rip on a lot. Especially for his hair. And I know that it's sometimes unfair, but it's important to understand that I do it because I care. Anyway, Flipper, as I like to call him, has now come up with two huge backhand goals in the Finals, and that's a contribution that's worth recognizing. Accordingly, I'll lay off the haircut jokes next time they show his team picture on TV. But only once. You have to earn your free passes 'round these parts.

It was also nice to see Hossa get an assist on the goal. Aside from Datsyuk, there is nobody I wanted to see score more than #81. I don't think he could buy a goal at this point. Not even when Datsyuk set him up for that beautiful scoring chance right in the paint. But an assist is something. It's more than Crosby and Malkin combined for tonight. So there.

I didn't have to wait long for the Wings to strike again. This time it was Kronwall looking like a forward and bringing the puck from the corner through three Pittsburgh players and firing past MAF. I had a moment of confusion because I couldn't figure out how he ended up down there, a point which also seemed to baffle Mickey, but I decided that I didn't care all that much how he ended up in that corner, just so long as the puck ended up in the Penguins' net.

A little more than two minutes later, Brian Rafalski added the Wings' fourth goal. It was at this point that I was finally able to release my dog from the chokehold I'd had her in since the start of the game. Datsyuk picked up his second assist of the night, and it was nice to see Homer right up in Marc-Andre Fleury's face where he belongs.

It was right around this time that they showed a close-up of Pierre McGuire on the screen. My father, being an ever-lovable man-child, dropped this quote, which will forever live in our family's quotation lore: "You know, with all the money they spend powdering that guy's head so it doesn't shine, you'd think they could afford to buy him a hairpiece. Or a really nice hat." This has nothing to do with the game itself, but I had to share.

Not long after that, the Wings added their fifth and final goal of the night, courtesy of Henrik Zetterberg. There really isn't enough that I can say about this man. He does it all. Night after night after night. It's really a credit to him that I barely even noticed Sidney Crosby until he took a slashing penalty late in the period. Z wasn't just a blanket tonight. He was an invisibility cloak. (Yes, I realize that any street cred I had built up before is gone now that I've made a Harry Potter reference in my hockey blog. It's okay; it was bound to happen sooner or later.) Crosby looked quite upset that he wasn't getting his way. So much for being more mature this time around. The fact that he's nominated for a leadership award is an absolute joke. He has the same air of entitlement that made me hate the rich kids I went to high school with. It's like he expects the Cup to just be given to him because he's special, whereas a guy like Hank knows that he's going to have to work his ass off to get it. And that is the essence of why I hate Crosby so much.

It was also nice to see Jiri Hudler pick up an assist on Z's goal, since I'd been commenting on how invisible he'd been up until this point. Seeing MAF get yanked (to be "rested") was not unpleasant either.

The boys looked a little shaky to start the third period, but they seemed to get it in gear after the first few minutes. I'm still not sure what Hossa was doing when he took that goalie interference penalty right at the start, but it ended up not mattering, so I'm willing to let it go.

My family couldn't understand why I was just as anxious during the third as I had been at the start of the game. All through Pittsburgh's powerplay, I was on edge hoping against all hope that the Wings would kill it off for Ozzie's sake. I wanted this shutout. I wanted it so badly that I could taste it. I wanted it for the Wings and for the fans, but mostly I wanted it for Ozzie. I wanted it so that he could take it and wave it in the face of each and every one of his critics. And I got it. A lot will depend on the outcome of Game 6, and possibly (please, Hockey Gods, no) Game 7. But if, if, if the Wings win, you had better believe there'll be a queue of Osgood-naysayers in the locker room waiting their turn for his retribution.

There's not a whole lot left to say. The third period was pretty much what I expected it to be. Some random notes:

-The crowd was amazubg toward the end of the game. They sang almost the whole chorus of "I Wanna Rock'n'Roll All Night" after they stopped the music over the PA.
-I had no idea Lebda got a game misconduct until I looked at the box score. I don't even know what he did. Now I'm going to have to go back and check it out on my DVR.
-Z turned in an easy 20:55 of ice time tonight. It's good to see his minutes down a little, even though I don't buy the whole tired-from-chasing-Crosby-around thing. There's no doubt that Datsyuk's return helped a little in that regard.
-Dangle Dangle played 17:38, which I have to admit is a little more than I expected from him. It's interesting to note that he didn't play at all on either PK. Hopefully he doesn't have any set-backs with his foot, and will be good to go on Tuesday.
-Babcock's response (via Snapshots) to a question about using the Penguins' players' comments about the Wings looking tired as psychological fuel to get up for Game 5: "I don't know. When we play well do our guys talk about their team like that?" I hate to keep harping on it, but it always seems to come down to classiness. It doesn't help on the scoreboard, but it sure makes me feel all warm and fuzzy as a fan.
-Did anyone else notice how sad Gary Bettman looked when they showed him on TV? He looked like he was on the verge of tears. Impartial? I think not. Now, Bettman defenders (are there actually any out there?) might say that he was disappointed that the game had gotten out of hand and wasn't more compelling for a national TV audience, but I choose to believe otherwise.
-At one point (I can't remember if it was during the second or third period) Franzen and Hossa made a Malkin sandwich along the boards. This made me smile, just like Datsyuk's hit on him did earlier in the game.

What a turn-around from Game 4. Thursday night and most of Friday, I was miserable. You would've thought that the world was ending. Now, for a few brief moments that I'm going to allow myself to enjoy for the first time in a long time, everything seems right in the world. That's not to say that tomorrow morning I won't wake up right back in super-stress mode, but on this evening, I'll go to bed smiling. I won't allow myself to think too far ahead, because there's no surer way to jinx things than to assume that they are going to go your way. This furthers the thesis of this blog (Can a blog have a thesis? I don't care. This one does. I'm a grad student. My text messages have thesis statements.), which is that Red Wings hockey is like crack. You go through epic highs and downright miserable lows, but nothing deters you from coming back for more. No matter how awful you felt after Game 4, you couldn't not watch Game 5. There is a need, a compulsion that sucks you in every time. And the bad news for friends and family? There's no 12-step program for Wings addicts.

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