Monday, June 1, 2009

Oh Oh, We're Halfway There...

I said one thing before the Finals started, and I'll say it again. When they write the book on this series, the story is going to be that of Henrik Zetterberg vs. Crosby/Malkin. Sure there might be some subplots about depth, rookies, lively boards, and goalies, but the heart of the story is going to be written by the reigning Conn Smythe winner and his defensive match-ups. (If Datsyuk were playing, he'd be co-protagonist, but he's not.) And tonight continued to prove me right.

First of all, I have to congratulate Marc-Andre Fleury, who managed to go a whole game without shitting a puck into his own net. Unless you count Abdelkader's goal, that is.

Secondly, I learned a very important lesson tonight. Eating rice with chopsticks while watching playoff hockey is a really good way to nearly poke your own eye out. Or to choke. Yeah, I had not one, but two near-death experiences whilst trying to eat the nasty fried rice that was left in the fridge.

The Wings had an average start. Their first couple of shifts looked tentative, but they improved after than. Then, somewhere around the ten-minute mark, they decided that it was nap-time or snack time or time to look at Swedish porn or...something. Who knows? Whatever it was caused them to completely check out of the game. Accordingly, Pittsburgh scored their first and only goal of the game. Well, sort of. Brad Stuart made like Marc-Andre Fleury and put the puck in his own net on the PK. I spent the rest of the period counting down the time until intermission. The Wings were incredibly lucky to escape the first only down by a goal.

During that intermission, Mike Babcock, sports psychology genius, must've given one hell of a pep talk, because the Wings decided to re-enter the game. From that point on, it was all Detroit, on the scoreboard at least. Even though the Wings scored three straight goals, and held the Pens off for the rest of the night, Pittsburgh had way too many good chances for my liking. The good news is that the Wings continued to get the bounces and lucky breaks that stole the show in Game 1.

At one point, Z saved a goal by laying down on the goal line and blocking the puck. The play went under review, and accordingly, I nearly passed out from holding my breath, but my rational mind knew that there was no way they could overrule the ref's no-goal call. There simply was no camera angle that showed anything. That puck may very well have been over the goal line. Was it? I suspect only Henrik Zetterberg knows that, and I doubt he's willing to tell. Z played yet another amazing game, not that I'd expect anything less from the man. Once again, he's owned Crosby. Seriously, though. Z's been an absolute beast on the defensive side of the puck. This is how he gets his jollies. Some people get drunk, some people go sky-diving, some people live vicariously through themselves. Hank simply selects a target and completely owns said hockey player. Not only is he owning Crosby, but he seems to have gotten to Malkin, as well. I think he's inside every single one of the Penguins' heads, like Mel Gibson in that stupid movie. He knows every single one of their deepest, darkest thoughts. Such as: Max Talbot wants to have Z's children, MAF is having liposuction as soon as this series is over, and Bill Guerin is jealous of his beard. These are just a few of the less disturbing revelations that Z has come across, but I assure you, there are many, many more.

The Grand Rapids Griffins once again stole the show. Ericsson and Helm teamed up for the tying goal, with Helm winning the faceoff and heading straight to the front of the net to set up a screen. Abdelkader scored another early third period goal (this one at 2:47, one second later than his goal in Game 1). This is from A2Y, and pretty much says it all: "And meanwhile, maybe all those Pittsburgh fans were right. Maybe they can beat Detroit. But the question they should be asking is, can they beat the Grand Rapids Griffins? Justin Abdelkader and Jonathon Ericsson tonite. Abdelkader last night. Darren Helm all night, both nights. Like a frigging porn star." There's really nothing I can add to that. It has to be supremely frustrating for the Pens, what with their expectation of being able to walk all over the Wings with Dangle Dangle out and Lidstrom coming back from an injury, to find themselves being beaten by a bunch of kids who spent the whole regular season in the minors. No wonder Malkin went after Z at the end of the game.

Speaking of said fight, after a review process which lasted approximately .0347 seconds, the NHL announced that it was rescinding Malkin's automatic suspension. I'm not remotely surprised. It's a stupid rule anyway on account that it's almost never enforced. I have to say that I didn't enjoy it as much as I normally would, due to the fact that I was yelling, "Please don't break your face, or your hand, or veins in your brain!" I'd be lying, though, if I said I wasn't secretly hoping for Z to make like Darren McCarty in his classic New Year's Eve fight. Anyway, it just looked like a lot of frustration boiling over from a team that's probably played well enough to win, and yet finds themselves staring down the barrel of yet another 2-0 deficit. It would've been nice of Malkin to put his stick down before throwing punches, but at this point in the playoffs, I'll take what I can get. I've honestly never had a problem with Malkin before, but I think a little less of him now. Mostly for going after Z when he was being held back by the ref and clearly wanted no part of it. Satan tried to jump in and double team Z, but he apparently decided that it wasn't worth it. I hope I wasn't the only one amused by the fact that Malkin somehow ended up with both his and Z's jerseys attached to him.

Malkin probably shouldn't be the one who is frustrated, though. He's been in on both of the Pens' goals this series, and scared the crap out of me nearly every time he touched the puck. That's why they need Datsyuk back. They need him to work his magic on Malkin since Z's doing another spectacular job owning Crosby. The other Pens forward who consistently scared me was Miroslav Satan. I don't know why, but I heard his name called entirely too much inside the Wings' zone.

I know I mentioned Darren Helm earlier, but I really can't say enough about this kid. Kenny Holland needs to sign him to a long-term deal now while his price is still cheap. Once again, it seemed like he never left the ice. I decided that this is because he never has "invisible" shifts. Every single time he's out on the ice, he's doing something positive, whether it's forechecking, backchecking, checking, or even just skating really, really fast. Some guys have games in which you don't notice them until late in the third period, and you find yourself wondering where they've been for the whole game. Not so for Darren Helm. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Ozzie played another fantastic game tonight. But for Stuart knocking that puck in, he might've pitched a shutout. As good as some of his saves were, he got a lot of help from his old buddies, the goal posts. Also, I think he's been taking puck-handling lessons from Dominick Hasek. I'm not sure he passed the puck to a Red Wing once all game. I was having flashbacks to all of the times I wanted to install a dog fence around the crease and give Dom a zap collar. I even own one now, so it would've been easy. (A dog fence, not a Hasek.)

Hossa also had a heck of a game. He knows that his psyche is on the line in this series, and it doesn't look like he wants to live with the emotional trauma that would result from choosing the wrong team to sign with. He very quietly turned in two assists.

And, just because he's so good that he often goes unnoticed/ about Nick Lidstrom? Two games, two goals allowed against the super-hyped Pittsburgh offense? Z gets a lot of the credit for his work on Crosby, but my God, it seems like Lidstrom's always there. Just when you think disaster is imminent, the Swede negates the play and then, presumably, returns to his hammock and Corona. Seriously. He's that relaxed. He should be in one of their commercials.

So now the series shifts to Pittsburgh, where hopefully Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn't need to make an appearance. With the Pens having the last change, it'll be harder to get the match-ups the Wings would like against the Crosby and Malkin lines. I wouldn't be surprised to see a little line-shuffling going on, but then again, Babs might not want to mess with a winning formula. I've got my fingers crossed that Datsyuk will be back, and I'm trying to work out a deal with the Hockey Gods, but I'm not all that optimistic. Filppula's done a decent job on Malkin in his absence, but, let's face it, you don't just replace Dangle Dangle.

The scary thing is that the Wings haven't played a real "Red Wings hockey" game yet this series. And yet they find themselves up 2-0 against the Penguins. If the Wings can bring their A-game on the road Tuesday/Thursday and get #13 back in the lineup, this might be a shorter series than everyone's predicting. One thing is for sure: they'll need to play better than they have been if they plan on keeping their home ice advantage. And you know that every man in a Penguins sweater is praying to the Hockey Gods that the Wings keep playing the way they have been. These two games could've gone either way, and it's mostly through good luck, some big saves, and the fourth line working its collective ass off that the Wings find themselves in this position.

The bottom line is: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and I will all be dreaming about Henrik Zetterberg tonight, but for decidedly different reasons...

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