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Does ‘defeating’ mean ‘surpassing’ if Nashville takes out the Red Wings?

Over the past few days, we’ve heard quite a bit about the Nashville Predators’ delight regarding the fact that they may very well be able to slay their self-created dragon in their arch-rival Red Wings this evening, and while that’s swell and all, it’s hard to argue that a playoff vanquishing of the “gold standard” means that your team has definitively surpassed said poster boy franchise once and for all.

That being said, I agree with SI’s Darren Eliot when he suggests that the Red Wings have run into a team that has spent the past two trade deadlines and summers very specifically building itself into a team very specifically designed to take the Wings out come playoff time, and there’s definitely something to Eliot’s theory that a team that’s embraced its identity as the Wings’ vanquisher is playing against a team that somehow lost its identity after establishing a home-ice winning streak in February—and it’s scary to watch the Predators prey upon a Wings team that doesn’t seem to understand what it takes to win against the Preds as much as Nashville knows exactly how to make Detroit lose:

To me, though, this series is about the Predators knowing who they are versus a Red Wings squad that is struggling to remember who they were. The Preds’ identity on the ice has long been one of defensive discipline and puck pursuit more than puck control. Off the ice, GM David Poile has used many of the Red Wings’ tenets to build his organization, holding them up as the model to strive for. They’ve built from within, focused on the blue line and added necessary parts along the way. Where they differ right now is that the Predators are bigger and younger up front, with more skill than at any time in their history.

Do they have a Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg? No. They do have Mike Fisher and David Legwand to match up against the Red Wings’ two pivotal pivots; with both players making it difficult on Detroit’s key cogs each and every shift. As if to summarize the individual battles and maybe even the series overall, there was a small but telling play late in Game 4, as Fisher and Datsyuk took flight in a half-ice footrace during an icing. With both men straining in equal determination, Fisher found a way to get there first and nullify the icing, forcing the Red Wings to expend extra energy and go 200 feet yet again. As has been the case throughout, the Wings regrouped and got bogged down in the neutral zone, with the Predators forcing another dump in.

Mike Babcock is right. The Predators didn’t want to spend as much time in their own zone as they did. But they were willing to do so. They had confidence in their defensive posture and ability to keep the puck mostly to the outside. What the Predators have taken away is the Red Wings’ speed on the attack through the neutral zone—the offensive MO that made Detroit the best 5-on-5 outfit in the NHL.

One could very well argue that there’s a simple reason for that—not replacing Brian Rafalski’s hurt the Wings’ transition game all season long, and losing Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves to injuries has taken an enormous amount of speed and out of the Wings’ equation…

In this series, they Predators have held the Wings to one goal per game at even strength. The Wings’ second wave on the rush that netted 44 goals from defensemen—tied for second in the NHL during the regular season—has produced but one lone tally… in their only win of the series. The Predators led the NHL in goals from their rearguards (47) and again have stayed true to form with four markers in the four games thus far—most in the playoffs.

So, there you have it: the Predators have neutralized the strengths of the Red Wings and stayed true to their identity. They’ve gotten better goaltending and scored first in all three of the wins—an area that has plagued the Wings for two months, having blinked first in 17 of their past 21 tilts.

It’s tough playing from behind, especially when the team standing in front of you knows your strengths and senses your vulnerability. The Predators are on the precipice of passing the team they’ve been chasing, on so many levels, for over a decade. On Friday in Nashville, they get their first opportunity to prove that they’ve truly arrived.

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Comments

Avatar

Good piece by Eliot, good perspective from George.
Simply, if not now, then very soon for the Preds, who are determined to get by the Wings (which may not, as they may believe, lead them to the Stanley Cup).
This is the year of bigger, stronger, faster, meaner, dumber, and it arrived early when Shea Weber took Henrik Zetterberg’s head in both paws and banged it into the glass. Game on—or rather, game off. The circus came early to town around the league.
The playoffs—and March for that matter—are a war of attrition. The Wings were in first place in the league until they wore out in late February with all the injuries. EVEN Lidstrom wears out now.
Rant:
The game is not played up the middle, which is where the NHL thought it had moved it after the shutdown. The game is played along the boards and in front of the net, if you dare go there. It is played by huge goalies who can cover most of the net on their knees (have you ever noticed how tall Jonas Hiller is from the waist up?) and are athletic enough to cover the rest.
The rinks are too small for the players, who are too big.
Same goes for the nets.
And until the NHL and No. 1 Defensive-man Gary Bettman realizes as much, the concussions will mount until someone is killed and the league names an award after him rather than changing the rules.
What Shea Weber did—taking another player’s head in both hands and banging it against the glass—comes about as close as turning me off to hockey as anything I have seen in a half-century of watching the game. I thought I had seen it all, too. D-man Bettman can play all the rock music he wants at NHL events and play to to a generation that accepts violence as a rite of passage (except when it comes to defending their country—let somebody else do that), but it is my generation that still buys the tickets and takes the kids to the games. The kids buy iPods to listen to their violent music. What’s going to happen when the grownups turn away from the game and the kids won’t pay for the league’s music?
End of rant.

Posted by Steve Klein from Fairfax, VA on 04/20/12 at 02:53 PM ET

PaulinMiamiBeach's avatar

I don’t think it means surpassed.

we lost playoff series’ to Denver.  had they surpassed the Wings?  definitely not.

Posted by PaulinMiamiBeach on 04/20/12 at 02:58 PM ET

PaulinMiamiBeach's avatar

match up against the Red Wings’ two pivotal pivots

that’s redolently redolent.

Posted by PaulinMiamiBeach on 04/20/12 at 02:59 PM ET

Chet's avatar

over it. nashville can go *#$%@& itself.

Posted by Chet from twitter: thegansen on 04/20/12 at 03:21 PM ET

calquake's avatar

What Shea Weber did—taking another player’s head in both hands and banging it against the glass—comes about as close as turning me off to hockey as anything I have seen in a half-century of watching the game.

Preach it brother.

Posted by calquake on 04/20/12 at 04:33 PM ET

Chris in A^2's avatar

Getting outshot 5:1 wiht a hot goalie is a proven formula for beating the wings in an early playoff round, but it isn’t statistically repeatable and by no means makes Nashville a better organization.  Ask the Ducks and Oilers about how much better they are for winning that way.  While you’re at it they can talk about cups they won by riding hot goalies behind mediocre skaters.  Then go ask Phoenix, Columbus, Colorado et al about how they got blown out by the wings while getting badly outplayed.

Posted by Chris in A^2 from Nyquist Puck Control on 04/20/12 at 05:17 PM ET

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.