The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/21/13 at 04:18 AM ET
Updated 3x at 5:23 AM: I am annoyed. I happen to love mammoth, twenty-printed-page blog entries that eat bandwidth and crash browsers...But ever since we've moved to our now not-so-new software platform, I've got a character limit, so during the playoffs, when the press push is absolutely masive I've had to separate multimedia from the game wrap-ups, and now I'm positing an overnight report as well. Damn you, reader-friendly common-sense character limits!
This morning's dominant sidebar stories involve Jonathan Ericsson, Damien Brunner, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl (and Justin Abdelkader and Mike Babcock. Okay, the list is long, thus the separate entry). Starting at the beginning...
DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose wisely points out that Ericsson's the team's #2 defenseman, and he's doing just fine and dandy in that role. Nobody's afraid when "Errorson" hops over the boards anymore, and his partner, who happens to be the Red Wings' #1 defenseman, isn't surprised to see Ericsson thrive in his "new" role:
“Just the responsibilities that have come with that role, I think he’s been great,” Kronwall said. “Everybody in this organization knew that he could do it, and had been knowing it for a few years, ever since he came in and played that great series, I think it was against Columbus, his first playoff. I think he’s really come into his own.”
Combined, the Ericsson/Kronwall duo has accounted for 39 hits in the playoffs against the Ducks and Blackhawks. Ericsson had nine hits in the first two games of the Chicago series, second only to Abdelkader (13). He’s also the only Detroit player to appear in every postseason game without receiving a penalty, which speaks to his discipline.
“When the stick comes up, we know that they’re going to call it,” Ericsson said. “But it’s hard sometimes to keep the stick down on the ice. You want to be as much of a pest as possible and try to hack and whack them to force them to make bad plays. But you have to find that line where you can play with your stick up or down. You know that every team right now is good on the power play and we really can’t afford to be in the box too much.”
Ericsson has been the Wings’ top penalty-killer, averaging a team-high 3:20 of shorthanded ice-time in these playoffs. He also leads the defense with 22 hits.
“I like every part of the game but I take a lot of pride in being on the penalty kill,” Ericsson said. “I want to make a difference and I want to be a guy that they count on when we’re up with a few minutes to go in the game. I want to be an important guy for the team. That’s what I value the most.”
It’s Ericsson’s consistency, especially in the playoffs, that his teammates appreciate.
“Nick is gone and boom, the next thing you know you put Big E in the top pair and look what he’s done. He’s been unbelievable,” defenseman Jakub Kindl said. “He’s progressing and getting better every year; He’s playing top minutes, he’s playing against top lines every night and he’s been solid against their forwards every night. I like the way he plays, he’s big, solid, strong, and he makes the good pass too.”
But it's taken a long time for the 29-year-old and 32-year-old Niklas Kronwall to round out their games, as the Free Press's Helene St. James suggests...
“It took him a number of years to become what he’s capable of being,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Only stars step right in and grab the lead. The rest of us have to work at it and get better each and every day.”
That’s what Ericsson has done, sticking with it through lessons valuable and vulnerable. He turned heads in a good way with his steady play in the 2009 playoffs, then turned them the other direction with a slew of turnovers the next season. He spent time as a healthy scratch, but that was good, too.
“You’re always going to have ups and downs in your career and I wouldn’t want to take anything back, because you learn a lot from that,” Ericsson said. “You learn a lot about yourself and how to handle situations. And for that, that helps me now. It’s a process you need to learn, unless you’re Nick Lidstrom and never do anything wrong.”
Ericsson sat next to the seven-time Norris Trophy winner for years, watched Lidstrom every day live up to his nickname as “the perfect human.”
And he's learned the kinds of lessons that Brendan Smith is learning the hard way these days, as MLive's Ansar Khan notes:
“You have to be patient,'' Ericsson said. “Everything doesn’t come all at once, you just have to work your way in.''
He has formed a good partnership with Kronwall, his fellow countryman, saying they think the same.
“He’s really close (to being like Lidstrom), that’s why we call him Nick Jr.,'' Ericsson said. “He makes it easy for me. We have a good way of communicating out there and we feed off each other.''
Ericsson is particularly valuable on the penalty kill.
“I like every part of the game, but I take a lot of pride in being on the penalty kill,'' Ericsson said. “I want to make a difference and I want to be a guy that they count on when we’re up with a few minutes to go in the game. I want to be an important guy for the team.''
I'll leave the fishing story up to you to read (there's a fishing story!) and point out that Kronwall's very proud of his defensive partner, as he told the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:
“With just the responsibilities that have come with that role, I think he’s been great,” Kronwall said. “Everybody in this organization knew that he could do it. They’ve known that for a few years, ever since he came in and played that great series, I think it was against Columbus, his first playoff. I think he’s really come into his own.
“(He’s) made the transition real smooth, easy,” Kronwall added. “He’s always one of those guys who wants the puck and talks a lot out there and makes it easy for you.”
Ericsson also has played a main role on the Wings’ penalty kill. Averaging over 18 minutes of ice time in the playoffs, 3:20 of it has come killing penalties.
“I don’t know how to put it in words how much he means to this club,” Kronwall said. “He’s out there playing big minutes, 5-on-5, a shut-down guy and plays obvious heavy minutes on the PK. He means a lot to this team and we’re really happy that he’s playing so well.”
The gentleman at the other end of the learning curve, the one who scares the shit out of you when he and Kyle Quincey take to the ice, poke to Comcast Sportsnet Chicago's Tracey Myers about the lesson's he's learning from the Wings' veterans, as did one Damien Brunner...
“They’re always giving me words of wisdom and advice. As a young guy, that’s what I need to get to the next level,” Smith said. “There are things I haven’t seen that they have, and they can give me that little advice here and there. I’m just trying to be a sponge and take it all in.”
Brunner is having a very good postseason, as his seven playoff points (four goals, three assists) has him tied with Pavel Datsyuk for second among the Wings. Brunner said the veterans give the Wings’ young players the right balance of help and hands-off.
“They help a lot by saying the right things at the right time,” he said. “They don’t talk too much. They let you play your game, but they push you in the right direction. They never put you under too much pressure; they kind of let you go. And that’s a really good thing.”
The Wings’ youth are playing like there’s very little pressure on them. They’re playing with seasoned players who keep them calm in the stress-filled postseason, and the up-and-coming Wings appreciate that.
“It’s just the presence they have,” Smith said. “Even in last series when we played Anaheim and lost the first one here, it was how calm they were and the words they gave our team. Everybody realizes you don’t get too high or low. We’ve had so many guys who have been on late runs. It helps us younger guys understand what the atmosphere is like.”
And Jakub Kindl is somewhere in the middle, as the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan suggests:
Kindl missed the first three games with a groin injury, then didn't consistently play after being scratched Feb. 21. Since then, Kindl has been a consistent presence, showing the type of skill Red Wings officials believed the 6-foot-3, 216-pounder had. In 41 games, Kindl had 13 points (four goals), and his plus-15 rating was second behind Pavel Datsyuk's plus-21. Heading into Game 3 on Monday, Kindl had three assists. He failed to score a point in the Red Wings 3-1 victory.
"Kindl has been huge for us," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He's found confidence."
There were disappointments along the way, but Kindl always felt if given the chance, things would work out.
"I've been very patient," he said. "I always wanted to play for this team, and trying to stick with the plan, and all of a sudden I'm playing in the playoffs. I've never had an opportunity like this. Of course for two years when you're the seventh defenseman and waiting for an opportunity, you're thinking maybe this isn't the team you should be on and maybe I should go somewhere else."
With Lidstrom retiring and Stuart traded to San Jose because of family reasons, Kindl thought there could be opportunity heading into this season.
"With no Stuart and Lidstrom there were spots available," said Kindl, who when sensing there would be a lockout found a team in the Czech Republic to play with. "That's why I decided to play in Europe and get used to playing a lot of minutes in every situation. Once the season started, I came here and was I ready."
As for Damien Brunner, he talked to Kulfan about the significance of the Swiss winning silver at the World Championship, and DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose reports that Brunner's performance has actually annoyed a female IndyCar driver, but Brunner wants us all to know that Jimmy Howard's, "He doesn't have a clue what's going on" comment did register, as he told the Free Press's Helene St. James:
“I do have a clue,” Brunner said, smiling. “That’s my whole point. It was terrible. The first part maybe is OK, but then second part, with I don’t know what the stakes are, that’s terrible.”
Possibly something was lost in translation, as it’s commonplace for teammates to good-naturedly rib one another. Brunner has gotten the treatment all season; Daniel Cleary said back in March that Brunner “doesn’t have a clue. He just comes around, his hair is always in a mess, and he’s smiling every day. I like it.”
Brunner did prove he’s got one big clue: A public relations executive said Brunner had told him that while Howard had made the comments, Brunner said he wasn’t going to yell at the team’s starting goaltender during the playoffs.
Brunner had a clue about World of Isaac's Gif of Brunner accidentally nailing Gustav Nyquist in the balls, too:
Do we count Justin Abdelkader as a "kid?" He's got 40-something games of playoff experience already, but he's surprised everyone this year by transforming from fourth-line grinder into Pavel Datsyuk's capable, goal-scoring, goalie-screening winger, and The Human Log has done so because...
Well, the Edmonton Sun's Derek Van Diest reveals that he's done so because Wings coach Mike Babcock gave up on his plan to turn Abdelkader into a center and placed Abdelkader in an unnatural position that's fit him like a glove:
"Last year when I watched at the world championship, I thought he played great in the middle," said Babcock. "When he played for us and we moved him up in the regular season in the NHL, I didn't think he could get the puck in and get the puck out and make the plays that we needed him to make. Then when I saw him on the wing, I thought we'd give him another go and it just so happened with injuries to our top group, we've moved him there and he's been great."
Abdelkader, 26, finished with a career-high 10 goals in 48 games this season. He had eight in 81 games with the club last year.Heading into Monday's contest, Abdelkader has two goals and an assist in seven playoff games.
"The biggest change for me was going from centre to wing, because I had been at centre most of my career," Abdelkader said. "But getting a chance to play with Pavel was great. He's so talented. I think it's been a good year for me. I think I've developed as a winger, which was important because I hadn't played the position my whole life. It's an important year to figure out how I need to play as a winger. It's been fun and I enjoy the opportunity to play with such a great player."
"I'm trying to go out and make the most of the opportunity and keep my game simple," Abdelkader said. "For the most part, I've been trying to play the same game. I just try to get in on the forecheck, play strong, play heavy and be around the net."
Abdelkader adds muscle to Datsyuk's unit, which also features winger Johan Franzen. He's benefited from skating alongside one of the most talented players in the NHL and learned early to be prepared to receive the puck at any time.
"I found out right away," Abdelkader said. "It was one of the first games, I was going to the net and he had the puck. He pulls a little stop back and throws it right to my stick and I wasn't ready for it. I learned right away that you have to be ready at any time. He's an amazing player, I think one of the best, if not the best, with the puck on his stick. He creates so much and you have to be ready at all times when he has the puck. I have to get him the puck as much as I can. You want to get the puck in his hands because he creates so many things."
And you have to go to the front of the net, and probably nod and smile when he says, "Good job, Homer" (kidding, kidding, Datsyuk is always watching movies like Jiro Loves Sushi, he reads motivational books in English,
When coach Babcock chatted with the press on Monday (see: the video, and Yahoo Sports' Nicholas J. Cotosonika's story; if you can read ESPN's Craig Custance's insider-only tale about the Wings, that's a good read, too) he offered a particularly intriguing insight into his prickly personality, as noted by the Vancouver Sun's Cam Cole:
“Steve Yzerman told me one time that when Scotty coached him here, he hardly ever talked to him,” Babcock said at Monday’s morning skate. “And then when he was working with me (as a senior adviser) for two years, Scotty talked to the players all the time. Scotty Bowman loved the players, absolutely loved them … but he had a job to do. Paul MacLean loves the (Senators’) players, Mike Babcock loves the players. Sometimes, you’re pushing people who don’t want to be pushed, sometimes they don’t like it — I’m here to tell you that when you look at the group of coaches that are still playing right now, they’re pushing their people. That’s just reality. And in my world, that’s positive.”
Positive is a word his own players were using about Babcock on Monday; the implication being that in the past, he was only positive that he was right. But now, with so many young players on what had previously been a very veteran outfit, the coach has somehow changed. Babcock doesn’t necessarily agree, but he doesn’t think change is a dirty word, either.
“Our coaching staff understands totally that to be the best you can possibly be, you’ve got to maximize each day and continue to get better and grow,” he said. “There’s no better example than Scotty Bowman, always changing, that’s what you have to do. I’m fortunate to coach the Red Wings, got a good group of people who’ve been coachable and worked hard, we’ve tried to help them, we’re all in it together and we’re having fun.”
It was a Babcock “up” day. At such times, you can only sit back and enjoy the show.
“I actually think we’re positive with all our people,” he said. “The words ‘positive’ and ‘accountability’ and ‘feedback’ sometimes are how it’s perceived, not how it’s given. To me the whole key in life — I don’t know what your life is like — but if someone has an issue with me, I like them to tell me so I can fix it and get better at it. Some people take that in a negative way, but I think when people are trying to help you that’s positive. Take that for whatever you want, you can just put my name on it and say I (said it).”
MLive's Brendan Savage both noted that Pavel Datsyuk faces long Vegas odds to win the Selke Trophy and has advanced to the semifinals of EA Sports' NHL 2014 Cover Vote, facing Martin Brodeur. You can't vote via Twitter hashtags anymore--you have to head to http://covervote.nhl.com/#/ballot and vote there;
Speaking of Datsyuk, Sportsline's Brian Stubits argues that Datsyuk is the most "likeable" player in the NHL (no ladies and some gents, that's not "lick-able");
The Free Press's Steve Schrader asks some pertinent, pressing questions in his Octopus Garden:
And while we’re on the pregame and the ambience at the Joe, an octopus hit the ice — and maybe we shouldn’t mention this — but why is it OK for Al Sobotka to do his octopus-slinging routine again? Isn’t the league worried about octo-matter getting on the ice anymore?
And while we’re on octopi, is it proper to throw one when the other team has goal disallowed, like some fan did in the third period? Or is there no bad time to throw one? Maybe.
All I know is that no one has stated whether it's a $500 fine and a disorderly conduct misdemenaor on your criminal record, as well as court costs, fines and $100 bail, if you get caught by the Detroit Police throwing an octopus at the Joe, and that still scares me.
Octopus, not so much. It's actually quite tasty. BUT YOU HAVE TO BOIL THEM before you throw them, folks, or "matter" does get on the ice.
In the multimedia department, NHL.com's EJ Hradek named Henrik Zetterberg his best active Swedish-born NHL'er...
And Griffinshockey.com's Bob Kaser spoke to Tomas Jurco ahead of tonight's Grand Rapids Griffins-Toronto Marlies game:
The Griffins lead the Marlies 3 games to 2 in the AHL's second round, and Games 6 and possibly 7 will take place tonight and tomorrow in Toronto. Oddly enough, in praising Marysville, MI's Chad Billins, the Port Huron Times-Herald's Paul Costanzo set up tonight's game nicely:
Game 6 of the Griffins’ Western Conference semifinal series against the Marlies is at 7 p.m. today in Toronto. Game 7, if necessary, would be at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Toronto. The Griffins lead the series 3-2, and had a 3-1 series lead with a chance to close things out at home on Saturday, but lost 4-1.
Billins has one goal and two assists in the series, all coming in a Game 1 rout by the Griffins. For the playoffs, he has one goal and four assists, and is a plus-5.
As for those other Red Wings prospects? They’re playing well, as you would expect on a team that’s one game away from the AHL’s final four.
Tomas Tatar and Landon Ferraro are tied for the team lead in points with nine. Tatar has six goals, while Ferraro has two. Luke Glendenning, who, like Billins, does not have a contract with the Red Wings, is tied with them, and has four goals.
Tomas Jurco (four goals) and Riley Sheahan (one goal) each have eight points, while Jan Mursak (four goals) has seven. Mursak is also a plus-8.
What about the Wings’ biggest need, defensemen? Billins is tied for the points among defensemen on the team in points, with Adam Almquist (three goals) and Nathan Paetsch. Both of those defensemen are plus-6 in the playoffs, but only Almquist is on contract with the Wings.
If the Griffins advance, they will play the Cleveland Barons, who eliminated Jack Campbell’s Texas Stars. Campbell did not see time in the playoffs, as veteran Christopher Nilstorp started all nine of the team’s playoff games.
You may have missed it, but the Griffins posted a slick little tribute to their goalies prior to Saturday night's game:
Out West, Martin Frk and the Halifax Mooseheads will play the London Knights at 8 PM EDT this evening (the game will air on Sportsnet in Canada) in their third and final Memorial Cup round robin game;
In Swedish, Gustav Nyquist told Expressen's Gunnar Nordstrom and Aftonbladet's Per Bjurman that he had a blast scoring his goal, but got big helpers from "Jocke" Andersson and Brunner, and going forward, he understands that the Wings-Hawks series is only going to get tougher, though he and Niklas Kronwall believe that the Wings are getting, as they say in English, "Better and better" every game, youngsters included;
And, well, hm.
I've been working since the game ended...I believe it was around 10 something, so 4 AM makes six hours...And the Oakland Press's Pat Caputo posted his take on the game about 20 minutes ago.
Perhaps he should take us out, even though we need to remember that any possible "momentum" in this series evaporates because the Wings are taking today off--no practice, nothin'--and the Hawks went back to Chicago to take a day off and then practice at the United Center before heading back to Detroit as the series resumes with games on Thursday, Saturday and possibly Monday and Wednesday:
Before Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom retired, and the Red Wings were considered the favorite each year to win the Stanley Cup title, this would be regarded as business as usual.
Beating the Chicago Blackhawks. Being up two games to one in the Western Conference semifinals. This town in the midst of hockey insanity. This version of the Red Wings has snuck up on the hockey world like thieves in the night. Who knows? They may steal the Stanley Cup. It still seems like an unimaginable notion, but it does become more real by the victory.
It’s no mistake the Red Wings beat the Blackhawks 3-1 Monday before a sea of red at Joe Louis Arena to take command of a series few pundits thought they could win - myself included.
They won because they are opportunistic and have a terrific goalie, Jimmy Howard. Howard withstood the expected onslaught throughout the first half of the game. He was exceptionally solid, making difficult saves appear routine.
Then, when presented with a crack of opportunity, the Red Wings, flew through it. It was breathtaking victory - vintage playoff hockey, Red Wings’ style.
“As the year has gone on, we’ve gotten better,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You have to earn you confidence. We have a real good leadership in (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Niklas) Kronwall and (Danny) Cleary. But let’s face it, we have done anything yet.”
Doesn’t sound like a coach who expects this improbable run to end anytime soon, does it?
After the game, on Fox Sports Detroit, Ken Daniels, Darren Eliot and John Keating all suggested that the atmosphere at Joe Louis Arena reached another level as the game went on, as the ice got better (it was 91 degrees on Monday) and as the game became more intense, and they wondered whether, for the first time this season, Hockeytown had gotten playoff fever, and had begun to truly embrace this Red Wings team because they're finally seeing what it can do and what it is capable of, "kids" and underdog status included.
I think they're right...
And regardless of how the rest of this series goes, even if the Hawks sweep the next three and we're talking about a disappointing collapse a week from today...
The Wings have served notice to both the NHL and their own fan base that this rebuilding on the fly business does not in fact have to involve such a significant departure from our regularly elite expectations of the team.
For now, however, It's, "*#$%@& it, why not upset the Hawks?" And that's pretty cool in itself.
Update: For the record, while the Chicago press lamented what could have been and the Wings' press praised the Wings' rope-a-dope win, the Vancouver Sun's Cam Cole suggested that the Wings will need their two-day break because only Jimmy Howard separated the Wings from getting their asses handed to them:
The heat was oppressive inside and outside the Joe, and the funky stanchions and boards had a big night kicking pucks off at odd angles, but the Red Wings beat the Hawks on home ice for the first time in 15 months.
Goals 31 seconds apart by Gustav Nyquist and Drew Miller, midway through the second period - third-and fourth-liners making the difference on a night when the top two units seemed to be playing their opposite numbers to an impasse - staked the Red Wings to a 2-0 lead, which they had to battle to protect against a considerable pushback by the Hawks in the latter half of the game.
They appeared to be losing the battle with a series of swarming attacks by Chicago threatening to wipe out their lead, and then, 4½ minutes into the third period, Hjalmars-son's cross-check on Franzen, uncalled, led to the Kane goal that cut the margin in half. With the play still alive, Kane brought Duncan Keith's alley-oop pass to ice behind the Detroit defence, and the clever little winger beat Howard through the five-hole.
Kane's goal was sandwiched by a clean Patrick Sharp breakaway which Howard stopped, and then a controversial disallowed goal by Viktor Stalberg that would have tied the game, had officials not waved it off because the Hawks' Andrew Shaw was in the goal crease and minimally impeded Howard's ability to handle the Stalberg shot.
"I thought we played the right way," said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, "it was one of those games where you gotta get the momentum back, and we did, then we hit the wall when they disallowed the goal. We're 2-2, had everything going, some hits, offensive zone time. Obviously coming back from 2-0 that quick, we were in great shape."
Only Howard's standout goaltending - and Datsyuk's goal, at the 6: 46 mark - saved the Wings, and even at that, the final minutes of the game in which the Hawks outshot Detroit 40-30 (17-7 in the third) were full of fierce scrums around the Detroit net. It was, in short, a terrific Western-style playoff game.
Yes, and the Wings won it, even if only barely.
Update #2: SIGH. The Free Press's Jeff Seidel penned a column on the game as well, and it didn't hit until sometime after 4 AM. Ditto for the Northwest Herald's Jeff Arnold's take.
Let's start with Arnold's opinion regarding the game as it comes from a Hawks-centric perspective...
The Hawks will spend the next two days at home in Chicago. There will be no panic. But there better be some serious soul-searching that takes place because if the Hawks return to Joe Louis Arena without the kind of in-your-face urgency they should have had Monday night, this won’t end the way you expected it to.
The problem now is that Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard is more confident than ever after allowing only one goal in each of the last two games. Never mind that Toews still hasn’t scored in the playoffs, there isn’t anyone not named Patrick Kane that has found the back of the net since Game 1.
And here’s perhaps the biggest issue with the fact that the Hawks were so good during the regular season: They never dealt with adversity, they never had to play through tough times and never had to come up with answers to questions that threw them off track.
So now comes the test and how the Hawks respond may not determine how the rest of this series plays out, but if they have what it takes to again hoist the Stanley Cup.
“We just have to dig deep and battle,” goalie Corey Crawford said, repeating the same cliche’ every team that has had to play from behind has used since the beginning of man.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The series is far from over and both teams know it. Expect the Hawks to deliver their most passionate performance of the season Thursday. But if they don’t and the Red Wings head back to Chicago up three games to one, the stress that eluded the Hawks all season long will be very, very real.
And at least right now, the Hawks look far from being a sure bet.
Now this is just me, but I thought that the Hawks' very best consisted of what they delivered on Monday, and it also included that gap-toothed idiot that is Bryan Bickell going apeshit at the end of the game simply because he could.
As far as I'm concerned, the Wings may not win the series, but they are very close to causing the Hawks to crack in terms of their composure, and as we've seen with the Ducks, when a team becomes unbound, even if its scorers steal a game or two...Their dominance is eventually undone by their impatience and impertinence.
Well, Seidel reminds us that the Wings are playing against a team whose coach has never defeated Detroit in the playoffs, and the Wings' coach is earning his praise while steering the Wings on a steady course:
What makes Babcock such a great coach? It starts with details.
“He’s very detailed,” Patrick Eaves said. “Everything is mapped out. There is a game plan. We follow that pretty closely to be successful.”
And that map is important. Because that’s how you teach young kids. You show them the way. Give them a map and they will find the way. Without a map, they will be lost.
“He’s a stickler on details,” Howard said. “That’s his focus. He always has us so prepared. That is what allows us to play fast.”
Coming into this game, Babcock had a plan. A simple plan. Play above the Blackhawks in the neutral zone.
“We knew they would come out in a big push,” Eaves said. “He just wanted us to pay attention to details early on. Follow the plan.”
And the Wings withstood the Blackhawks in the first period, holding on until they took over in the second.
Now, this series isn’t over. Far from it. Chicago still has more talent. More depth. More speed. More firepower. But the Wings have something else. Something, maybe even more important. They have a coach who hasn’t stopped teaching.
I'll go with the bottom line before crawling into bed to curl up and hopefully enjoy an uneventful off-day:
I don't believe that the playoffs are about the "better team" winning.
The "better" team, the team that "should" win on paper, doesn't necessariliy carry the day.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Blackhawks are deeper on offense--they've got three scoring lines to one-and-a-half for the Wings--they've got a much deeper defense, their special teams are better and their goaltender is supposedly better than Jimmy Howard.
They're younger (though not by too much these days), bigger, healthier and were absolutely dominant this season, and their roster and coaching staffs have enjoyed the kind of combination of evolution, stability and reinforcement that should be conductive to a Stanley Cup Final run this season.
But the Red Wings don't have to be the better team. They have to win four games before the Blackhawks make them lose four games. They have to score more goals than they give up, they have to out-work, out-hustle, out-grind and out-detail their opponent, and they have to get lucky, too.
Maybe the three goalposts the Hawks hit and the Stalberg goal being called back constitute "lucky" breaks for the Wings. But the Wings got them and Chicago didn't, so the Wings lead this series 2-1, and unlike the Hawks, their confidence hasn't been tinged with bluster or frustration.
This team's maddening steadiness in the locker room and behind the bench has been pleasantly pock-marked by youthful enthusiasm and a little bit of arrogance, and thus far, the mix is working.
The Wings don't have to author works of art. They can win 2-1 or 10-9 in quadruple overtime. All they have to do is out-compete and out-execute their opponent, and doing so has nothing do to with being the better team or having the better players, or the better coach.
It's about out-executing, about getting it done on the scoresheet, no matter how tenuously or bumblingly a team stumbles and backs their way into success. And the Wings have achieved their goals and have defeated the Blackhawks in 2 out of 3 meetings thus far.
That's all they have to focus on doing--out-resulting their opponents on the ice, one game, one period and one shift at a time. They don't have to think about the gargantuan task that is upsetting the Mighty Chicago Blackhawks. They just have to win battles for the puck, have good shifts, have good minutes, then periods, and go from there.
"Better" is something of a ruse, and "better" is better-awarded in retrospect.
Update #3: Smash and grab, per Sportsnet:
And, from Yahoo Sports' Sean Leahy's 3 Stars:
Honorable mention: The Blackhawks killed off all five Detroit power plays. They've yet to allow a power play goal through their first eight playoff games ... Detroit won 37 of 66 faceoffs.
Did You Know? "Mike Babcock won his 77th postseason game, matching Quenneville for the most among active coaches and trailing Pat Burns by one victory for 8th place on the NHL's all-time list." (AP)
Conn Smythe Watch: 1. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins; 2. David Krejci, Boston Bruins; 3. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings; 4. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins; 5. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins; 6. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators. 7. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks; 8. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers; 9. Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings; 10. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings.
Dishonorable mention: Corey Crawford has allowed seven goals his last two starts. He'd allowed eight total in his last six starts entering Game 3 ... Should Andrew Shaw's goal have counted?
In the words of Sagat: FUNK DAT:
One more thing: You like pictures, right? This should be your wallpaper. I'm re-sizing this one from CBS Detroit, and if you click on the link you can see that Datsyuk's using the new Reebok tri-core stick:
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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.