The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/10/11 at 07:15 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings face off against the San Jose Sharks tonight (8 PM EDT, FSD or CSN Bay Area locally/Versus or TSN nationally/WXYT) still facing elimination and still hoping, at best, to force a seventh and deciding game in San Jose on Thursday, but the Wings still have nothing to lose but the series, and as such, Wings coach Mike Babcock and GM Ken Holland made a near-staggering set of proclamations when they stepped off of Red Bird II on Monday, as noted by the CBC’s series blogger:
“Oh, we’re getting on it,” Babcock said, looking toward the plane.
[Pavel] Datsyuk was also looking forward to adding to his frequent flier miles. “Why not?” he said. “I have good seats.”
Detroit GM Ken Holland felt it was that confident attitude which has got the Wings back in the series, when all seemed lost just a few days ago.
“When we were down 3-0, nobody wanted to go home,” Holland said. “We plan to be flying back for Game 7.”
The Sharks rather obviously are still, in the words of Danny Cleary, still in the driver’s seat, and as such, coach Todd McLellan told the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch that the series is simply playing out as the Sharks expected it to:
“We worked hard all year to prepare for these moments,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said Monday. “When you are up 3-0 you expect to feel like you want to win it in Game 4 and Game 5, but when you revert back to the beginning you expected a six- or seven-game series. That’s what we have.
McLellan also made an…interesting comment to SanJoseSharks.com’s Allison High while discussing the Sharks’ plans going forward:
“I have a pretty good idea what I’m going to share with our club later on today,” said McLellan. “We’ll have a meeting and we’ll keep that inside the locker room. We worked hard all year to prepare for these moments. We’ll make sure that we take it up a notch higher than we did last night.”
In order to beat the Red Wings in Detroit, every member of the Sharks needs to play better. Although the Sharks put 42 shots on goal in Game 5, they failed to score on their four power play opportunities and had 20 giveaways.
“We need more out of everybody,” added McLellan. “We had a relentless attack five-on-five. It wasn’t relentless when it came to five-on-four and that has to change.”
“We missed some chances early and ended up making a few mistakes in the end,” said defenseman Dan Boyle. “But it’s a new day and I guess you have to try to be positive and look ahead. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
“You knew it was going to be a great series and we’ve had success in Detroit so we’re going to just go in there and try to win a game,” added Joe Thornton.
The Sharks’ availability to the media was pretty limited on Monday, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they come out and say that they’re heading home on Tuesday night to prepare to host the Canucks. They’re that cocky—and they’ve certainly earned that right as they remain in control of the series—but as the AP’s Larry Lage and Julian Gonzalez noted, the Sharks already ventured into that territory, or at least Thornton did:
“You try to eliminate teams when you have a chance to,’’ San Jose forward Joe Thornton said. “So we’re going to go in there and try to eliminate them. That’s the game plan.’‘
San Jose’s chances to end Detroit’s comeback will probably improve if Patrick Marleau and Thornton, its top two scorers during the regular season, lead the way. Marleau is pointless through five games and Thornton has been held to a one assist since the Sharks surged to a 3-0 series lead in the second-round rematch.
Marleau, who had two goals and five points in the first round against Los Angeles, defended his play against Detroit.
“I think I’ve done some really good things,’’ he said “They haven’t showed up on the score sheet, but there’s another game to play.’‘
The Sharks are slightly concerned about the fact that their power play went 0-for-4 on Sunday, as the Mercury News’s Mark Emmons noted…
“Our power play has to be better,” McLellan said. “Where our top line has to be more productive is in the power-play situations.”
McLellan added that the Sharks were ready for changes that Detroit made in its penalty kill to better clog up the neutral zone. That, he said, wasn’t the problem.
“They made some adjustments, and we’re well aware of them,” McLellan said. “But once we get through the neutral zone and into their end, more has to be done.”
And the Sharks also hope to keep Pavel Datsyuk off the scoresheet…
“I thought Pavel was the best player on the ice again, and he willed his team to the win,” McLellan said of Detroit’s 4-3 victory in Game 5 on Sunday. “It wasn’t a full night thing, but he was there in the third period.”
“I think we did a pretty good job against him early (in the series),” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. “But the last couple of games, especially last game in the third period, we let him do his thing. He’s all-world and we need to do a better job against him.”
And Boyle suggested that the Sharks’ cause might be helped by keeping their heads up when Niklas Kronwall’s lining up forwards at the Sharks’ blueline:
“He had a big game for them,” Boyle said. “He’s had some huge hits. We obviously need to be aware of him on the ice. He’s done a great job and played a lot of minutes for them.”
I am, to put it mildly, not buying into the Marleau-Roenick scrap—Marleau’s been the player that sustains the Sharks’ cycling game when he’s on the ice with Joe Thornton and Devin Setoguchi, so the fact that he hasn’t scored a goal in the series sells a difference-maker very short (mark this down, folks, because it’s the only time I’m going to defend a Shark’s play)—but McLellan did suggest to Emmons that Marleau needs to step it up in the scoring department:
“He needs to be better,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who declined to specifically address Roenick’s condemnation of Marleau. “It’s as simple as that. We need him to be better offensively and defensively. But he’s one individual. There are others on that line. There’s a D-pair on the ice. There’s a goaltender. There are a number of people who have to pick up their play.”
Marleau, of course, often has shined for the Sharks in clutch situations. This year, he became the first San Jose player to score three overtime goals in one season. He was the one player who delivered in the Western Conference finals loss to Chicago last spring, scoring five of the Sharks’ seven goals. And he also had two winning goals against the Red Wings in the playoffs last year—include one in overtime at The Joe.
But when things go wrong for the Sharks, Marleau and Joe Thornton tend to get the lion’s share of the blame because they are the team’s most talented players. Monday, Thornton did his best to tamp the public kerfuffle. He said the focus is on what is said inside the locker room and not in the media.
“Patty has scored a lot of big goals,” he said. “We realize that it’s a team sport, and we all have to be better. That’s just the bottom line. The good news is we’re still in control of the series, and we just have to win one game to advance.”
Only a trio of columnists raised any suggestion of alarm, with the Mercury News’s Tim Kawakami arguing that the Sharks absolutely must dispatch the Wings immediately, though Sharks GM Doug Wilson disagrees with Kawakami’s assessment:
“If somebody had come to us before the series and said you’d be up three games to two going into Game 6, you’d say, ‘Let’s go,’ ” general manager Doug Wilson said before the team boarded its flight to Detroit.
The Sharks lead. Yes. They have two chances to win one game and move into the Western Conference finals.
“We’re in a good position,” Sharks forward Devin Setoguchi said in the locker room Sunday. “We’re still up a game.”
But all this brave talk and outward signs of cool confidence about their series lead only reinforced the Sharks’ playoff subtext: How much trouble will they be in if they let Detroit all the way back to a 3-3 series tie? (By the way, the Sharks are 4-13 all-time in Game 6s.) My answer: If the Sharks can’t finish the series Tuesday, they will be eliminated in Game 7 at HP Pavilion on Thursday. (The Sharks are 4-2 all-time in Game 7s, however.)
“Every year it’s a different team,” Wilson said. “I think we played very well in Game 6 in L.A. And an elimination game to eliminate a team is always the most difficult, and you know that coming in.”
Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s went with a tired old cliche, suggesting that it’s “good” that the Sharks have let the Wings off the mat while sounding like someone who has absolutely no concept of the fact that there are people who don’t get into games for free…
Right now, the Sharks have the opportunity to define themselves as scrappy winners or choking losers. They should be jumping out of their skin for this opportunity. And fans should be jumping out of their skin too. Defining moments are the best moments in sports.
But Ray Ratto, who’s well aware of the fact that fans pay money to watch the Sharks play, offered a classic Ratto level of concern about tonight’s game:
Losing Games 4 and 5 opened the door to doubt and self-loathing, but it hasn’t pushed the doubters and loathers through it yet. Losing Game 6 Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena, though, would. Gay-ron-teed, as they say in New Orleans.
It would make the Sharks a team that had a chance to kill a team that could kill them and lifted their heads out of the chipper-shredder just in time to get their own heads rammed into it. It would make them the Vancouver Canucks who nearly blew their series with the Chicago Blackhawks, which is barely one step better than being the Boston Bruins, who actually did hurl away a 3-0 lead to the Philadelphia Flyers. And it would turn Thursday’s seventh game back at Le Pavillon du HP into an angst-a-thon powerful enough to bring down the roof.
How could anyone still believe in a Game 7? Vancouver fans, who know series-interruptus far better than San Jose fans, didn’t exhale through Game 7 of the Chicago series, and that was even before the Green Men were punished by the NHL for felony impishness.
So this is it, kids, your last time to enjoy a Sharks game for awhile. Not because there won’t be more of them, but because if they lose this one, there won’t be any more that you can relax and cheer with a free and unfettered soul. There will always be that watermelon of doubt, that no matter how good things get, lousy is just around the corner. In short, this is what the Sharks play for Tuesday. After that, it’s for their very hides.
The Ottawa Sun’s Garrioch, however, has remained a little ticked off that the Sharks didn’t return home to wait for the winner of the Predators-Canucks series last Friday, and he offered five points of emphasis for the Sharks tonight, including an obvious one…
1. TAKE THE CROWD OUT OF IT: The Sharks have been outscored 13-5 in the first period of their playoff games this spring. That has to stop Tuesday night if they’re going to stand a chance of winning this in Game 6.
Detroit defenceman Brad Stuart said he has never heard the crowd at Joe Louis Arena as loud as it was Friday night in Game 4. The Wings fans are raucous and the Sharks have to find a way to take energy out of the building. Getting the first goal, and more, is key.
And an out-and-out head-scratcher:
3. GET TO JIMMY HOWARD: Might be time for the Sharks to bring back the old snow-showers tactics. They did it in the first two games and were successful in frustrating the Wings and goalie Howard. Nobody liked Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and others spraying Howard with ice chips in the crease when they were battling for loose pucks.
For the most part, the Sharks have stopped doing that and they’ve lost a bit of an edge. San Jose has to get back to the point of making the Wings frustrated.
The Sharks were more than a little physical and edgy in Game 5, but they spent quite a bit of their time chasing after Kronwall and Justin Abdelkader, which is just what the Wings want the Sharks to be focusing on. And aside from a shove or two, the snow showers didn’t faze Howard at all.
In any case, NHL.com’s Dave Lozo’s game preview allows us to shift focus from the Sharks’ side of the story to the Wings’ take on their still-precarious situation:
Big Story—Every time the Red Wings look like they’re out, they pull themselves back in. Facing a 3-0 series deficit in Game 4, they didn’t get rattled when the Sharks scored three straight goals to tie the game at 3-3. Darren Helm scored late to give the Wings a series-saving win. In Game 5, the Sharks held a two-goal lead in the third period, but the Red Wings scored three straight to force a Game 6. Detroit can force a decisive Game 7 back in San Jose if they can find a way to win at Joe Louis Arena.
Who’s Hot—Devin Setoguchi has come alive this round for the Sharks. He has 4 goals in 5 games against the Red Wings. … Pavel Datsyuk has been a force against San Jose, posting a goal and 6 assists.
Injury Report—Red Wings forward Johan Franzen (ankle) was in obvious pain during Game 5 and did not play at all during the third period. He will likely be a game-time decision. If he can’t go, Jiri Hudler or Mike Modano could take his place.
Stat Pack—It’s no coincidence that in the two losses, the Sharks are 0-for-6 on the power play. In their three wins, they are 4-for-15. … The Red Wings have never come back to win a series when trailing 3-0 but have come back from a 3-1 deficit twice.
As of the time I’m writing this, NHL.com’s spreadsheet for the only game to be played in the league has big blank spots where the referees and linesmen’s names should be.
On the Wings’ side, we’ll start with Franzen’s status. I wouldn’t be surprised if Franzen’s a game-time decision, but both Babcock and Holland told MLive’s Ansar Khan that the Wings don’t plan on playing Franzen if he’s in as much pain as he was after Joe Thornton pitchforked him on Sunday:
“I’m not going to worry about that much,’’ Babcock said Monday at Metro Airport, after the team flew home from San Jose. “We’ll see what happens. If he’s not ready to go, we’ll put Modano in.”
Franzen didn’t play in the third period of his team’s 4-3 win on Sunday after tweaking the ankle that he originally injured in Game 2 in the first round against Phoenix. Franzen has no points in this series and hasn’t been able to skate like he normally does.
“He has to be better than he was (Sunday) because he wasn’t able to finish the game,’’ general manager Ken Holland said. “Modano is chomping at the bit.”
Babcock has decided to use Modano instead of Jiri Hudler, a healthy scratch in Game 5. after failing to register a point in the first four games. Modano’s only playoff appearance this season was in Game 4 against Phoenix, when Franzen couldn’t play.
“If that’s the case (Franzen can’t play), Mo’s got a lot of experience,’’ Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “When he had a chance to play in Phoenix, I thought he played real well. He had a lot of jump, he used his speed, and if he’s in, that’s what we expect from him.’‘
Henrik Zetterberg hedged his bets as to who might play while speaking to the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...
“We have the players who can come in and play good hockey,” Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We have a lot of good depth.”
When asked if he had a wrist injury Datsyuk said, “No, I’m OK. I’m not good at faceoffs.
“At playoff time, nobody (has) injuries,” Datsyuk added. “Everybody still plays.”
Zetterberg toed the company line.
“I didn’t even he know he didn’t want to take faceoffs,” Zetterberg said. “I don’t think it had anything to do with any injury, to be honest. If you go back, whenever we’ve played on the same line, I took the faceoffs.”
As DetroitRedWings.com’s Michael Caples noted, the swap-out didn’t exactly hurt the Wings:
Datsyuk leads the Wings in face-offs this postseason, having taken 139 in the first eight playoff games. However, the veteran forward insisted that he is fine, and anxious to get to Game 6.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’ll be nice to play again with our fans, it’s nice, it’s exciting, and we’re still alive.”
Zetterberg took 25 face-offs in Game 5, after only taking 51 in the first four games against the Sharks. However, Zetterberg said it wasn’t a big deal that he carried the majority of the face-off responsibilities, taking more than 42% of the 59 total draws.
“Well, actually I didn’t even know that he didn’t want to take face-offs yesterday,” said Zetterberg, who won 16 of 25 face-offs Sunday. “So, I don’t think that had anything to do with it actually. If I play center, I take the face-off.”
Mostly, however, the Red Wings’ players readily admitted that they don’t want to reprise Sunday’s game, where Jimmy Howard was peppered with 42 shots and the team had to rally from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits, as they told MLive’s Ansar Khan...
It is difficult to beat a quality team four times in a row without having your goaltender steal at least one of those games. That’s what the Red Wings said Jimmy Howard did for them Sunday. Howard was especially strong early on, when the Sharks dominated territorially, limiting the damage to give his team a chance to win.
“(Sunday) was another example of the way he’s been able to give us a chance,” defenseman Brad Stuart said. “That’s all you can ask for from a goalie. That’s what you need this time of year, a guy that kind of holds you in there sometimes when you’re not on top of your game as a team.”
Howard has allowed three or fewer goals in eight of nine games. His playoff statistics (2.59 goals-against average, .922 save percentage) show much more consistency than he had in the regular season (2.79 GAA, .908 save percentage).
“Howie was big for us, especially the first two periods,” Lidstrom said. “He kept us in the game. I thought we rallied around him in the third period.”
But, Lidstrom added, “We don’t want our goalie (to) have to play like that every night.”
As well as DetroitRedWings.com’s Caples:
“We didn’t play as well as we had to against a good team like the Sharks in the first two periods,” Lidstrom said, “and he made some big saves and kept us in the game. We really rallied around him in the third period.”
“I think we showed that we’re not giving up,” Lidstrom said. “We’re digging in and clawing, and doing whatever we can to score goals or stay in the series, and that’s really what showed up in the third period last night.”
If the Red Wings are to win the next two games and steal this series from the Sharks, they will become only the fourth team in NHL history to advance after digging and 0-3 hole. The 1942 Maple Leafs, 1975 Islanders and 2010 Flyers are the only clubs to accomplish the feat. The Wings leaders have already shifted their attention to Tuesday’s home game, with Babcock citing that they must take the same approach as they have for the last two wins.
“I think we said the same thing after our Game 3 loss, ‘We have to win a game,’ ” Babcock said. “That’s what we have to do again tomorrow. We’re excited to be coming back. We had a real good third period the other night; we’ve had a lot of good games. I think we should have won Game 3, and they could have easily won Game 5, so I think we all kind of deserve what we got, and here we are.”
They are where they are, but the Wings also told Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji that they’ve accomplished nothing other than one more home game, and they don’t expect to avoid a handshake line at the end of tonight’s game without a 60-minute effort:
“We’re still down in the series, even though we won two games,” captain Nick Lidstrom said. “We’re still down. We still have an uphill battle to face. That’s been our approach. You’ve seen a lot of momentum swings back and forth, even in the game (Sunday) night.”
“It’s kind of like another Game 7 for us,” Kronwall said. “We can’t think further than that. We know we have to come out and put all the energy and all the effort we have into Game 6 to be able to play another game.”
Danny Cleary may have summarized the Wings’ situation best while speaking to the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell:
“They’re still in the driver’s seat,” Detroit’s Dan Cleary said. “We understand that, but we’re going home with a chance to force it. They believe they can win at the Joe, so we got to go in and use the advantage of last change, our fans, the atmosphere.”
Zetterberg agreed while speaking to Pleiness...
“We’re half way,” Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We stole a game (Sunday) night. We played good in the third period but (Jimmy Howard) kept us in it for the first two periods. We’re happy to be back home for Game 6, but they still just need to win one, we need to win two.”
The Wings trailed 3-1 in the third period of Game 5 before staging their comeback to keep the series going.
“Momentum’s always shifting back and forth,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “Now we’ve just got to use the home ice to our advantage. There’s calmness,” Howard added. “There’s a lot of experience in our dressing room and when your leaders have been through a lot, you just look to them and when you see Nick’s face and see how calm he is, it just trickles down.”
History still isn’t on Detroit’s side since only three teams have come back from an 0-3 deficit to win in the playoffs – the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs (vs. Detroit in the finals), the 1975 New York Islanders (vs. Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals) and the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers (vs. Boston in the conference semifinals). The Flyers coming back last season has helped players feel that a comeback like that is possible.
“It definitely helps us that two teams have done it recently,” Zetterberg said. “To see how the series has been played, we know we’ve been in the games. We’ve just got to be a little bit better, play a little bit better. As a team, become a better team.”
In terms of rhetoric, the Free Press’s Michael Rosenberg suggested that the Sharks may have set themselves up for a massive collapse, but even he added a reality check into the equation:
The Sharks should be the better team, and they still hold a 3-2 series lead. But we cannot ignore their playoff history. They have tried everything to break through in the postseason. They traded for powerful center Joe Thornton, the kind of player who seems built for the playoffs. They stripped mild-mannered star Patrick Marleau of his captaincy. They let gifted goaltender Evgeni Nabokov go and replaced him with Antti Niemi, who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago last year.
There are signs that they are figuring it out. The Wings and Sharks have played 10 postseason games in the last two years, and nine of them were decided by one goal. The Sharks won seven of those nine.
And yet ... well, winning at the Joe, after what happened Sunday, is going to take some steel guts. Before Game 5, Babcock said that if a team failed to close out a series, it could start thinking too much. But Sunday night he was asked about having a mental edge now, and he said, “I’m not a big believer in any of that stuff.”
I assume he said that because he doesn’t want his team getting comfortable. But Babcock had it right the first time. The Sharks have every reason to worry they are collapsing yet again. They have two games to prove they aren’t.
The Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski took a more reasoned approach to the Wings’ situation—and as Nicklas Lidstrom was asked about, the Wings’ only rally from a significant defict during his career happened in 1992, when the Wings rallied from a 3-1 hole to defeat the Minnesota North Stars in Game 7 via a Sergei Fedorov goal (which was the first playoff goal to ever be subjected to video review):
The Red Wings do have a well-earned reputation for hanging around longer than expected. And the Sharks do have a well-earned reputation for departing sooner than expected. They’ve advanced past the second round precisely once in their 20-year existence — last season, and then were swept by the Blackhawks.
No one should be surprised if the Sharks get their own whiff of desperation and crank it up tonight. They have been the modestly better team, and for two periods in Game 5 were the way better team. They outshot the Red Wings, 42-22, and still lost, and now must fight that uh-oh look.
Before anyone gets too goofy, remember the Sharks did oust the Red Wings in five games last year. But they’re also known for turning squirrelly, and their captain, Joe Thornton, does lug an ugly can’t-win-the-big-one label. And their leading scorer, Patrick Marleau, doesn’t have a point this series and was just called “gutless” on national TV (well, on Versus) by former teammate Jeremy Roenick.
The Red Wings know how quickly it can turn back around, and they’re not suggesting they’ve gained some sort of unseen edge. But with Howard, Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg playing so well, and Nick Lidstrom doing his Benjamin Button impersonation and aging backward, Detroit has gone from looking fatigued to looking scary.
“I think we’ve been doing good things the whole series,” Zetterberg said. “They’ve been close games, and most of the time it will even out in the end. We stole the game (in San Jose). Do they have more pressure than us now? I don’t think so. They have to win one, we have to win two. All we did was have a nicer flight than they did.”
Holland agrees with Zetterberg’s assessment, as he told the Detroit News’s Chris McCosky:
“I think we both have pressure,” he said. “They still just have to win one game. We still have to win two. All the games have been real tight. Small things have decided who the winning team is going to be.”
One change Holland thinks has helped the Red Wings get back into the fight is the defensemen’s willingness to join the offensive rush.
“When your D is chipping in like they’ve been doing, it’s easy for our forwards to play the way we want,” he said. “We know they’re a big part of our offense. When we pass the puck back to them, we know we’ll get a good scoring chance.”
And the Wings’ defenders aren’t just stepping up offensively, as Holland told the Free Press’s George Sipple...
Sharks forward Ryane Clowe got crunched by the big hit—instead of delivering it—in Game 5. After landing a couple punches on Justin Abdelkader at the end of Game 4, Clowe said he wished it had been Kronwall. Clowe was apparently upset about the big hit Kronwall delivered to Clowe’s linemate, Dany Heatley, in Game 3. Clowe became Kronwall’s next victim in Game 5.
Kronwall doesn’t seem too concerned with what Clowe said.
“I don’t know if it had that much to do with it,” Kronwall said of the hit on Clowe. “But it was nice to get some energy in the third.”
Kronwall’s hits seem to give the Wings a spark.
“It really gets the momentum on our side,” general manager Ken Holland said. “We really get fired up when we see that. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last time we’ll see it, either. It’s a great sign when he steps up.”
As for Zetterberg? Well he’s rounding into form after missing the first round with a sprained knee, as McCosky noted:
His ability to win his matchup against Sharks captain Joe Thornton the last two games has helped vault the Red Wings back into the series. Zetterberg had three assists and is a plus-4 in the two victories; Thornton has been kept off the score sheet and is a minus-2.
“He’s doing what we expect from him,” Red Wings captain Nick Lidstrom said. “He’s so good, whether it’s winning faceoffs in his own zone or hanging on to the puck in the offensive zone and making plays. He seems to be playing better and better coming off that (lower body) injury that kept him out (against Phoenix). You can tell he’s getting better and better.”
That’s a bit of a Wings cliche—“better and better”—and Zetterberg repeated it while grounding his play in context of where the Wings remain:
“I’ve been getting better and better as the series has gone on,” Zetterberg said. “Playing against (Thornton’s) line is not a one-man job. We all have to chip in and do our part. We did a good job last game, but they will come back even harder in Game 6.”
Zetterberg dismissed all talk of a momentum swing or of the Red Wings having any type of psychological edge heading into Game 6 tonight.
“We’re just halfway,” he said. “We stole a game (Sunday). We played good in the third, but Howie (goalie Jimmy Howard) kept us in it for the first two periods. We are happy to be home for Game 6, but they still just need one and we need two. We have to keep taking the same approach.”
There’s an absolutely lovely quip from Zetterberg about his status as less than a superstar outside of the town where people don’t mind buying personalized jerseys whose nameplates go from elbow to elbow (as a Zetterberg jersey tends to do), but you’ll have to read McCosky’s article as we’re focusing on the same thing the Wings are right now—Game 6—and that is their bottom line.
As Danny Cleary suggested to the Free Press’s St. James, he and his fellow “secondary scorers” will have to continue to contribute to the cause for the Wings to have any hope of heading back to San Jose on Thursday instead of cleaning their lockers out and beginning the exit interview process:
“That’s the key,” Cleary said. “You have to get contributions throughout the lineup, different guys each night. I think that’s a big reason why we’ve gotten two wins so far.”
The Wings know they’re only halfway to becoming the fourth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 deficit. Besides raving about Datsyuk and the goaltending of Jimmy Howard after Sunday’s game, it’s all anyone talked about.
“Every game you win,” Niklas Kronwall said, “makes you feel a little bit better, but we know we haven’t done anything yet. We have to focus on what we need to do. We didn’t play well enough the first two periods. That’s something we want to look after. We feel good, but at the same time, we’ve been put in a position: Either you win, or you’re going home for the season. It’s as simple as that. It’s basically like playing Game 7 every game now.”
Cleary said the Sharks are still in the driver’s seat. But the Wings are peering over their shoulders, reaching for the steering wheel. They see this series within their grasp. They believe they should have won Game 3, in which case they’d be the team in the lead. They believe they can make it 3-3 tonight, and they believe they can win on the road, because they’ve done so often enough.
“We’re not a team that’s going to give up,” Lidstrom said. “We’re going to keep battling until it’s over. ... We’ve got some momentum now, but we have to continue to play the way we did in the third period.”
It’s win or stay home. Red Bird II will be gassed up and ready to go just in case the Wings win tonight, but it’ll go back to ferrying the Tigers around the country if the Wings don’t put forth the kind of game they have yet to display against the Sharks—a focused, hard-charging and consistent game through three periods, and a game in which they protect Howard better, stifle the Sharks’ cycle and rushes more efficiently, and get their forecheck going, sustain possession and control of the offensive zone for longer periods of time, and as a result, get players’ butts in front of Antti Niemi like they did in the third period of Sunday’s game, when Tomas Holmstrom wreaked havoc while occupying the Sharks’ defenders on three of the Wings’ four goals.
If the Wings don’t win tonight, we’ll see a handshake line and have to shift to asking, “Why did they have to drop 3 games before waking up?” and, “Will Nicklas Lidstrom/Kris Draper/Chris Osgood/Jonathan Ericsson/Patrick Eaves/Drew Miller/etc. return?” questions. The Wings’ present remains on the line tonight, and they seem to understand that playing for their present and future are all that matter.
History can still go [bleep] itself. The Wings can only affect their present and future, and while the odds and the Sharks remain stacked against them, there’s no harm in believing that the Wings will embrace their opportunity, out-work and out-will the Sharks in front of their loud and proud fans, and make this series really interesting while knocking the driver’s wheel from the Sharks’ hands.
Multimedia: On Monday night, Don Cherry spent a few minutes praising Jimmy Howard from about the 2:55 mark to 3:25 mark of the May 9th edition of Coach’s Corner (while suggesting that the Wings didn’t “deserve” to win on Sunday), and he then spends another minute praising Pavel Datsyuk before comparing him to Cherry’s favorite player, Doug Gilmour. I’ll agree with Cherry about the fact that Datsyuk has the same deceptive strength and wide-bladed stick. As to who’s better, well, I’m biased.
• Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area posted a clip of the Sharks’ pre-flight-to-Detroit comments…
As did the Sharks’ website:
• Amongst TSN’s off-day clips:
2. There is a lovely 1:55 clip about Niklas Kronwall “Kronwalling” people, with Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and Kronwall himself talking about his hard-hitting play, and the Wings talk about their offensive contributions from the blueline, too;
3. And in case you didn’t already know it, Pavel Datsyuk is a fantasy hockey “stud.”
• The Red Wings’ website posted clips of Mike Babcock, Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom talking to the media…
As did WXYZ, which also includes Jimmy Howard in the discussion:
• Griffins GM Bob McNamara, who’s become quite the “insider,” spoke to WBBL’s Huge Show‘s Bill Simonson:
• And the Detroit Free Press’s Regina H. Boone posted a 13-image gallery of the Wings meeting reporters at Metro Airport.
Red Wings and Sharks notebooks: I’d prefer not to dwell on the whole Marleau-Roenick fandango, so you can check the off-day update post for what little coverage I gave it;
If anything amusing came from this, it’s what Roenick—who attempted to inject a little venom into the Wings-Blackhawks Conference Final meeting back in 2008 by suggesting that Mike Babcock couldn’t stand Chris Chelios, so I’m guessing that he’s got a grudge against Marleau as well (and Chelios now mentors the Wings’ defensive prospects, so he’s got Babcock’s ear and trust)—told the Mercury News’s Mark Emmons. Remember it if you’re stuck with Versus for tonight’s game:
“What if Marleau has the game of his life tomorrow, the San Jose Sharks win the series and they go on and win the Stanley Cup?” he asked. “That’s what I want to happen. As a loyal Sharks fan, I hope my comments are slammed down my throat and Patrick Marleau plays the best game of his life. And if he does, I will be the first one to give him kudos.”
Ah, wait, the Detroit Free Press’s Steve Schrader also remembers that quote...
Roenick has always stirred things up, but at least now he’s getting paid for it. He did it for free when he was a player.
Remember two years ago, when he said Mike Babcock wasn’t playing Chris Chelios because he didn’t like American players?
His buddies in Detroit just dismissed it as “J.R. being J.R.”
It was that and Babcock not standing Chelios, and I’ll tell you this much: Robert Lang, Mathieu Schneider and, to some extent, Brendan Shanahan left Detroit because Babcock’s sandpapery style rubbed them the wrong way. Chelios re-signed and re-signed and re-signed with the Wings, over and over again. That tells you all you need to know there.
• I have no idea what to say about this comment that McLellan made to the Sporting News’s Craig Custance while discussing his learning curve in terms of mastering his team’s nuances:
“I don’t have to talk as much. Sometimes it’s body language, sometimes it’s just a cue word or two,” McLellan told Sporting News. “It’s like a marriage. When you first meet your wife, you’re trying to figure each other out. By the third year, when you’re in the kitchen together, you don’t even have to speak to each other. You know who’s thinking what.”
• The Detroit News’s Mike Wilkinson penned an article about the coolest Wings-themed house on any block;
• The Free Press posted a slate of Wings playoff stats;
• While mentioning five players who’ve stepped up for the Wings, the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa weighs in on several players’ futures with the Wings, and I’m trying to stay away from that topic until, well, to quote Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop, “Whatever happens, happens.”
Also of Red Wings-related note: Yes indeedy, Kerry Fraser weighed in on Joe Thornton’s corksrew can-opener on Johan Franzen;
• According to Sovetsky Sport, former Red Wing Sergei Fedorov has signed a one-year contract extension with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL;
• There’s a rumor floating around from Calgarypuck.com’s KN and Calgary’s AM 770 CHQR that the Calgary Flames are interested in speaking to Wings assistant GM Jim Nill, but as he both signed an extension with the Wings and has a non-competition clause (the Wings have to grand teams permission to speak to Nill, and that isn’t going to happen);
• In the slightly more substantiated rumor department, NWT.se’s Per Martensson reports that Farjestad BK’s general manager, Thomas Rundqvist, suggests that the Red Wings weren’t particularly interested in signing Dick Axelsson and/or bringing him over, so Farjestad would like to bring him back, and Axelsson himself told Marttenson that the Wings haven’t spoken to him for a while—and while Axelsson stated that he was willing to play in the AHL if necessary a little earlier this spring, he’s changed his tune:
“I’m glad to hear that Farjestad is still interested in me,” said Dick.
Question: How’s it going with Detroit?
Axelsson: “I really don’t know right now. The last time I talked to them they said they’d send me some sort of contract proposal. It probably won’t happen until their season is over. But I don’t know if it’s going to be a one-way or two-way contract. It’ll be a tough [decision] for me. Detroit has many good players on the team. To play for a two-way contract, I’m not interested in that.”
Question: What would you say about an extension with FBK?
Axelsson: “I absolutely enjoyed it there. But at the same time, there’s an economic issue. I’m not ruling out playing in the KHL, either. I want to finish everything as soon as I can, but there’s a risk that it might take more time.”
The economic issue involves the fact that Farjestad is a “small-market” team, so they’re going to have to cut salaries, and Axelsson can obviously make more both with another SEL team (there’ve been suggestions that he’d sign with Skelleftea to play with his pal Jimmie Ericsson [Jonathan’s brother]) or playing in Finland, Switzerland or Russia. That being said, unless he can latch on with a big-market Russian team (Metallurg, for example, CSKA Moscow, SKA St. Petersburg, Salvat Yulaev Ufa, the Ak Bars of Kazan, Avangard Omsk or Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, which just snagged former Wings goalie prospect Stefan Liv), it wouldn’t help his development one bit. The Eliteserien and Finnish SM-Liiga are faster-paced than games between mid or small-market KHL teams (though the culture shock might be a reality check for Dick);
• In news of prospects future, sort of, the Buffalo News’s John Vogl confirms that the Buffalo Sabres have announced that they’ll participate in the Wings’ prospect tournament;
• And I cannot end with a stronger closer than a conversation the Calgary Herald’s George Johnson had with Wings assistant coach Brad McCrimmon on Monday (because it’s sort of an implicit rule that you don’t talk to an assistant coach without permission in Detroit). McCrimmon says that the Wings are the consummate self-starters…
“There’s not much need to go around pumping tires, slappin’ backs and hollering, ‘Hey guys, we can do this,’ ‘’ the former Calgary Flames’ captain and assistant coach is saying, after the Wings touched down in Motown late Monday afternoon. “Not with these guys. They come to the rink, no matter what the circumstances, and think they’re going to win. They’re confident. And with good reason. They’ve been in many, many battles together. Through the thick and thin of it. Most of them have won four Cups together. So they don’t need someone else telling ‘em what they can do. They know.’‘
He weighs in on the Wings-Sharks series as follows…
“The first game,’’ judges McCrimmon, in his third season as part of Mike Babcock’s coaching staff, “was our weakest. Then the two overtime games, should’a-would’a-could’a games. They didn’t go the way we wanted, but we’ve fought our way back into this. Obviously, our goaltender (Jimmy Howard) played really well for us in the first two periods of the last one, but I also thought in the third when we got shoved up against a wall our guys just dug in and went after it. We’re going to need more of that if we’re going to push this series the distance. That’s a very good team we’re up against. They’ve matured, learned a lot of lessons, as all teams do, over the years in playoffs.’‘
In Detroit’s latest hour of need, Sunday at HP Pavilion, quicksilver centre Pavel Datsyuk, reportedly playing with a busted hand, simply took the matter over with three third-period assists; shaped the game to his liking; made it his own.
“Quite frankly, there’s no other player I’ve played with, against, or seen, that does some of the things Pavel does,’’ McCrimmon lauds. “I’m fortunate enough to get to watch him every night. Obviously, you’ve got great players in all the decades, but Pav is arguably the best goal-line to goal-line player in our game right now. I don’t think there’s a lot of guys you could argue should be ahead of him. He’s a one tough little guy. Killer (Doug Gilmour) and Mully (Joe Mullen) had those traits on our old Calgary team. Not the biggest players, but they wouldn’t be deterred. You could run over ‘em and they’d just get back up and keep coming. Nothing fazed them. Same with Pav. And sneaky? When he wants that puck back, he’s a thief. A pickpocket. I’ve always said if he was a street kid living in Moscow working Red Square, he’d own a string of penthouses. Always plays a team game, too. Great defensively. Hard worker. Leading our team in hits right now, if I’m not mistaken. All these things you don’t associate with a so-called ‘superstar.’ But he does them. Willingly. Selflessly. I don’t think Pav perceives himself as a superstar. He’s just one of the boys. A really neat guy.’‘
And, regarding the Wings’ outlook going into tonight’s game…
“I wouldn’t say we’re ‘comfortable,’ ‘’ corrects Brad McCrimmon. “I don’t think that’s the right word. I’d say we’re confident. As I told you before, this is a confident group. We’re back home. The last game here, our building was electric. Great atmosphere, great energy. For us, there’s only this one game. We believe we can go out there and get it done. As a coach, you do what you can from your side of the equation. Your job is to prepare the team or certain individuals as best you can. You’re trying to do your part in the suit. But when the puck hits the ice, it’s in the hands of the players. At that point, the horse is out of the barn. You’ve got to step aside and let him run.’‘
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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.