The Malik Report
by George Malik on 05/12/11 at 08:00 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks face off tonight in the seventh and deciding game of their second-round series (9 PM EDT, FSD with a one-hour pre-game show/CSN Bay Area/Versus/TSN/WXYT) set to participate in what the media types will insist is one of the greatest spectacles in all of sport (singular)—for someone without a rooting interest, anyway—but the stark reality of tonight’s game is simple:
It’s win or golf for both teams, with the reward consisting of a place in the record books and nothing more than the halfway mark on what it hopes will be a truly special playoff run, with the rested Vancouver Canucks lying in wait to pounce upon a theoretically mentally and physically exhausted victor, and the penalty for defeat consisting of a summer and following regular season’s worth of potentially crippling doubt, questions about your team’s heart, lost place among the pantheon of playoff contenders and status as nothing more than a historical footnote. The NHL won’t make a trite, “History Will be Made” commercial about the loser, the media won’t laud the heart and composure of the team that winds up on the losing side of the scoresheet tonight, and the loser’s players and paying fans will have a full year to wonder why their team couldn’t capture that one game that meant much more than history; instead, tonight’s game is about survival. Nothing more, and nothing less.
It’s a flight to Vancouver for the winner and exit interviews, locker-room clean-outs and uncertain futures for the loser, and while the statisticians will insist that one team has the upper hand over the other due to home ice, injuries or whatever other numbers they love to crunch, this series has taught both Wings and Sharks fans that it’s those damn fluky bounces of a frozen rubber cylindrical puck on a seasonally chippy ice surface that tends to determine the results of these teams’ playoff meetings.
While the Red Wings talked about the leadership, composure and poise in their locker room and their willingness to embrace the utter insanity of Game 7’s highs and lows, the San Jose Sharks really are the team that remains in control of this series—statistically or otherwise, the non-partisan might argue that it’s almost inevitable that a team which receives four opportunities to finish off its opponent should be able to capitalize on one of them…
And the team that adds a little “Registered Trademark” TM to the end of their discussions about Confidence™ (and it must be capitalized) told the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch that the San Jose Sharks are absolutely certain that they’re going to consign the Detroit Red Wings to the footnotes of “history” tonight:
“I don’t think we’ve let them back in it,” Sharks defenceman Doug Murray said. “That’s not the way I would put it. Beating Detroit 4-0 is a rarity. They’ve got a great team over there and they’ve got a lot of pride. They’ve got a lot of veterans who have been in all the situations you can imagine. They’ve made the playoffs 20 years straight and they’ve got some guys who’ve been there almost 20 years. They’ve been in different situations. We never expected them to quit. We never expected it to be an easy series.”
“Nobody is talking about Vancouver blowing a 3-0 lead right now. They’re talking about who they’re going to face in the (next) round,” Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle said. “We’ve just got to win. We’ve just got to find a way to win a game.”
“I expect the best from each of the 20 guys that will play,” [Sharks coach Todd] McLellan said. “We have to (raise our game). Individually, collectively and as a complete team we have to raise it a little bit because where we’ve been the last three games hasn’t been enough or close. We need just a little bit, not much more. I’m not talking 10%, I’m talking a fraction.”
The Sharks also insisted to the media that “everyone” is counting them out but themselves, just as “everybody” counted the Canucks out when the Hawks rallied from a 3-0 deficit, as Dan Boyle suggested to the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek:
Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle watched that one on TV and said Wednesday, “Everybody was counting Vancouver out. I kinda predicted Vancouver would beat them in seven. It was a close one, but they found a way to win – and that’s all we’re looking for.”
Boyle has been with the Sharks long enough to know how their playoff history hangs, albatross-like, around their collective necks. In franchise history, they’re 12-13 in playoff series and have yet to make the Stanley Cup final, even though they’ve iced an elite team for most of the past decade. But knowing they still have one chance to survive what would be an epic collapse was the straw the Sharks clutched Wednesday, when every fibre of their beings should have been screaming, ‘This cannot be happening to us.’ Even by their own standards, which includes far more playoff failures than successes, this defeat would be one for the record books.
“There’s a lot of people out there that want to see Detroit win, and that’s fine,” Boyle said. “I think a lot of people are looking for us to fail – and that’s okay with me. We’ve just got to rise above that.”
“What it comes down to is one game, winner moves on,” defenceman Douglas Murray said. “You’ve got no time to feel sorry for ourselves or worry about the negatives. We’ve got a great team in here and we’ve done a lot of great things throughout the year and we believe in each other. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Perhaps no two people better represent a team’s mind-set in the playoffs than its coach and captain, and the latter, Joe Thornton, spoke with nothing less than Confidence ™ in all but guaranteeing a positive result, as he told Duhatschek…
“I don’t think there’s a better feeling in hockey than going seven games and winning it in front of your home fans,” Thornton said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to.”
So Thornton will conjure up the memory of his play in that victorious moment to prepare for Game 7 Thursday? Thornton smiled and answered: “From a game three years ago? I don’t even remember yesterday, to be honest with you.”
And the Mercury News’s Tim Kawakami, who’s buying in:
You have blown a 3-0 series lead, with one more chance to save yourselves. What’s the mood of the team, Joe?
“Confident,” Thornton said cheerily. “It’s very confident. Extremely confident.”
Maybe Thornton sincerely meant this—and by quick survey, none of his teammates was visibly gagging at the thought of an approaching Game 7. But it is also clear that Thornton was expressing his own form of laid-back leadership: Free your mind, and victories will follow.For the Sharks, who are not known for their big-game cool, that seems particularly on point. We will see if the Zen captaincy works.
“Just keep the guys loose—I think that’s the main thing,” Thornton said of his role in the defining hours. “Just don’t let guys feel the tension, feel the heat. Just keep it as loose as possible. And when this team’s loose, we’re pretty dangerous.”
Coach McLellan has given his captain license to chill…
“I want him to be relaxed,” McLellan said of Thornton. “I want him to have the team ready. I want him to mentally be engaged as an individual and also take care of everybody in the locker room. We’re real confident that Jumbo can do that.”
Thornton talked, and his teammates listened, telling NHL.com’s Eric Gilmore that home ice advantage should off-set the possibility that Ryane Clowe (“upper-body injury”) might not play tonight:
“Especially after the last game,we want to redeem ourselves,” said rookie Logan Couture,who scored his team’s lone goal Tuesday but also committed a turnover that led to the Wings’ go-ahead goal. “Personally I want to redeem myself for the way I played. Game 7 there’s just going to be a hero,whether it’s on our team or their team. There’s 20-plus guys in this room that want to be it. Looking forward to see someone step up,and I know it’s going to be in our room.”
Home ice certainly doesn’t guarantee victory for the Sharks,but it all but guarantees more energy and more shots on goal than they’ve produced in Detroit,particularly in Game 6. Consider the numbers through six games in the series. In the three games played at HP Pavilion,the Sharks outshot the Red Wings 125-81. Detroit outshot San Jose 123-94 in the three games played at Joe Louis Arena. There was no more dramatic example of home-ice energy than the shot totals in Games 5 and 6. In Game 5 at HP Pavilion, the Sharks outshot Detroit 42-22. In Game 6 at Joe Louis, the Red Wings outshot San Jose 45-25. That’s a 40-shot swing.
“That’s what you play the whole season for,to get home-ice advantage,” forward Devin Setoguchi said. “The energy from the building feeds off on you. I wouldn’t say you feel more comfortable in your home rink, but you’ve just got the sense you’re at home. You take pride in playing in your own building. So it definitely gives the guys extra energy and an extra boost.”
“We’re ready to go,” Boyle said. “I think we believe in each other. That’s probably the most important part. We’re going to lean on each other through this and believe in this locker room, and we’re going to find a way to pull this one out.”
As Gilmore notes, the Sharks shuffled their lines sans Clowe, with Ben Eager filling in on the fourth line..
In Game 6 without Clowe, McLellan juggled his lines from the outset. Couture moved to the top line, playing alongside center Joe Thornton, while Patrick Marleau took Couture’s spot as the second-line center. Forward Torrey Mitchell went from the third to the second line,and Benn Ferriero from the fourth to the third
And while the Sharks obviously missed Clowe on Tuesday, as the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser…
Without Clowe in Detroit on Tuesday, San Jose was held to one goal. Clowe has a team-best 13 points this postseason.
“Definitely, we missed him,” Sharks forward Devin Setoguchi said. “He’s our leading scorer in the playoffs. But they’re missing one of their big guys, too, and we have so much depth, we just need some other guys to step up.”
“We’re looking forward to him having a chance to play tomorrow,” McLellan said.
Clowe was at the Sharks Ice training facility receiving treatment, but he was not made available to the media after the team’s practice. And the Sharks were not eager to share much information about Clowe’s status.
“He’ll skate in the morning and if can play, he’ll play,” McLellan said.
“Without Clowey, it’s a big scramble to find somebody to fill his shoes and fill that role,” McLellan added. “We have a Plan A and a Plan B. Plan A is with Clowey, and that’s the one we’re working on right now.”
Setoguchi was quick to suggest to the Mercury News’s Emmons that the Wings are similarly hampered sans Johan Franzen (ankle), and as such, the teams’ respective injury situations might be nothing more than a toss-up:
“But at the same time, they’re missing one of their big guns,” Setoguchi said, referring to Detroit forward Johan Franzen. “We’ve got so much depth in this room. People have to step up and replace him if it comes to that.”
The Sharks were at least willing to admit to the Mercury News’s Emmons that they’ve got one particular issue to address…
As the Sharks lost control of this series, there has been one obvious culprit: the anemic power play. San Jose has gone 0-for-10 during the three-game slide that has allowed Detroit to tie the series. For the six games, San Jose’s power play has scored four times in 25 attempts.
“The power play is all about us,” defenseman Dan Boyle said. “I’m not going to into details, but it’s really about us and not about them.”
McLellan said the key is still five-on-five scoring.
“But we could use a power-play goal,” he added. “We would welcome one.”
The Sharks also know that they’ve gotten away with their PP issues, to some extent:
Five of the six games have been decided by one goal. And the two-goal margin in Game 6 included an empty-netter by Detroit with 65 seconds left. The Red Wings have scored 16 goals, the Sharks 15. Both netminders, Antti Niemi and Jimmy Howard, have taken turns carrying their team.
“Every game has been back and forth, and so tight,” Logan Couture said. “And this one is going to be the same way. It’s been a great series. It’s everything you can ask for as a hockey player.”
Couture’s all of 22, but the Mercury News’s Cam Inman points out that the Calder Trophy finalist has played with the poise of a veteran:
“It’s exciting, my first Game 7 in the NHL,” Couture said, referring to Thursday night’s game against Detroit. “Obviously we wanted to win before this. But it will be fun.”
Exciting. Fun. Who knew those adjectives still existed after the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead and lost three straight to the Red Wings? Couture is a beacon of light amid the dark clouds hovering over the Sharks this past week. Unlike underperforming veterans who’ve endured the franchise’s perennial playoff meltdowns, Couture represents the hope for a happier ending. He has scored in three straight games, a streak he’d like to extend.
“Goals for me have come in bunches my whole life,” Couture said. “Even this year they’ve come in bunches. Confidence builds when you score goals.
Couture also offered what might be the most astute observation about either team after receiving his coach’s endorsement:
“Each of those individuals in there should be confident in their skill level,” McLellan said.
Couture’s take on that: “You’ve got to be confident to play the game. You’ve got to be borderline arrogant to play this game.”
Done, done, and done in the Sharks’ case. The Mercury News’s Mark Purdy focused on Sharks’ fans’ states of mind, and Cam Inman pointed out that the Sharks have won their only Game 7 on home ice, but SanJoseSharks.com’s Tony Khing focused on the Sharks’ locker room, where borderline arrogant, Thornton-style confidence reigns:
“Jumbo said, ‘You have to stay loose. You’ve got to just play your game and work hard,’” Devin Setoguchi said. “We believe in ourselves. We’ve been in tight positions all season. You have to believe in your mind that if you do the right things and have positive thoughts that good things are going to happen.”
“You can’t be afraid,” Thornton said. “You’ve got to go out and play to win.”
“We don’t have any doubt,” [Douglas] Murray said. “Anytime you question yourself as to whether you’re going to win or not, you’re going to be in big trouble. We’re focusing on what we need to do to win the game. It’s going to be a lot of fun to play in.”
“You’ve got nothing to lose,” Wallin said. “Leave it all out there. Go big or go home. Just play the game and have fun. There’s a lot of guys who aren’t playing at this time of the year. They wish they were right where we’re at. You have to enjoy where you’re at. We have a great chance here tomorrow[.] You want to play. There’s no secrets to this game. You’ve got to want the puck. You’ve got to want to be part of the game. You’ve got to want it. They’re not going to give it to us. We’ve got to play for it. It’s as simple as that.”
“You have to be confident in this game and not let anything affect you,” Couture said. “You have to be borderline arrogant to play this game. We’re confident here. We’re going to go into the game knowing we’re going to win. That’s the way we have to play. We’re going to be on our toes. We can’t sit back and let them take it to us. No one ever said winning a Stanley Cup was easy[.] I’m looking forward to it and everyone else is.”
Q: Do you feel you need to be a catalyst in this game?
A: Everybody does. In Game 7s, your best players have to be your best players to win the series.
A: We feel at home, we’re really confident. You saw in Game 5, we carried the play. If we play like we do when we play at home, we’ll be fine.
Q: Can we assume with the 3-3 tie in this series that these teams are as evenly matched as it gets?
A: Yeah. You know, going into the series, I think everybody thought it was going to be pretty even series and it played out that way. Both teams are good teams and it’s been a good series so far.
Q: Can you draw anything from playing Calgary in that Game 7 in 2008 in the Western Quarterfinals?
A: Sure. It was a great game. We had a tough series, and I don’t think there’s a better feeling in hockey than going seven games and winning in front of your home fans.
McLellan was borderline angry while speaking to reporters, as noted by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Slusser...
“What matters is what we put into the game tomorrow,” the San Jose coach said after the Sharks practiced Wednesday afternoon.
Tonight at HP Pavilion, San Jose will try to avoid becoming the fourth team in NHL history to lose a series it led 3-0. At stake, besides a trip to the Western Conference finals against top-seeded Vancouver, is nothing less than the Sharks’ reputation: The team is becoming increasingly known for its playoff flops, and this series might solidify the Sharks as the league’s biggest disappointment.
Top forward Patrick Marleau already has been knocked for a perceived lack of fire, and the rest of the club would be poised to join him if the Red Wings storm back to take the series. Much is being made of Detroit’s character and determination, especially in contrast to San Jose’s failure to take care of business. And yet, the Sharks have had good success in Game 7s before, 4-2 overall. The Red Wings, an Original Six club, are 13-8 in Game 7s.
“I don’t think we can go back and all talk about our Game 7 history and whatnot, and teams that have come back,” McLellan said. “It’s a whole bunch of crap, really, when it comes down to it. We’ll make our own history one way or the other.”
And the Mercury News’s Emmons, who noted that McLellan barked at reporters at the end of his press conference:
“I told our guys today that you guys (in the media) have all done your work today,” McLellan said. “It’s finished. You’ve written one story and you’ve written another. Now all you to do is hit ‘send.’ And the two teams get to determine which story you send. We have the opportunity and the stage. The stage is ours. The stage is Detroit’s. Let’s get out there and play, and then allow you guys to hit your ‘send’ buttons.”
Only Emmons and Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area’s Ray Ratto offered any sort of real critique of a team that chose to practice while its opponent opted to travel, with Emmons suggesting that tonight’s game will define both the franchise and one of its embattled forwards in Patrick Marleau…
Thursday could define the careers of Thornton and Marleau, who have been dogged by questions why they don’t play their best when the games matter most. Marleau has struggled mightily in this series, scoring zero points and being called out on national television by former teammate Jeremy Roenick as “gutless.” Roenick later acknowledged that word might have been too strong. But clearly guts now are needed.
“He’s going to have the stage,” McLellan said of Marleau. “A lot of our players will have the stage in Game 7. We’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. It’s an opportunity to answer the bell.”
“We’ve been resilient all season,” rookie Logan Couture said. “Now we’ve got to do it again.”
And Ratto turning the rhetoric up to eleven:
[[N]obody is harping about Vancouver nearly losing to Chicago any more. It will be brought up again if the Canucks don’t get to the Cup final, because Vancouver is like that, and always has been. But let’s be honest – you don’t remember the previous team to go up 3-0, fall to 3-3 and then win, do you? Here’s a hint, though, it’s the same team that was the last one to come back from 3-0 down to win a series before last year. The 1975 New York Islanders. They came back from death’s lobby to beat Pittsburgh, then did so again against Philadelphia in the next round, but lost Game 7, 4-1.
Point is, nobody brings that one up, and the Sharks may find themselves in the same happy sea if they can rally Thursday and beat Detroit. It will require a re-re-adjustment of the forward lines, as the Logan Couture-to-wing, Patrick Marleau-to-center plan didn’t work, and Marleau went back to being the left wing on Joe Thornton’s line by game’s end. It will also require the return of Ryane Clowe from Dream Street, where he was apparently planted by Niklas Kronwall in Game 5. Head coach Todd McLellan offered little new insight on that subject Wednesday, even though we suspect he already has all the input he will need to make a call. Clowe was not on the ice for Wednesday’s afternoon skate, but got treatment in the morning is “a game time decision” based on the Thursday morning skate.But Clowe or no, the Sharks are on their own amidst a sea of doubters. Which, weirdly, is often how they like it. It’s a Red Sox thing, apparently.
Amidst the “out-of-town” takes, the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch offered five keys to a Sharks win, NHL.com’s Lozo suggested that Ruslan Salei, Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves, Scott Nichol, Jason Demers and Torrey Mitchell merit status as dark-horse Game 7 performers, the Toronto Sun’s Steve MacFarlane’s switched sides, but I believe that ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun merits the status of giving us the “Sharks’ last word”:
“I expect the best from each of the 20 guys that will play,” McLellan said. “We have to [raise our game]. Individually, collectively and as a complete team, we have to raise it a little bit because where we’ve been the last three games hasn’t been enough or close. We need just a little bit, not much more. I’m not talking 10 percent; I’m talking a fraction.”
“It’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves or worry about the negative stuff,” [Douglas] Murray said. “We have a great team in here. We’ve done a lot of great things throughout the year; we played well a lot of games through the playoffs. We believe in each other. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
“There’s a lot of people out there that want to see Detroit win, and that’s fine,” he said. “But we have to rely on each other in this locker room and stay positive. We’re aware of the situation we’re in. I think a lot of people are looking for us to fail, and that’s OK with me. You just have to rise above that.”
And this time around, two previews will serve as pivot points to transition us from the Sharks’ take on tonight’s tilt to the Wings’ side of the story. NHL.com’s Dave Lozo’s preview is pivot point part one...
Big story—Teams grind through an 82-game season for one major reason—for home-ice advantage in a Game 7. That’s what the Sharks earned by grabbing one more point than the Red Wings in the regular season. They’ll need every edge they can get to stave off this Red Wings rally. Down 3-0 in the series, the Wings have won three straight, including victories in the last two games after trailing in the third period. The Vancouver Canucks showed during the first round that just because a 3-0 lead disappears, it doesn’t mean the faltering team can’t regroup for a Game 7 victory .The Sharks are hoping the same can happen for them while the Red Wings are hoping they can be the fourth team in NHL history to win a series after trailing 3-0.
Who’s hot—Couture has 3 goals in 3 games and 6 points in the series. … Datsyuk has 1 goal and 7 assists in the series and points in 9 of 10 games during the playoffs.
Injury report—Clowe missed Game 6 and will likely be a game-time decision at best for the Sharks. He did not fly with the team to Detroit after taking a massive, clean hit from Niklas Kronwall in Game 5. Clowe did not come out of the game, and the Sharks say the hit has nothing to do with the injury. … Detroit’s Johan Franzen (ankle) gutted out his injury for five games before sitting out Tuesday night. It’s possible he could come back for Game 7, but it’s more likely the Red Wings will once again go with Mike Modano.
Stat pack—Teams losing the first three games of a series failed to force a Game 7 in 112 consecutive series between 1976 and 2010. Beginning with the Philadelphia Flyers breaking that streak last year against Boston, three teams have done it in the past seven opportunities (Philadelphia, vs. Boston; Chicago vs. Vancouver; Detroit vs. San Jose).
What the Red Wings want to do: 1. Be the best skating team and play with the same drive, urgency and aggressive that they displayed in Game 6. 2. Pour shots on net. Let Niemi know he’ll have to make 40-plus saves to win. Niemi was exceptional in Game 6, and yet the Red Wings kept driving until they beat him. 3. Stay away from undisciplined penalties, like the one Justin Abdelkader took late in Game 6. Don’t let the Sharks gain life through the power play.
What the Sharks want to do: 1. Skate. They didn’t have their legs in Game 6. 2. Feed off the Shark Tank environment. If the Sharks can buzz Detroit’s net often in the opening minutes, the fans will do the rest to make the place inhospitable for the Red Wings. 3. Remember who they are and what they have done this season. This is a formidable team that simply needs to regain its confidence.
Keep an eye on: Detroit’s Dan Cleary or San Jose’s Joe Pavelski. Either player can be an X factor if they have a big game.
Fun fact: Since the NHL introduced the best-of-seven series, 167 teams have been down 3-0 and only three (1.8%) have been able to come back and win.
Forecast: Doesn’t this entertaining series need to go to overtime in Game 7? We aren’t that lucky. Based on what has transpired the last three games, take Detroit to win 3-2.
Bad news in the refereeing department, folks: Dan O’Halloran and Kelly Sutherland will referee tonight’s game, with Shane Heyer and Johnny Murray, who tend to toss players from faceoffs on an alarmingly regular basis, working the lines.
As noted in the travel day post and Game 7 talk post here on Wednesday, if you’re planning on delivering Fox Sports Detroit with another record-setting ratings performance after watching a truncated version of Game 6 starting tonight at 6 PM EDT, you’ll wander into FSD’s one-hour game preview at 8 PM EDT hearing lots of cliches and confidence without a TM, nor a capital letter.
The Wings understand that they’re still the ones climbing uphill as they head into a hostile environment in the Shark Tank, and they’re well aware of the fact that they’re nothing more than a footnote if they don’t win tonight, as the Wings’ quiet, confident and understated captain, Nicklas Lidstrom, told the Ottawa Sun’s Garrioch:
“It’s not going to be easy,” Lidstrom said. “We’re going to have to show up (Thursday) to get away with a win. You can’t think about (making history). Your focus has got to be the same approach we had in the last three games. We’re one win away from moving on, but we’re also one loss away from not playing anymore in the playoffs. We know what’s at stake.”
The Wings are confident, but not borderline arrogant, as the team’s resident young pup (more on that later), Justin Abdelkader, and coach Mike Babcock told the CBC’s series blogger:
“We’ve gave ourselves a great opportunity here,” Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader said. “To be at Game 7 after being down 0-3, it’s pretty awesome, but we know the job’s not done yet.”
“If you’re down 3-0 in a series and you’re not playing any good, there’s no opportunity,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “But if you think you deserve better and you’re playing well, I think it’s easier to stick with it, and that’s what’s happened. All series long, I thought we’ve been a good team. Any of the games, it could have gone either way. Now we’ve got to go in there and win a game. We’ve just got to remain calm and understand what our plan is, be poised, and let our determination work for us.”
Babcock did talk about embracing opportunity, which is his usual line, but he also suggested that the Wings’ something like seventy-some games of Game 7 experience in their locker room might very well be overrated, as he told the AP’s Noah Trister (the AP’s Ira Podell also posted a companion article talking about the closeness of the NHL’s playoff games in general):
“Until you do it the first time, you just think you can do it,” said Babcock. “That’s where experience comes along, and saying that, you have to do it again. It’s brand new every time, and you have to find a way. Experience, when you have none, is overrated. When you have it you think it’s great. And the bottom line is we’re going to have two good teams that play tomorrow with an opportunity to play tomorrow. If you get to the final four anything can happen and we’d like to have that opportunity.”
Babcock also believes that leadership is only part of the equation, as he told the Globe and Mail’s David Shoalts:
“Veteran leadership is a great thing but determination is a better thing,” Wings head coach Mike Babcock said. “That is about poise and understanding what you have got to do. The key to this time of year is do your little part. If you do your part then we have an opportunity to be great together.”
Do the Wings still see their locker room full of playoff veterans as an asset? You bet they do…
“Our focus the last three games was basically like a Game 7: If you win, you get to play another game or lose and you’re done,” Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “So we play like that again. Try to focus on emotions and stay calm. That’s where the leadership comes in.”
Leadership is something the Wings have in abundance, which works to their advantage in this situation. Players such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Kris Draper and Tomas Holmstrom have all been down this pressure-packed road many times. Even an old warhorse like 40-year-old centre Mike Modano, who skated through many tense situations in his salad days with the Dallas Stars, can’t help but admire how the Red Wings believe in each other and keep their heads when all looks lost.
“It doesn’t take a genius to see why we’ve had that success for so long,” said Modano, who got into his first game of the playoffs Tuesday, replacing the injured Johan Franzen. “Year after year, the top guys motivate each other. They push one another in the locker room. It’s neat to see. Most of these guys have been in this situation in their careers over and over again. They seem to relish them and can’t wait to do it again. Ultimately, when you’ve had that success, you’ve got that in your memory bank about what to do.”
Regarding Franzen, as MLive’s Ansar Khan notes, Babcock wasn’t willing to rule out playing the injured Franzen in Game 7, assuming that his sprained left ankle can hold up:
The status of Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen and San Jose’s Ryane Clowe for Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals Thursday will be determined on game day.Franzen sat out Game 6 after laboring the first five games of the series with a sore left ankle.
“That’s the good thing about this flight. It will be about 5½ hours. I’m sure if he’s lobbying we’ll listen to that,’’ coach Mike Babcock said before boarding the team flight on Wednesday. “We’ll see if he’s available, but we’ll try to make the right decisions. The only way you know you made the right decision is when you win.”
If Franzen can’t play, Mike Modano likely will remain in the lineup. He made his series debut in Game 6.
Modano was, as usual, classy about the situation, as noted by the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness (and Pleiness noted Babcock’s rationale for flying out on Wednesday morning, too):
“I haven’t talked to Mike about it,” Modano said. “I’m sure he’ll sit on that plane and come up with some sort of scenario. Hopefully it’ll stay the same. It was fun to be out there. It was probably one of the more solid games out there for us from start to finish.
Modano played just over nine minutes in the game. He had three shots, two hits and won 67-percent of the faceoffs he took.
“I thought he got into the game, he played well and he skated good,” Babcock said of Modano’s performance.
I don’t usually weigh into personnel decisions in the playoffs—just as I won’t talk about what might happen personnel-wise if the Wings lose—but one could argue that while it’s a safe bet that Modano will remain in the lineup, given the fact that the team’s played Jiri Hudler, Kris Draper and Franzen for somewhere between 9-12 minutes, Babcock can choose between any one of those players and weigh the pluses and minuses of Hudler’s slipperiness and chemistry with Valtteri Filppula, Draper’s speed, faceoff ability and steadying influence on Darren Helm, and Franzen’s even-ankle-hobbled intensity, size, strength and scoring ability, all versus making no lineup changes whatsoever.
It’s not up to us, regrettably. If it were up to me, I’d change the rules so the Wings could put all three in, but I’m a biased Wings fan.
Moving on, as Justin Abdelkader’s taken some pretty undisciplined penalties on a repeated basis, he got a lecture from Babcock, as the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell noted…
Detroit forward Justin Abdelkader earned a little talking to from coach Mike Babcock after taking a penalty late in the third period for the second straight game Tuesday. Abdelkader also took a double minor in overtime that eventually aided the Sharks in their Game 1 win.
“I just told him, two games in a row now, ‘You’ve got to decide. Are you going to be one of those guys that their whole career takes a bad penalty at the wrong time?” Babcock said. “Or are you going to look after it? He’s a great kid and a great teammate and he’s going to get it looked after.”
“I’ve just got to be smart out there,” Abdelkader said. “We were just both fighting for position going for the puck and the ref said I held him I guess. I was going to get the puck. I think they were looking to make a call at that point of the game and I’ve got to know better. Can’t give them an opportunity to make a call like that.”
“You don’t want your team short-handed when you’re up like that in the third period,” Abdelkader said. “It’s not a fun feeling, I’ll tell you that much. It’s just a long two minutes.”
And this little tidbit from the Detroit News’s Eric Lacy merits some eyebrow-raising:
Pavel Datsyuk wants to take faceoffs in Game 7. He apparently is just waiting to see if coach Mike Babock and the team’s medical staff will let him.
“We’ll see,” Datsyuk said. “We don’t know yet, won’t until Thursday morning. We’re still looking (into it). We’ll see tomorrow.”
Collectively, however, only Todd Bertuzzi bucked the team-wide trend of talking about calmness and composure by making this quip to the Detroit News’s John Niyo...
To a man, the Red Wings insist this was a flight they intended on making all along. Babcock had said exactly that Monday after returning home from Game 5, telling reporters his team planned on making another trip to the West Coast, if not more.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Bertuzzi said. “Without a doubt. This is one of those teams that just never gives up. People had us counted out a long time ago. But we just kept battling, we kept doing it, and we’ve got big-time players stepping up.”
Before cracking a joke and getting back on the team mantra train…I mean plane…
“It’s the first time I’ve seen guys that excited to get on a plane for seven hours,” Bertuzzi joked. “This is what we wanted. We wanted to push it to Game 7. I like where our heads are at …. It’s Game 7. We’ve all been a part of them. It’s gonna be exciting. It’s gonna be in a tough barn. We’re gonna have our hands full. But like I said, I like where we’re at. I like where our game’s at. Now we just gotta go out and do it.”
Mostly, the Wings talked about building off Game 6’s effort, if that’s even possible, as noted by the Macomb Daily’s Pleiness...
“We certainly have good momentum,” Detroit forward Danny Cleary said prior to boarding a flight to San Jose at Metro Airport. “We’ve played well. Last game was probably our best effort. We’re getting contributions from different players and our goaltender is still playing great. That’s a good sign.”
“Experience helped us last night, not getting down after they scored that first goal,” Cleary said. “We stayed the course. It was a huge game.”
“Everything is thrown out now,” Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi said. “It’s one game. Winner takes all. I like where we’re at. We just have to make sure to dictate the pace of play right off the hop and take it to them hard.”
With Babcock suggesting to Pleiness that the Wings may have played their first real 60-minute effort on Tuesday...
“We’ve played lots of good periods, but I thought we were excellent (Tuesday),” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We skated real well and were very determined from start to finish. Even though things didn’t go our way (early), we kept with it and I think that’s a positive sign. Now we’ve got to do it again. Get re-energized after the flight and get ready to go.”
And focusing on the fact that they’ve got to stay in the moment…
“I want to think it (experience) comes into play,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “They’re playing on home ice hopefully we can come out with a push right at the start instead of sitting back and waiting for them to come to us. (We need to control) the emotions, just stay calm out there,” Kronwall added. “That’s where the veteran leadership comes into play, so far that has worked out pretty well for us.”
“You can’t think about (the history),” Lidstrom said. “Your approach has to be the same as it’s been the last three games. We’re one win away from moving on, but we’re also one loss away from not playing anymore in the playoffs. We know what’s at stake and our approach is going to be the same as in the last three games.
“It ranks right up there, being down 3-0 and being able to come back and play a Game 7,” Lidstrom added. “We’re not thinking like that. We’re thinking, ‘We have to go out there and win one more game.’ Be ready to come out that first period and play hard. That’s totally got to be our mindset. Not thinking too much about anything else.”
Because, as they told Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji, the team’s well aware of the fact that history has a way of getting out of hand. Modano’s Minnesota North Stars lost to the Wings after they’d dropped a 3-1 deficit to the Stars back in 1991, and Modano remembers how the series got out of hand…
“Well, you’re a little nervous cause you know they’re coming and their confidence is building,” Modano said. “We knew at 3-1 we needed to play a spectacular, perfect game from start to finish. Otherwise, we were in trouble. Then we just … bad break after bad break, and we’re just looking for something to put a tourniquet on a hemorrhage because it was coming. You could just feel it. It was just like an avalanche. Once they got going and their main guys started playing, we knew we were in trouble.”
In general, the Wings have done pretty well in Game 7s, winning 13 of 21. Lidstrom is 5-3 in his eight Game 7s.
“I think experience helps, just knowing what it takes to win,” Lidstrom said. “Having said that, it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and we’re going to have to show up (Thursday) night to get away with a win.”
And the Wings know from very recent history that Game 7 defeats can be crushing. Losing the Stanley Cup on home ice to Pittsburgh in 2009 still stings them…
“I’m just going back to the last couple Game 7s we’ve played in,” Danny Cleary said. “They’ve gone both ways. You look back on them and wonder what you would do differently.”
Kris Draper said the Wings’ young players have benefited from being in those pressure situations.
“Our younger players have some serious experience and I think that’s the great thing about it,” Draper said. “These guys can draw from it. They’ve played in Game 7s. They’ve played in elimination games. There’s nothing like hands-on experience and that’s exactly what those guys have.”
So while Cleary told the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff that yes, the Wings have thought about the fact that tonight’s game determines whether this team is, historically speaking, “something special” or just a little engine that couldn’t:
“I’d lie if I said I didn’t think about it,” Wings forward Dan Cleary said of their chance to achieve legendary status in Stanley Cup play. “Of course, we’ve thought about it.”
The Wings would join the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers who did it against the Boston Bruins, the 1975 New York Islanders, who rallied against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who came back against the Red Wings, among this select group. At the same time, they are aware of how close they are to becoming part of another less notable group — the four teams who fell behind 0-3, won the next three, then lost Game 7. Included in this unfortunate foursome are the 2011 Chicago Blackhawks against Vancouver, the 1975 Islanders against Philadelphia, the 1945 Wings against Toronto and the 1939 New York Rangers against Boston. One setback moved their story from front page to footnote.
“We’re one win away from moving on, but we’re also one loss away from not playing anymore in the playoffs,” Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We know what’s at stake and our approach is going to be the same as in the last three games.”
I know that quote’s been repeated, but it’s important, because the Wings are riding a fine line here. The Detroit News’s Bob Wojnowski suggests that one should not bet against the Wings, who he believes have a mental edge over the Sharks…
“Is doubt setting in for them? I don’t know,” Wings forward Dan Cleary said. “There’s no doubt in here. Listen, we’ve got a group that’s won together and been together a long time. We hated how last year ended, everyone was disgusted with it. We just didn’t want to go out that way. We weren’t kidding ourselves — we really felt we could do this.”
And if the Wings pull it off, geez, all they earn is a chance to face the top-seeded Canucks, only halfway to the Stanley Cup. Believe it or not, that’s still the Sharks’ goal. Really, it is. Home ice guarantees nothing, but at least it means they won’t have to see the red and feel the dread in Joe Louis Arena.
But even in doing so, he admits the obvious.
You clearly can see what Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom and Jimmy Howard are doing. But tying the series 3-3 is only 75 percent of the job. Winning in the raucous Shark Tank determines whether this is memorable or momentary — and even as dominant as the Wings looked in Game 6, this will be one ferocious collision.
“We know how much effort it takes to battle the way we have,” Lidstrom said. “It feels like we’re not done yet. We still have another gear to give. It’s not over, and we can’t take anything for granted.”
The Oakland Press’s Pat Caputo suggests that the Wings will at least keep things “close” while acknowledging that Hockeytown has returned to form…
In the process, this town has stopped taking the Red Wings’ postseason success for granted and become electrified by what has transpired in this series.
They love Jimmy Howard. When was the last time that could be said of a goalie in this town? Terry Sawchuk? Roger Crozier? Everybody now fully understands that an NHL player would be better served being hit by a Mack truck than “Kronwalled.”
At the end of Game 6, the chants were deafening at Joe Louis Arena: “We want the Cup! We want the Cup! We want the Cup!”
A wave from a tsunami has less momentum than the Red Wings at this point. In Game 7, if the Sharks take the early lead, it will be anything but over.
And if you’re looking for things to really get off the rails, try the Detroit News’s staff predictions for Game 7 (Ted Kulfan and Chris McCosky believe the Sharks will prevail), the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa, who notes that the Wings have out-hit and out-shot-blocked the bigger, stronger Sharks before talking about the importance of belief...
Based on all of that evidence, and more, it may well be that pound-for-pound, the Red Wings are the toughest team in the playoffs, physically. And after four consecutive games of outplaying the bigger, younger, fast Sharks, and defeating them thrice consecutively, it is almost certain they are the toughest, mentally.
“I think you have to believe all the time, whatever the score is, even if you are behind, that you can come back,” said the offensive hero of Game 6, Valtteri Filppula. “Believing we can, it’s definitely a big part of it.”
When what goes on between the ears is measured, Game 6 was utterly lopsided: The Red Wings believed. The Sharks misconceived.
“We put up an embarrassing effort,” Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray said. “It’s nothing to do with X’s and O’s. It’s about whatever it takes to get yourself ready. We weren’t skating, we weren’t making quick plays, we weren’t doing anything right.”
If you want statistics, MLive’s Ansar Khan re-posted the Wings’ press release regarding the Game 7 records of both teams, with the Free Press breaking that down into the Wings’ last nine and Sharks’ last six. If you want strategy, the Detroit News’s McCosky offers seven keys to Game 7…
I had an argument over the Red Wings’ Game 7 tonight. I had it with myself.
The Left Side of my brain said: “THIS IS HUGE! THIS IS HISTORY! THIS IS ONE OF THOSE MOMENTS YOU TELL YOUR GRANDKIDS ABOUT!”
The Right Side of my brain said: “Relax, Lefty. It’s only the second round.”
The Left Side replied: “Are you brain-dead? This is not just ‘GAME 7,’ two words that send a chill of anticipation through hockey fans anywhere—this is Game 7 in a series that could have been over in Game 4!
“This is Game 7 that gives the Wings a chance to be the FOURTH TEAM IN NHL HISTORY TO COME BACK FROM A 3-0 DEFICIT! HOW MUCH MORE IMPORTANT CAN IT GET?”
The Right Side said: “Nothing is important if it doesn’t end in a championship.”
It goes on like that for quite a while.
Here’s what I know: I’m a Wings fan, and it’s my job to dig through all of this stuff and try to put it all in one place while at least hoping to make some sense of it for you. And as a fan, I’ll tell you what I thought before I sweated and swore and tried not to freak out when Logan Couture scored the first goal in Game 6—“I never got this nervous when I played goal. I just went out there and tried to stop the puck more than I let it get past me, and when it did, I shoveled it out of the net and got ready to stop the next shot.”
It is so much easier to play this game than it is to watch it—and I love watching it—and my goodness, is that ever true when it comes to Game 7. This game’s going to be as emotionally and possibly physically draining as can be for Wings fans, regardless of whether you’ve got a “nervous person’s” disposition, and if the Wings lose, it’s going to, to put it bluntly, suck. I know I’ll try to at least take in a quick pre-game nap because I’m gonna need it, and I know I’m gonna have to do what someone who neither drinks nor smokes does during a game—take my anxiety medication on time and stick half a pill somewhere in case I need it. This is gonna be intense, and the ups and downs will probably wake some of our neighbors.
I’m simply grateful for the fact that, as the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell found, the Wings plan on enjoying themselves and doing their best to control their present and future—because it’s the present, not “history,” that we can affect the course of:
“The thing is, we weren’t kidding ourselves, we really felt we could do this,” Detroit forward Dan Cleary said. “We focused on one game, not thinking we had to win four. Just win one, win one, win one and now we’re going to Game 7. It’s going to be a fun game.’’
“We’ve had three Game 7s already,” forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “We want to keep playing. I don’t think anyone feels that we’re done yet. Looking forward and going to enjoy it.”
Detroit’s Jimmy Howard has won the lone Game 7 that he’s played in. That was last year versus Phoenix.
“I like to think I’m calm,” Howard said. “It’s (Game 7s) just a lot of fun. It’s competing. “t’s what you dream about growing up. It was a lot of fun last year and it’ll be again.”
Or as Pavel Datsyuk, who has been the single force most responsible for Detroit’s revival, has been preaching, it’s just a matter of believing in yourself.
“Might be more confidence, maybe little bit, but we know it will be hard game and a tough game,” Datsyuk said. “But it’s for sure more confidence for us (than) 3-0 at 3-3 now. We never give up. I think this is why we come back.”
Datsyuk continued while speaking to the Free Press’s Helene St. James:
“First of all,” Pavel Datsyuk said, “it will be lots of fun. One step ahead with the series. We need to push more, harder. We know it’s not be easy but just have to play simple, nothing special.”
Mental toughness often is what makes the difference in a game of this magnitude. The Wings have demonstrated theirs, calmly staving off elimination three times. It has been only four days since they did it in San Jose when they rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period of Game 5. They went home and owned Game 6, and know it’ll take another performance like that to clinch the second round.
“We just never quit,” Jimmy Howard said, proclaiming what has become the Wings’ slogan during this series.
“We’ve been in a couple of sevens here the last few years, and it’s gone both ways for us,” Danny Cleary said. “This is a game where we know what happens. It’s a balance—a bad change or a missed shot, those little things that turn it around. So we’ve got to be real determined. It’s going to be a fun game.”
The Wings will play a Game 7 for the fourth time in the past three years, with 22 players who have participated in a Game 7, twice that of the Sharks. Defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski lead the Wings with eight appearances each. Niclas Wallin leads the Sharks with four. Niemi has never appeared in one. Howard got the feel for what one is like last year at Phoenix, something his coach sees as immensely beneficial.
“Until you do it the first time, you just think you can do it,” coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s where experience comes in, and yet in saying that, you gotta do it again. You gotta find a way. Experience when you have none is overrated. When you have it you think it’s great. The bottom line is we’re going to have two good teams with an opportunity to get in the final four.”
That’s the standard. Make the Western Conference Finals every season, that’s what we ask of our Red Wings every season. The Wings hope to do nothing more and nothing less than live up to their own and to our expectations tonight, and at least they’ll be enjoying the process on our collective behalf.
Multimedia: ESPN’s Matthew Barnaby previewed Game 7;
• TSN posted a 2:18 clip of Todd Bertuz
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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.