Thursday, April 15, 2004

Game 5: vs. Nashville, 7:30 ET

Tonight is the fifth game in the Western Conference Quarterfinals series between Detroit and Nashville. The Wings won the first two games with scores of 3-1 and 2-1 but the Predators stormed back at home with two wins of their own, 3-1 and 3-0. This game is a must-win game for the Wings. They have got to win. I think if they want to do that, they are going to have to totally change their mindset from offense to defense. They need to tighten up their coverage, play it close-checking and look for offense in the transition game. Bombarding Tomas Vokoun with loads of shots will only make themselves more frustrated. They need to go to the net (crash it, actually) and look for rebounds. Get traffic out in front and passes down low to get Vokoun moving side to side. No more of this giving up of glorious chances to the Predators offense, they need to absolutely crack down on defense. They need to stay out of the penalty box, not in fear of the Predators' power play but so they don't disrupt their rhythmn (four lines rolling) like they did in Game 4. They need to get their own power play going (put Hatcher in front of the net!) and use special teams to their advantage for the first time this series. They need to get an early lead and maintain it. The Predators just need to keep doing what they have been doing, skating hard, being opportunistic on offense and holding the Wings to the perimeter on defense. As everyone already knows, Curtis Joseph will replace Manny Legace tonight but I think the Wings will likely make another lineup change or two as well. I think the best option is to bring back Jason Woolley. To make room for him, they would have to move Mathieu Dandenault to forward and bench Boyd Devereaux/Steve Thomas but that would provide the Wings with some good speed up front. I'm sure the Predators will keep the same lineup. This game is immensely important. The Wings must win if they do not want to go back to a hostile GEC down 3-2 in the series, something which would make it very difficult for them to win Game 6 given their previous record in that building. I'd rather have them win tonight, lose Game 6 and then come home for Game 7 than have them forced to win in Game 6 just to stay alive. This game basically means the series. Mitch Albom said it perfectly today: "This series is simply and undeniably a tipping point for the Red Wings' legacy, the difference between remembering them, decades from now, as a success or a failure." It's just a best-of-three series now and the team with the first win has an enormous advantage. The Wings need to be that team. The Wings need to prove that they are the better team tonight. Nothing less than complete domination and total victory will do that. The first goal tonight will be huge.


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