Saturday, April 03, 2004

GameDay: vs. Columbus (24-45-8-4, 60) 7:30 EST

Tonight is the final game of the regular season for the Wings. The Wings lead the season series against the Blue Jackets 4-1. The only loss against our Columbus neighbors came November 20 in Nationwide Arena, a 3-0 Marc Denis shutout. Manny Legace got the start for the Wings. Most recently, the Wings beat the Jackets 3-2 on March 31 in Nationwide Arena. Manny Legace got the start, and Robert Lang had his first goal as a Red Wing with a game winning goal at 9:03 of the third. The controversial play of the game came at 15:08 of the third period, when a Kirk Maltby check sent Rostislav Klesla awkwardly into the open door on the Wings bench. After the game, the Jackets organization was furious. Ex-Wing and Columbus interim coach Gerard Gallant:
"You can't say he didn't see the door open because it was open for four seconds -- we watched it on video. He just drove him into the door. Not smart at all by him."
Columbus general manager Doug MacLean bluntly labeled the hit on Klesla "gutless." Kirk Maltby seemed shocked by the results of his backchecking, and went to the bench with Klesa down on the ice and Jackets players shouting at him. Maltby later commented on the play:
"I'm really not going to get into an argument about it. I'm backchecking. I can't see who's coming on, who's coming off, if the door's closed or not. I'm not trying to hurt the guy. It was a foot race."
Despite Kirk saying that he did not intend to hit Klesa into the open door, the Jackets are not happy campers. They are the fourth worst team in the league and have nothing to lose in going after Maltby, other than the wrath of Colin Campbell, who has cracked down heavily on incidents since the Bertuzzi Debacle. Hopefully this situation comes to a close with an eye-to-eye fight between the teams. A go between McCarty (6-1, 215 lbs) and Jody Shelley ( 6-4, 225 lbs) is a possibility. For the Wings, this game is meaningless in terms of the standings. The Western Conference title and Presidents Trophy are locked up. However, with Manny Legace getting the start, it will be important to see how he plays in this final "warm-up" to first round action. In terms of goaltending, Coach Lewis will be deciding who the Wings will go with today, so a bad performance by Manny may send his stock crashing. Cujo has been skating without equipment the past few days, and is likely not ready for Game 1. I expect Lewis to give a few veteran guys rest, including Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, and Steve Yzerman. In addition, it looks like the Wings are going to keep Kirk Maltby out of the game, due to the rhetoric of the Columbus organization following the Klesa incident. Associate Coach Barry Smith said this:
"It depends if they dress their general manager [Doug MacLean]. If he dresses, maybe Maltby will dress, too."
I didn't think the Wings would have the guts to do this, since it's throwing in the towel in ways (even though it's Game 82) and Maltby is a Grind Liner. After the Todd Bertuzzi incident, the next Coach's Corner had Don Cherry blaming Avs Coach Tony Granato for not putting tough man Peter Worrell out with Steve Moore. While Cherry said that keeping Moore out of the game would've been throwing in the towel, he came down really hard on Granato. So, in the fallout of everything that has happened, Coach Lewis doesn't want to risk Maltby's health for a meaningless game. The tradeoff is that the hockey culture won't like the idea of keeping Maltby out of the game because "it's throwing in the towel," as Cherry says. However, it's good to know that Lewis cares more about the health and well-being of Maltby than following the unwritten rules of the hockey cult, especially when the opposition's rhetoric suggests they won't. I support Lewis' move, and Maltby's teammates shouldn't rib him too much about it because, in the wake of the Bertuzzi incident, we've all learned that there are some things more important than following the unwritten rules of hockey. I just wonder what hard-nosed Assistant Coach Joe Kocur had to do with this, since he was a member of the "Bruise Brothers" with Bob Probert in the late 1980's and "Grind Line" during the Cup runs of 1997 and 1998. Robert Lang and Kris Draper will be back on the ice after sitting out the Blues game. Mathieu Dandenault, who has been sidelined since that fateful March 3 Flames game with a broken foot, will also return. Manny Legace will get his career high 41st start. Re-Signed: Tomas Holmstrom: 3 years, $5.4-million Nicklas Lidstrom: 2 years, $20-million


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