Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Round 1, Game 1 vs. Nashville 7:00 EST

The opening night of the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs is finally here. After a weekend of musical chairs, the Nashville Predators were left at eighth seed as the regular season concluded. In the season series between the Wings and Preds, the Wings dropped the first three games (3-5 October 30, 3-4 November 8, and 0-1 December 20), but evened the series in some sense with three wins (6-0 January 5, 4-1 February 3, and 3-2 OT March 14). Nashville "won" the season series 3-2-0-1, since the latter win for the Wings gave the Preds an overtime loss rather than a regulation loss. The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as an overtime loss in the playoffs, so the regular season series of six games was a stalemate, making this first game of the Western Conference Quarterfinals a game 7, in ways. The Wings announced on Tuesday that Manny Legace would be the starting goaltender for Game 1. It will be his first post-season start. His only decision against the Predators during the regular season came in a 4-1 win on February 3, in which he had 23 saves on 24 shots and was voted one of the three stars of the game. Legace on Game 1:
"It's been a weird season. I'm going to try to treat Game 1 like it's another game, but obviously it's going to be different. Every shot, stop and moment is important."
As long as Manny doesn't psyche himself out with the importance of every play, I think he's going to be a great goaltender this post-season. An important strategy of playoff action is to take it one game at a time, not looking ahead to possible second round match-ups or throwing in the towel in any game. Manny can't take his Game 1 start as the fulcrum of an entire playoff run, but there is a riding importance in winning games in the Joe, with the Nashville crowd in Gaylord Entertainment Center soaking up their first post-season action. The Wings are all but healthy, with Jason Woolley still out with a fractured vertebra in his back. Woolley has started practicing with the team, and is doubtful for tonight's game. He is more likely to make an appearance Saturday or Sunday. As for backup goaltenders, since Cujo is ready to play, Marc Lamothe was assigned back to Grand Rapids. Tomas Vokoun will get the start for the Preds. He has led Nashville to their first playoff berth with a 34-29-10 record through 73 games. He has the potential to steal games and stone the Wings on key chances, although it is not clear whether he can be the next J.S. Giguere. The Wings, who were cheated of power plays in their remaining few games, need to get more man-advantages. The Preds are 24th in the league on the penalty kill, with an 81.8% record. In sharp contrast, the Wings are first in the league in killing penalties, with an 86.8% record. The Wings are 5th in the league on the power play, with a 20.1% record. I have mixed emotions about this game. While I have been looking forward to the playoffs through 82 games of the regular season, the approach of April 7, 7:30 also means the approach of my last physics midterm tomorrow night. I will certainly watch tonight's game, but the fact that crushing checks and "Datsyukian Dekes" will be mixed with the physics of rotation, torque, angular momentum, equilibrium, and gravitation sickens me a bit. I might find myself calculating the impact forces of some of those checks, and the rotational characteristics of Datsyuk's dekes. Notables: Steve Yzerman has one goal in his last 17 games.....David Legwand has four goals in his last 18 games.....Nashville is 2-11-2-2 all time at the Joe.....Acquired via division foe Chicago, Steve Sullivan has 15 assists in his last 18 games....Pavel Datsyuk has five goals in his last seven games.....Brett Hull and Pavel Datsyuk closed the season with 68 points apiece, leading the Wings (other than Robert Lang). Pavel Datsyuk led the Wings with 30 goals and Brett Hull notched 43 assists. Hull played 81 games to Pavel's 75....Kirk Maltby led the Wings with a +24 plus/minus rating....The Wings had 12 players with 10+ goals....Brendan Shanahan was the only iron man on the team, playing the full 82 game season. He also led the team with 117 penalty minutes and shots on goal with 280. Free Agents: Ken Holland was unable to get a contract done with Kris Draper by their extended deadline, so talks will have to resume after the playoffs. Drapes doesn't seem concerned:
"Nothing got resolved. There were some good talks. I think everyone just kind of wants to concentrate on a good playoff run here, and then we'll just pick up talks afterward."
Draper is a Selke Trophy candidate this season (awarded June 10), as he has had a career-best offensive output coupled with his steady defensive play. After the playoffs conclude, hopefully in June for the Wings, Holland will have until July 1 before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Draper made $1.475 million this season. In addition, other potential unrestricted free agents include Chelios, Hull, Schneider, and Yzerman. It is possible that Shanny could be one too if the Wings don't pick up an $6.5 million dollar option on him. The Wings might not want to pick up that high of an option for a guy who had a team-leading 280 shots but only 25 goals, and especially in a post-CBA world. Datsyuk had less than half as many shots (136) and more goals, with 30. I would hope that Brendan would be open to renegotiating to a lower salary. Dominik stepped up, you can to Brendan. As for Yzerman, it isn't a question of where he signs, but if. He is unsure of whether he would play if the lockout lasts much of next season, but would surely play with the Wings if motivated for another go. Another factor is that, if the Wings win the Cup this season, Steve might decide to retire no matter the outcome of CBA talks.


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