Friday, April 21, 2006

Game 1: vs. Edmonton, 7:00 ET

Tonight's the night we've all been waiting for, the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and more specifically, the Wings' first round series with the Edmonton Oilers. It's been nearly two years since we last saw Red Wing playoff action and if you're like me, you can't wait for the puck to drop tonight at the Joe. The Wings rolled to a league-leading 58-16-8 record, finishing with 124 points, eleven more than the second-best team, Ottawa. Granted, they had it easy playing in the Central Division, going 25-3-4 through 32 divisional games. Thirteen of their regulation losses, and five of their overtime/shootout losses, came to teams outside the Central but so did 33 of their wins, proving Mike Babcock's team can skate with any other in the league. Still, only two of those 33 wins came against the Oilers, who were one of the few teams to give the Wings trouble this season. They first faced Edmonton on November 3rd and were looking to extend their win streak to 10 games. The Oilers had a win streak going themselves and ended up adding to it that night, winning 4-3 in overtime at the Joe. The two teams squared off again two weeks later in Edmonton. The Wings had gone 3-3 since facing the Oilers on the third and were reeling from two road losses to Vancouver and Calgary (the night before). The Oilers had won on the 14th in Colorado and were returning home after a 7-game road trip in which they went 4-3-0. The rest paid off for Edmonton, as they scored 4 goals in the first 12 minutes of the third to recover from a 3-1 deficit. They ended up winning it 6-5 in overtime, taking a 2-0 lead in the season series. The Wings got their first win in Edmonton since December 13th, 2001 when they visited on March 18th. They were in the process of ripping apart the league, having lost only three times in regulation since dropping two in a row in January, first to Dallas and then to Carolina on the 8th and 10th, and weren't about to let Edmonton stop the streak. The Oilers had won their last two and were then 7th in the Conference. The Wings ended up winning in a single-round shootout, 4-3. The regular season series ended April 11th in Detroit. An injury-stricken Red Wings team had still managed to win their previous four games, with two of them coming against the lowly Blue Jackets. The Oilers had just blown a chance at clinching a playoff spot by losing to the Blues the preceding Sunday and needed some luck (which they eventually got, obviously) to make it into the postseason. It didn't come that night, however, as the Wings earned a shutout, winning 2-0 and tying the season series at two. On April 15th, a Colorado overtime loss ensured a 7th place finish for the Avs, thus placing the Oilers in the 8th seed. The Wings ended the season with a 6-3 loss to Nashville but the Oilers won their last two games, 2-1 over Anaheim and 4-2 over Colorado. Yesterday, news broke that Gary Bettman himself is demanding referees make calls if they want to continue officiating games. Now, the refs are professionals and theoretically should still be fair, calling things as they have all season. Right. Anyone believe that? I don't. Expect a lot more calls and if you're an Oilers fan, you'd better hope your team's penalty kill is up to the task. I don't think the Oilers' power play strikes fear in most anybody, whereas the Wings led the league with the man-advantage. I'd hate for that to become the official deciding factor in this series, though, since it's not the only facet of the game in which the Wings are better than Edmonton and it will no doubt generate a lot of whining if the calls aren't "fair." Pavel Datsyuk is not supposed to play tonight and I'm actually not that worried. It's not like he's a big playoff performer anyway, right? I'd rather he get fully healthy so he can focus on actually doing something in the postseason beyond getting mugged. Speaking of playoff under-performers, Manny Legace is going to get another chance at proving himself tonight. I'd say he gets two bad games, that's it. I think he's ready this time, though. And if not, we always have Chris Osgood. The best thing about tonight? All of the talk that's been going around the past few days will be forgotten, temporarily at least. Edmonton is going to have to put their money where their mouth is and actually perform tonight. The Wings, who I think have been pretty cautious with their comments, just have to play like they have all season, with a good work ethic, solid passing and with their heads on their shoulders. I really have confidence in this team and think that Babcock's got them in the right mindset. Tonight, it begins. I can't wait. (I'll probably be adding to this as the day goes on, so check back). Update (3:50 PM): Ansar Khan reports that Brett Lebda will be the team's sixth defenseman tonight. Lebda was paired with Kronwall in practice yesterday and though a rookie pairing may not be all that smart in a playoff game, that could be what Babcock goes with. Jason Woolley and Cory Cross will have to wait, which has to be hard on them, but Lebda deserves a spot. He's been better than Woolley all year and is at least more exciting than Cross. Also, Babcock confirmed Pavel's status: he will not play tonigh but should be ready for Game 2. That puts the pressure on you, Hank. Bring it. (Just over three hours until we find out whether this team is for real or not.)

12 Comments:

At 4/21/2006 02:31:00 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

Prediction for Game 1?

Red Wings 4, Oilers 2

If the penalties are truly going to be called legitimatly....hello cup #11!

 
At 4/21/2006 03:20:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's my prediction:

Red Wings 3, Oilers 2

I noticed something rather interesting. The Wings are 2 and 2 against Edmonton this season. However, the wins came from Legace and the losses came from Osgood. Legace seems to play better against the Oilers, so it's likely that he'll start (since he's number 1 anyway). The Wings should coast through to rounds 2.

Redwings will take the series in five, hopefully.

-firebird995

 
At 4/21/2006 04:23:00 PM, Anonymous megan said...

Personally, I think the Oilers will give the Wings a lot more trouble than people seem to think. They're young, they're fast and they have drive. Plus, if Roly plays up to his potential, they have a really good goalie. Not saying we don't--Manny is a solid goaltender.
And I'll have to disagree with you about Dats, Matt. Sure, he hasn't done much in the playoffs in the past. But nobody on our team really has. He's stepped up this season and played a much bigger role, and he's played it well. I think that both Zetter and Dats are going to prove just how good they are--and they're going to do it in the playoffs.
I'm not going to make a prediction for this game, but I do think it will take the Wings six games to knock of Edmonton.

 
At 4/21/2006 05:36:00 PM, Anonymous Gabriel P said...

I agree with Megan. I think Datsyuk will step up (I'm sorry...he'll bring it...) this time around.

My only concern is about what kind of performance from Manny the team will consider to be sub-par. Wings fans are ravenous for another Hasek-like performance to the Cup, and if Manny lets more than 3 slip by some night - like most goalies will at some point in the playoffs - it's unfortunately going to mean Open Season on him. I'm not sure it'll be fair or deserved.

 
At 4/21/2006 05:54:00 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

Speaking of "Bring It". Does anyone know if this will be 'branded' on promotional items such as T-Shirts, hats, etc? I'm one of the few (it seems) that likes the slogan, and would like to show it off in my area (Iowa....far from Motown). I keep checking the websites, and eBay. I'm thinking it's either not going to be used for promotional items, or will only be sold at the Joe. If it's the later, and a local wants to be my "middle man", I'd greatly appreciate. Here we go OLN and XM radio. Hopefully from those 2 sources, I can get a good broadcast :-)

Go Wings!

 
At 4/21/2006 06:44:00 PM, Blogger Matt Saler said...

I don't think the Oilers will be rollovers, either. This is not the most favorable matchup for the Wings, for sure. Still, they are by far the better team and should win pretty handedly.

Really, a bad game for Legace is going to be a loss. I think the team and the fans will be satisfied with a 4 goal game if the Wings win but if he gives up 3 a couple times and we lose, he'll be out. Not fair, but that's how it has to be. The goalie is the easiest thing to change and they don't have the luxury of waiting.

Even if Pavel does step up, the Wings are going to need to score as a team. Their playoff hopes do not rest on Pavel or Hank or Lang or all three. They need to score across the board, like they have all season. They've proven they can spread the puck out and be a threat on all four lines. That needs to continue. They weren't a three-star team in the regular season and they can't become one now. Too many recent eliminations have been due to lack of scoring (see their last two games in '04). That can't happen again.

Nathan, unfortunately, I'm in Western Michigan at school and haven't seen any "Bring It!" stuff. You should try the forums at letsgowings.com. Good luck!

 
At 4/21/2006 09:48:00 PM, Anonymous Gabriel P said...

A minute left to go in the 3rd...Detroit on the Penalty Kill...and just for the record, I despise OLN.

 
At 4/21/2006 09:55:00 PM, Blogger Matt Saler said...

OLN was blacked out here in Michigan. Fortunately, UPN's showing the game...

Not impressed with what I've seen so far, both from the Wings and from the officials. Too many bad calls on both sides and too many blown calls as well. The Oilers have a great strategy.

 
At 4/21/2006 09:56:00 PM, Blogger Matt Saler said...

Also, anyone seen Henrik Zetterberg tonight? What's he have, one shot through three periods? Come on, Hank.

 
At 4/21/2006 10:33:00 PM, Blogger Matt Saler said...

Well, OT was encouraging...

 
At 4/21/2006 11:04:00 PM, Anonymous Gabriel P said...

You're lucky then. OLN blacked out for about 30 seconds while the Wings were trying to kill a penalty in their own zone at the end of the 3rd. The commentators came on and acted as if it was no big deal...I shocked myself with how close I came to throwing something at the TV.

 
At 4/22/2006 01:52:00 PM, Blogger Matt Saler said...

I hear you. When UPN's signal went on the fritz in the second period, I was not too thrilled.

I also nearly had a heart attack when the words, "The current hockey game will not be shown due to blackout restrictions. Check your local listings," at 7:00 PM on OLN. I was SO relieved when I saw the game was on UPN.

 

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