Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Game 3: Wings 3, Oilers 4 (2OT)

Game 3 had a little bit of everything: some trap-heavy hockey, more high-flying end-to-end hockey, good goals, bad goals, reviewed goals, bad officiating, dumb penalties, smart penalties, glorious scoring chances, great goaltending, bad goaltending, great defense, stupid mistakes, despair, hope, momentary celebration, then celebration denied, relief, but most finally, shock. Jarret Stoll's goal at 8:44 of the second overtime was the kind of goal your brain won't accept as it happens. You try to stop time somehow, but only succeed in stopping your heart, as you foresee the inevitable with the most intense feeling of denial. It must be what someone in a stalled car on the tracks feels like while a million pounds of freight inexorably bears down on them. Now the question becomes this: did the Wings get out of the car in time or were they crushed along with it? We will know the answer to that tomorrow night in Game 4, not before. But you know what? In contrast to my reaction after Game 2, I think they got out and will get another car (to carry on the lame metaphor). This series, despite the wild celebrations in Edmonton last night, is not over yet. Pavel Datsyuk, Kris Draper and Brendan Shanahan started the game for Mike Babcock. Draper was physical on this first shift, a trend the rest of the Wings would follow pretty well for the rest of the game. The crowd was incredibly loud to start with, loud enough to drown out the whistle, it seemed. It was like watching the game with crowd sounds from the FIFA World Cup final game added into FSN's audio feed. The second shift consisted of Jason Williams, Steve Yzerman and Robert Lang. Williams had a glorious chance just 2:23 into the period off an odd bounce after taking a surprise drop pass from Lang at the side of the net. He didn't score but 30 seconds later, the play would stop and the shot was reviewed to see if it had actually gone in. It turns out, it had gone off the far goalpost and had not crossed the line. Edmonton was trapping at this early stage of the game and the crowd was getting its kicks out of booing Chris Chelios every time he touched the puck. As usually seems to happen in such cases, the boos seemed only to serve as motivation for Cheli, who had a good game overall. Datsyuk and Shanahan, with Niklas Kronwall and Mathieu Schneider, had a nice pressure shift around the 3:40 mark or so, getting off a couple shots. The Oilers took it the other way and put the pressure on themselves for the first time. In contrast to Games 1 and 2, the Wings came out of the gates pretty sloppy in their own end. I don't know if it was because of a new emphasis on the offense or what but it really showed four minutes in. After the Wings failed to clear the zone, Ryan Smyth picked up the puck and got off a shot at a sharp angle that was stopped by Manny Legace. Either Manny tried to keep the play going or just plain missed grabbing the puck with his glove, because went off his left hand and landed right at his feet where it was picked up by Brad Winchester. He took it behind the net with Henrik Zetterberg all over him and still somehow managed to throw it out front to Jaroslav Spacek. Spacek took the pass and scored from the left circle, beating Manny over his right shoulder and putting his team up 1-0 at 4:17. Good work by the Oilers and nice shot by Spacek but Manny has to make that save. Not acceptable. Andreas Lilja got his first penalty of the game at 4:52, two minutes for cross-checking. Edmonton got it set up and generated good pressure but Kronwall and Dan Cleary did great jobs of killing the power play off. At this point, I wrote, "DET looks jittery, not settled, 34 trying to force stuff -> playing puck, out of position -> calm down! -> EDM all business seemingly," referring mostly to the Wings' defensive zone play. One player who did look good was Robert Lang, surprisingly enough. Henrik Zetterberg took a hooking penalty as a result of Detroit's nervousness in their own end at 8:51. The Oilers set up and got off a shot, which was stopped by Legace. Chelios was forced to make a save on the rebound, however, but Johan Franzen was already in the process of taking a stupid interference penalty on the scramble, handing Edmonton a 45 second 5-on-3. Right off the faceoff, however, Ales Hemsky was called for hooking on Chelios and the Oiler power play was reduced to a 4-on-3. Chris Pronger had a seemingly glorious chance on a wide open net but sent it high. It wouldn't have mattered anyway, though, since there was already a delayed call on Smyth for goaltender interference. Nine seconds later, Zetterberg's penalty expired and the Wings got a 4-on-3 power play, which he participated in. He had a clear goal at one point but it was tipped high by Pronger. What followed was a great power play, with five shots, three of which made it on net. It seemed inevitable that the Wings would score but as the power play wound down and their pressure had come to nothing, I started to wonder. No matter: Schneider made a great play to Zetterberg, who tipped the puck on right off the pass at the side of the net to tie it up at 12:05. The power play the Wings got after Franzen's penalty expired was killed off. Back to even strength and the Wings were looking better. The game had some pretty good action for the next few minutes, with both teams getting chances. Mikael Samuelsson came close to scoring at one point but the puck went off the outside of the post at a bad angle. At 15:40, Pavel Datsyuk hit Raffi Torres at center next to the benches. Both players fell over rather pitifully but it was good to see some physical play from Pavel. Ryan Smyth sort of took the wind out of our sails at 16:38 with an atrocious wrap-around goal. Smyth was all alone behind the net but he was able to sneak the puck in at the post when he shouldn't have even had a chance of scoring. Manny flat out failed to get to the post, when he had more than enough time. Confidence in the goaltending hit a new low point here, especially since Legace can do so much better and the goal came at a very bad time. 2-1 Edmonton. The Swedes had a good shift following the second Edmonton goal but it ended with one of the more mind-boggling sequences of the game. With an unknown delayed call on the Red Wings, Dwayne Roloson did what he's supposed to do. He left the net to allow the Oilers to put on a sixth skater. Tomas Holmstrom was doing what he was supposed to do too, skating up ice to follow the play as it left the offensive zone. Standard operating procedure, right? The unfortunate thing is this, Roloson, who apparently isn't the brightest bulb in the box, skated into an unsuspecting Holmstrom from behind and fell on his can, tripping Holmstrom in the process. You say, Tripping call on Roloson, right? Of course! Goaltender interference on Holmstrom? Heck no, right? He was 20 feet out of the net and skated into Homer himself! Tell that to the referees. They slapped Holmstrom with a penalty for the play and then announced he was getting a holding penalty for some action earlier on. Replay showed an encounter with Jason Smith behind the net that I would swear was interference on Smith but it seemed to be the play Holmstrom was called for holding on. Whatever. Maybe the call had something to do with the loud chanting from the crowd. So, with Smyth (some justice, after all!) and Holmstrom in the box, Edmonton got another power play. They set up and it was cleared. Then, Chelios boneheadedly cleared it into the crowd from the defensive zone and handed another 5-on-3 power play to the Oilers with 28 seconds left. The period ended with Zetterberg clearing the zone as he was in the process of being hooked. No call. Edmonton had foregone the trap by the end of the period and the game would have been opening up, had it not been for the combination of dumb penalties by the Wings and an asinine call by the refs. The second period began with the continuation of the 5-on-3 Edmonton power play. They set it up but fanned on their sought-after play, leading to the expiration of Holmstrom's penalty. The power play continued with more pressure and cycling. The kill was going great until Draper was called for interference with three seconds remaining on the Chelios penalty. Edmonton cycled the puck and took just over a minute to score again. This time, it was Chris Pronger who took the shot, which was tipped out front by Torres. Not much chance for Manny on that one. The Wings had done a great job to that point of denying a shot to Pronger but he finally got it. Ah well. 3-1 Edmonton at 2:38. The pessimism/despair really started to kick in as we tried to calculate the odds of the Wings actually staging a comeback in the face of that bloody trap. It was possible but it was hard to hope. Smyth had a little run-in with Legace at 3:32 as he crashed the net after Lilja fell down at the blueline. The ref saw fit to award the Wings a power play. They set up and would have had a goal if Henrik Zetterberg was right-handed. He had a wide open net but took a pass on the backhand and we all know what Mickey Redmond says: most players can't backhand their way out of a wet paper bag. Hank was 27 feet away from Roloson when he took the shot and by the time it made it on net, he had gotten across and was able to make the save. What killed the Wings on this power play was what has given them trouble all series: blocked shots. They had the pressure, they were cycling the puck. But they couldn't get the shots on net with any regularity. Edmonton really smelled blood now and so did the crowd, which was going nuts. They had cast off the trap and were pressuring the Wings in their zone looking for the killing blow. Chelios had a bad stretch where he made a couple ill-advised passes, which didn't help the Wings' case, as Edmonton was far more dangerous than they at this point. Still, the game slowed down a bit as we headed toward the midpoint and the Oilers gradually slipped back into the trap. Robert Lang and Steve Yzerman hooked up for a little deja vu at 9:54. The two entered the zone on a rush with Lang carrying. He dropped the puck off to Yzerman, who proceeded to do what he did in Game 2 in the third period. He was hooked by Dick Tarnstrom on the play and sent the puck wide, drawing a penalty in the process. The crowd, usually a little smarter than that, began chanting Roloson's name as though he had actually made a save. He didn't even touch the puck. During the power play, Nick Lidstrom rang a shot off the junction between the post and the cross bar after stepping around a downed Oiler player on the left wing. That was about the only chance they had, as they occupied the rest of the power play with fruitless and stupid cross-rink passes that were easily disrupted by Edmonton. That, or carrying the puck in offsides. Not very in sync, at all. Andreas Lilja took a really stupid boarding penalty at 13:10 but fortunately, his teammates killed if off for him. He then got a chance coming out of the box but his shot was so weak Roloson was probably laughing at him. Ah well. Babcock mixed up the lines a bit, putting Shanahan with Hank and Pavel. The Wings were physical but couldn't really penetrate the zone very well. Hank had a nice chance with 2:25 left but decided to try to make a play rather than shoot it. It didn't work. My confidence was hitting new lows as even Nicklas Lidstrom was passing the puck badly late in the period. I kept having to remind myself that there were still 20 more minutes in the game and that they hadn't lost yet. As teams headed to the dressing room, the fans began to chant "Red Wings suck!" Not too classy but at this point, it was a little hard to disagree, though I'd have rephrased the chant, myself. It's just that "Red Wings playing defense like the French Army" or "Red Wings being outplayed by younger, faster team" just don't have the same chantability. The third period began with much the same old story: the Wings were sloppy in their own end, they were taking perimeter shots, and they were losing. The Oilers cleared the puck into the crowd at 3:34 and the Wings got another power play. It was actually a good one, with a number of shots taken and strong effort shown. A glimmer of hope began to return. Then, Lebda carried the puck in along the boards. Shawn Horcoff, in a last ditch effort to stop the rush, put his stick between Lebda's legs (Mickey's "corkscrew"). Lebda, who was going full speed at the time and moving his feet, suddenly found he couldn't any more. Sticks between the legs have that effect, I guess. He, predictably, fell and Horcoff was given a tripping penalty. But get this: Rob Shick (who's name, I will now point out, rhymes with another -ick word, one beginning with "d") felt Lebda had embellished getting tripped at full speed and slapped him with a diving penalty. One of the top five worst calls I've ever seen. Complete BS. So, instead of the power play they were owed, the Wings got nothing. The trouble with gaining the Edmonton zone continued but, for some reason, the Oilers had no trouble whatsoever getting into the Red Wing end and generating pressure. Lang, Yzerman and Williams had a good shift around the 8:00 mark but it was fruitless offensively. Yzerman did draw a penalty, though. The ensuing power play was spent more in the Detroit end than the Edmonton one, as the Oilers put on shorthanded pressure. Great kill by them. Dan Cleary laid on a big hit at 11:35 and then got off a good shot. Then Maltby was hurt by Bergeron, who was given a high-sticking penalty on the play at 11:41. At 11:52, the Wings fanned the little flame of hope we fans had left. They set up on the power play and scored right off the bat. Williams, demonstrating usefulness on the point for one of the few times this season, faked a shot and stepped around Stoll, who had fallen to block the shot. Williams threw the puck out front to Henrik Zetterberg, who tipped it into the net to make it 3-2. Great pass and a great goal. Things were looking up. 18 seconds later, that little flame became a roaring fire. Steve Yzerman beat Michael Peca on the offensive-zone face-off and sent the puck back to Schneider at the point. Schneider released a blast that I think went in off Stoll, beating Roloson just inside the post, and making it 3-3. Henrik Zetterberg looked energized on his next shift, making a nice drop pass to Holmstrom as he skated behind the net, though nothing came of it. He looked like the Hank we know. Chris Chelios made himself even more popular around the 13:50 mark when he and Hemsky raced to the corner for the puck. Hemsky, young punk that he is, sure wasn't going to let up and no doubt had visions of leveling the 44-year-old Chelios. Cheli isn't a 23-year veteran for nothing, however. He let up just enough to allow Hemsky to get in front of him and then gave a little shove that, with the help of his own momentum, put the young Oiler into the boards shoulder first. I'll admit it wasn't overly clean but it was smart and likely saved Chelios a rib or two. Chelios is fortunate Hemsky wasn't seriously hurt, though. He did act like he was, however, and continued to lay there on the ice as the play went the other way. The refs, suddenly filled with compassion just as the Wings were about to break into the Edmonton zone, blew the whistle at 14:07 for the "injury." Hemsky promptly popped up and skated to the bench in a manner that would make Peter "l'Injurié Artisté" Forsberg proud. Nice. It's one thing to take Georges Laraque's word when he claims Chelios acted in Game 1. It's another thing to watch such a long, drawn-out performance and take it at face value. Maybe Hemsky can do Slap Shots 3 when he leaves the league. Should be about the time Chelios is getting inducted into the Hall, if he's not still playing. Dan Cleary, Kirk Maltby, and Johan Franzen had a strong shift with 4:50 remaining but play began to slow down and overtime beckoned. Edmonton generated some pressure with three remaining but play was mostly back and forth. Until Lidstrom took an ill-timed penalty with 1:17 left. Fortunately, Maltby, Draper, Chelios and Dan Cleary were up to the task. They killed off the penalty really well, with Cleary in particular playing a key role. The Wings killed off the remainder of the power play once overtime began. 54 seconds into the extra period, they got the luckiest break of the game. Somehow, Edmonton got behind the defense and carried the puck in on a 2-on-0 (you read that right). I saw the train coming full speed but the linesman whistled the play down, calling it offsides. Replays showed clearly that it wasn't, though. Edmonton put on the pressure in the first few minutes but the Wings weathered the storm well. Yzerman left the ice after being injured somehow in the first couple minutes. It looked to me like it was a hip injury but I've read that it was his back. Not good. Zetterberg and Holmstrom nearly put it away at 4:00 or so but Homers tip was stopped by Roloson. Hank drew a penalty at 4:28 as he finished up the same shift. The Wings proceeded to put on what seemed like the best power play of their lives as Samuelsson, Lang, Shanahan, Schneider and Lidstrom absolutely had their way with the Edmonton penalty killers. But they couldn't score. Roloson finally got his glove on the puck and froze it, giving his teammates a break from the action. The second part of the power play was completely different, as the Oilers' new unit broke the play the other way. Kronwall skated his butt off to get back and made a good play but Williams got back too and made a dumb play, getting a penalty but fortunately not a penalty shot. Oh, and Manny made the save on the play. We got 3-on-3 hockey as a result for 20 seconds. Hank and Pavel had a nice chance but it was blocked and amounted to nothing. The Edmonton power play was frightening but Manny was stellar, stopping Samsonov on the set up and preserving the score. At 8:19, Hank took a bad angle shot that rebounded to Lang, who fanned partially on it. Peca got a penalty on the play, though, and the Wings went back to the power play. This one wasn't so hot. The highlight was Datsyuk's shot between Staios' legs off the rush from the left wing. Roloson made the save. Yzerman tried to make a comeback but left the ice after taking two strides. Really not good. Legace had a bit save on Stoll at 14:23 and not long after that, Jason Williams seemingly ended the game after scoring from corner off the rush. The Wings celebrated and so did all of us in the lounge, until we saw the ref at center ice with his ear to the phone. The play was reviewed and it turned out that it wasn't a goal. Roloson had hugged the post and his momentum had lifted the net up just enough for Williams' shot to go in through the side. I was concerned that being denied the goal would break the Wings' back but it wasn't so much the case. Sure, the crowd was back in it with vengeancece and the Oilers were energized but the Wings didn't give up or anything. Edmonton had a couple good pressure shifts but the Wings held up to it, with even Pavel Datsyuk blocking a Chris Pronger shot (scary). Nik Kronwall was hit by two Oilers with about 3:15 but was composed enough to dish the puck off to his defense partner just before impact. The Wings were really good with their sticks during this stretch and made some great plays intercepting passes and blocking shots. The first overtime period ended with both teams playing their hearts out and the score still tied. Kronwall started the second OT with a bad pass at center that resulted in a good Edmonton chance. Legace was strong, though, and made a great save on Smyth. Edmonton iced the puck a couple times and paid for it with some good pressure by the Wings. Dan Cleary, continuing to have a great game, lost his helmet but skated hard up ice on a rush. Williams was stoned on an odd-man rush at 4:32 after taking a pass from Draper with Datsyuk taking away one of the defenseman by going to the net. He had another such chance not long after that but, again, couldn't put it in. Play continued. Back-and-forth, with both teams getting chances and fans of both teams having multiple mini-heart attacks. Cleary turned the puck over at the blueline but Lidstrom saved his rear end with a nice defensive play, forcing a mere backhand shot from Horcoff. The one area the Wings were not dominating was in faceoffs. Yzerman's absence was very much felt in overtime, as the Wings lost every defensive draw, I think. They took a page out of Edmonton's book, however, and blocked shots like their lives depended on it, though I flinched every time the Oilers took a shot after a faceoff. On another Edmonton flurry of chances little different from any other they had all night, they scored. Samsonov took the initial shot on a wrap around and Manny, again, had a hard time getting across. He did, though, and he made the save. He just happened to throw it out to the slot with his glove. Not sure what he was thinking. But Stoll was there all alone and slam-dunked it into the net with Schneider, Kronwall and Williams all standing around like pylons. Game over. You'd have thought the Oilers had won the Cup, from the confetti and crap that started falling. Okay. I know I was down on the Wings' chances after they lost Game 2 despite out-playing Edmonton again. This time, I have hope. They came so close to winning so many times that I will not say this series is over. It's just 2-1 Edmonton. Unless I am completely wrong and this team is utterly heartless, they will win tomorrow night. I'm confident of that. Manny had a pretty poor regulation game but was great in overtime. So, I'm not sure how I feel about him playing in Game 4. I'm sure he will but I'm almost leaning toward being more comfortable with Osgood. I have to admit that I started flinching on every single Edmonton shot and that I think Manny might need a game off to get his head back on his shoulders. If he can do it now and be ready for Game 4, great. But the Wings can't afford him to allow such weak goals any more. They need to give him better support, as well, as you guys have already pointed out, offensively and defensively.


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