This is it.
Both for the Detroit Red Wing players and their fans. This is the most important game of the year. If they drop tonight’s match against the Sharks the rest of the series will just be a formality. Make no mistakes about it. The Red Wings must beat San José tonight.
The Sharks have been the better team through the first two games, but that doesn’t always lead to victory. So far it has. Detroit had no right taking the first game into OT, yet there they were. One shot away from taking the split.
San José was equal to the task and took game 1, and did the same in game 2—a game where Detroit looked better than they had previously, but still weren’t good enough.
One shot away. Detroit must keep this in mind as the suit up for tonight’s game. They have been within one shot of a team that has badly outplayed them for stretches in both of the first two games. Seemingly gone is the team that owned the puck, painted it Red and White, and ran the table on the Coyotes. Back is the squad that takes terrible, untimely penalties and can’t put the game away on the power play.
That has to change, and in a hurry, or the Wings will be looking at another long summer after appearing poised for another Cup run.
First thing is first: Detroit has to find a way to stay out of the box. This is paramount, and is the first key to getting a little breathing room between a playoff exit and a little life. The refs have made one thing clear: If your stick goes parallel to the ice you’ll be watching your team play shorthanded. The adjustment must be made. Far too much irresponsibility has occurred as far as stick play goes.
Secondly, the scoring depth that the Wings showed in round one needs to reappear. Tonight.
It’s no mystery that Babcock loves to shuffle his lines when the offense goes dry. He gave a few
different looks in practice yesterday, and a lot has been made about the split of Zetterberg and Datsyuk. I’m not sure why this is such a big deal, as the two have generally played separate for the last few years.
And Mike Modano should play tonight.
I didn’t think I would be writing that sentence after how outstanding the bottom two lines were for the Wings in the first round. But this is why he signed a contract to play one more year. Another shot at the Cup. Now that the run is on the line he should get the nod. Perhaps over a Drew Miller.
If for no other reason than to inspire the team the long time Stars Captain and former Champion should see the ice tonight, and plenty of it. He’s been dying to play. So let him. Not out of nostalgia, but because Mike isn’t the kind of guy you keep on the bench when a series is on the line.
Yesterday he was playing on the left side on the first line. I say go with that, and put Pav on a second line so he doesn’t feel as much pressure to set up Zetterberg. The team will go the way of those first two lines, and them playing loose and creatively will quickly help the rest of the squad.
Speaking of Z, hopefully all the rust is gone now and he can ratchet up the tempo. He scored a late power play goal in game two, and hopefully he can carry a little of that momentum over. Franzen appears to be playing through a bit of pain, and has been pretty ineffective so far. Detroit’s ability to come back in this series and make it a best-of-three hinges greatly on the fortunes of these two stars. This time of year is why the Wings pay them as much as they do—it’s time to play ball.
One thing Detroit shouldn’t be worried about is their netminder. Jimmy Howard has been a Hockey God-send so far in the post season. He was a question mark coming into the playoffs, but he surely isn’t one for now. His play is the only reason Detroit didn’t get blown out of the Shark Tank in the first two games.
Lets not get things twisted, though. Detroit is a veteran laden crew that has been on both sides of this before. They’ve been up 2-o only to watch the lead vanish when they became visitors. Babcock had a great quote where he mentioned that Detroit had gone up 2-0 in three different series in the last few years, only to watch the other team win both home games and make knot things up.
As recently as the Penguins, when they defeated the Red Wings and won the Cup a few years back. Do you think the guys in the dressing room don’t remember that?
There will be no panicking. But a bit of urgency would go a long way for this Red Wings team as they try to win the next two hockey games. One thing at a time though—they must win tonight, or inevitably lose the series.