Monday, May 21, 2007

Outplayed

This year's NHL Western Conference final has to be one of the strangest playoff series I've ever seen. The Red Wings are on the brink of elimination after amassing a 2-1 lead, and yet I still feel like they are going to win. The obvious parallel to this series is the 2002 Western Conference finals, where the Wings and the Avalanche alternated wins in the first four games before Colorado won game 5 on the road in overtime after it looked like the Wings had it in the bag. The Wings, of course, managed to win games six and seven en route to the Stanley Cup. After that game five loss, however, I didn't think they had much of a chance.

I haven't lost my confidence in the Wings, but I'm not exactly buying into the story that they outplayed Anaheim in games four and five. They certainly outshot the Ducks and spent more time in control of the puck. They may have even outhit the Ducks in yesterday's game, but I don't know if they really outplayed them. Anaheim generated just as many quality scoring chances as the Wings, they just did it with fewer shots. Because Detroit's offense is built around puck control and taking a lot of shots, they often look like they are dominating even when they aren't. When Anaheim was able to gain the zone, they were able to control the puck in a way that Detroit was rarely able to do in the Anaheim zone. They connected on more of their passes, they were able to control the puck behind the goal and in front of it, and their defenders were constantly pinching in and preventing the Wings from making the easy clear.

I couldn't believe how biased the analysts were in favor of Detroit (and I'm a Red Wings fan). Anaheim's fans are a bit upset as well (all eight of them). In the studio between the third period and the start of overtime, they practically declared Detroit the winner and signed off for the afternoon. Even if I'm wrong and Detroit really outplayed the Ducks for 60 minutes, all of that goes out the window in overtime. One mistake or bad bounce and the game is over. I don't think there is any doubt that the Wings got outplayed in OT. In her write-up of the game, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press seemed to attribute both of Anaheim's goals to luck, "a lucky bounce" and "the gift of a turnover". There was certainly an element of luck in Niedermayer's equalizer, but Selanne's game winner was all about skill and effort. It started when Lilja attempted a dangerous cross ice pass from the right side of the goal crease. He fanned on the pass and got muscled off the puck by an Anaheim player, who fed it to Selanne who then promptly deposited it in the back of the net. Luck had nothing to do with that sequence of events.

So why am I still confident that the Wings can win? Because tomorrow night, for the first time since game four, all of the pressure is going to be on the Ducks. The reason the Ducks have been successful despite the unimpressive numbers they have been putting up is because they have been more aggressive than the Wings. It doesn't hurt having J.S. Gigure between the pipes, and perhaps their confidence in their goaltender is what allows them to go on the attack, but come Tuesday night, the Wings will have no more excuses for playing tentative hockey. If guys like Draper and Maltby and especially Holmstrom can start out strong and make a statement early, I like Detroit's chances. If games three and four are any indication, there will be at least as many die hard Red Wings fans as die hard Ducks fans in attendance, so I don't see a big home ice advantage for Anaheim. If the Wings can force a game seven, it's anyone's series to take.

2 comments:

Greg said...

Well, that last game was a gigantic, steaming turd.

Michael David said...

Will you be watching the finals? I hear they're going to personally thank every single person watching during the broadcast between the second and third periods.