Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Keys to Game 6.

I generally try to avoid generic posts like this, but we're getting down to it here, so I'm making an exception.

The following are, in my opinion, what I believe to be the most important things the Red Wings must do to win Game 6 tonight in Pittsburgh and hoist the Stanley Cup. They are not in order of importance, I'm just railing them off as I go.

1. Score first. People are overlooking that, but three games in a row now, Pittsburgh has gotten the early momentum. It helped them in Game 3, didn't in Game 4, and was a wash in Game 5 when you consider that the Wings rallied to take the lead. If Pittsburgh scores first, it'll be yet another uphill battle in an increasingly large list of uphill battles the Wings have to fight.

2. Get after Malkin. There's a lot of speculation that the assist Malkin got on the winning goal in Game 5 might've gotten him back on track. It's up to the Red Wings' defense to make sure that isn't the case. Whether that's swarming him when he gets the puck, forcing a bad pass or putting him on his ass via a Kronwallian hit, it doesn't matter. Make sure Evgeni Malkin's confidence remains in the red.

3. Find your legs. The Red Wings came out ridiculously nervous in Game 5. They were obviously tight and pressing, desperate to put on a show for their fans in what they believed was going to be a clinching game for them at home. By the time they found their legs, a period was gone, and they were down 2-0. There can be no such delay this time around. The pressure of performing well in front of the home crowd isn't there this time. Instead the Red Wings have to fight off both the physical and emotional drain of Game 5. Which leads me to...

4. FORGET GAME 5. It's in the past. Nothing you do on the ice tonight is going to change what happened in Game 5. You're tired physically, that's understandable. Nobody's 100% this time of year, and nobody's even close after a game like Monday's. But the Penguins are busted up too, and any advantage they have physically because of their youth is offset by the fact that they sold out completely to keep their season alive in Game 5. Any team, young or old, that plays balls to the wall in an elimination game often has trouble duplicating such a desperate performance in the next game. What cannot, I repeat, cannot, trip the Wings up is the mental aspect. Fleury is confident now. Well guess what? So was Marty Turco. Do not for one second think that Game 5 was a huge turning point, Wings. It's only a turning point if you MAKE it a turning point.

5. Don't let the refs get to you. Yes, the goalie interference penalties were bullshit. Pretty much everyone agrees with that. But they were called in a game officiated by one of the worst referees in any sport (Paul Devorski) and a ref who may or may not intentionally or subconsciously be settling the score for nearly being killed in Detroit years ago (Dan O'Halloran). Marc Joannette and Brad Watson will be back on the ice tonight (side note: Wings are 6-0 in games reffed by Joannette this postseason). Don't worry about any phantom BS penalties that may be called because of glaring at the goalie the wrong way. The Red Wings' broke the Stars' spirit in Game 6 by crashing the net. Draper, Datsyuk and Drake all scored goals against Dallas in that game right in front of the net. Keep the traffic coming, and the bounces will come.

6. Put doubt in Pittsburgh. This could come in the form of a huge hit, a great save, a big penalty kill, or the first goal of the game. Whichever it is, establish a foothold in enemy territory. The Penguins are feeling good about themselves after Monday. It's your job, Wings, to snuff out that good feeling. Make them doubt. Set the tone right from the get go, make it clear to the Penguins that you came to the Igloo meaning business, and you're not going to let them deny you from reaching your goal. Get back in their heads and rattle them, and like every young team ever, they will come undone.

7. Play smart and play strong. This is one that goes without saying, but Game 5 raised some red flags. There was a lot of sloppiness by the Wings in their own zone. I'm not even talking about the second Pittsburgh goal, that was an absolutely terrible break. Kronwall was doing the exact thing all defensemen are taught when they're six years old. If there's chaos in front of your net, do whatever you have to clear the puck to the corner. It just so happened that this time there was a skate in the way, and it deflected into the net. Bad bounces happen. But there were some ghastly turnovers by the boys in red in their own zone, and for much of the game, whenever Pittsburgh dumped the puck in, the Wings looked a step slow. You're the best defensive team in hockey. Show that to the world tonight. Play strong with the puck and leave it all on the line when the puck is at the boards in your zone.

8. Do not fall back on the safety net of a Game 7 in your building. This is one I'm the least concerned about. This isn't the Pistons we're dealing with here, there aren't going to be sudden, gaping, horrifying lapses in concentration from the Red Wings. They're not going to noshow Game 6 knowing they've got Game 7 in their building. Yes, no road team has won Game 7 of the Cup Finals since 1971. Six times since then, the championship series has gone seven, and six times, the home team has won. But history is crap in this case. Go into Pittsburgh with the goal of bringing the Cup back to Detroit with you, WITHOUT the Penguins in tow.

9. Do not, for one second, assume that the Cup will wait for you. I'm not EXACTLY accusing the Red Wings of letting up during Game 5, either in the first period of in the final minute of the third. It is my belief that the Wings were just tense at the start due to all the expectations of the home crowd. But still, it has to be said. You cannot for a single instant think that things are safe. If you're up 1-0 or 2-0 or 2-1 or something like that, don't assume your puck possession style and smothering defense will finish the job. The Wings' style isn't just about playing keep away. It's about playing keep away while continually putting pressure on the other team's defense. Take a lesson from the last ten minutes of the third period of Game 5, Wings. If you're up, don't let up. Don't fall back on your heels and wait for time to run out. Don't wait for the Cup to come to you. Seize it, and don't let go.

10. Believe. Believe that you're the better team. Believe that the defense that choked the life out of the Penguins in Games 1 and 2 is going to be there in Game 6 tonight. Believe that Pittsburgh's defense is banged up and susceptible to attack. Believe that your power play will get it done. Believe that Ozzie will bounce back from a shaky Game 5. Believe that Game 5 is in the rearview mirror. Believe that the gameplan that knocked out Dallas in the Western Finals can and will work in Pittsburgh. Believe that you're coming back to Detroit after the game, and the Penguins aren't invited. Believe that if you lay it all on the line tonight and execute your gameplan to the best of your abilities, at the end of the night the scoreboard will be in your favor. Believe that nothing can be taken for granted and nothing will be handed to you. Believe that you must fight and scratch and claw for everything you desire.

It's a cruel irony that I do my best work here at GenSarc when my teams let me down. My best bloggings have come after Michigan's losses to AppState and Oregon. So my final piece of advice for the Red Wings before tonight's Game 6: Don't give me anymore material.

Go Wings.

1 comment:

fred said...

11. Keep shooting! Opportunities will come.