Sunday, May 3, 2009

Smelling salts.

Ducks 4, Red Wings 3, 3 OTs; Western Semifinals, 1-1

This really wasn't surprising to any experienced Red Wings fan. We've seen this same song and dance before. The Red Wings dominate play in OT, throwing shot after shot and chance after chance at the opposing goalie, and in the blink of an eye, the other team skates down the ice, throws a harmless looking shot at the net, and it finds a corner and bam, it's game over, and you feel like somebody just punched you in the groin. It happened last year in the Finals against Pittsburgh with much, much more on the line.

What has to happen now is the Red Wings have to respond to this like they responded against the Penguins. Today was pretty awful, not just because of the end result, but because the Wings, for the most part, sleepwalked through the first two periods. They allowed the Ducks to control play and were lucky to only face a 3-2 deficit after 40 minutes. They came alive in the 3rd and were swarming for the better part of three periods right up until Marchant fluttered the winner over Osgood's shoulder a minute into the 3rd overtime. But it shouldn't have gotten to that point anyway. This was a smelling salt game, in the sense that it's going to serve as a wakeup call in one way or another. We all hope it's the type of smelling salt game like Game 5 vs. Pittsburgh was; it refocuses the Wings as they hit the road in hostile territory, and they control the game, and emerge victorious.

Or, and what we fear, it could be the type of smelling salt game they instead causes you to spasm violently and throw up your lunch all over yourself, like Game 5 vs. these same Ducks two years ago. The gut punch of Niedermayer's fluke tying goal in the final minute combined with the sheer horror of Selanne's winner in the overtime ruined the psyche of those Red Wings, and it showed in Game 6 back in Anaheim. The Ducks mowed through them in the first two periods and staked 3-0 and 4-1 leads that couldn't be overcome because the Wings were too dazed early on. I would hope, after going through the experience against the Penguins, that the Wings will avoid such glazed looks in their eyes when Game 3 begins Tuesday night.

In fact, we need the exact opposite. We need fire from the opening faceoff. The sense of urgency that showed up in the 3rd period today? We need that in the first period in Anaheim on Tuesday. We need Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Hossa to bring the heat. Ryan Getzlaf has been a horse through these first two games. It seemed like every time he was on the ice, he generated a scoring chance. It almost felt like Babcock and company were adjusting to the Getzlaf line instead of forcing them to adjust. The Ducks' top line dictated play when they were on the ice. In Anaheim, the script needs to be flipped. When the Datsyuk-Hossa line or Zetterberg-Franzen line is on the ice, the Ducks must be forced to adjust. Darren Pang (who has proven to be just as annoying as Pierre McGuire - must be a bald thing) suggested at the second intermission that Babcock should reunite Datsyuk and Zetterberg on the top line - reuniting the Circus, as Wings fans know it as. That didn't happen today, and it wasn't a detriment, as the Wings tied it anyway. But for Game 3, why not consider it? Hossa is every bit as dangerous as the Euro Twins are, but he seems to be snakebitten right now. So I say bump him down to the second line with Franzen and either Cleary or Helm (who was probably the best player for Detroit today). Let Datsyuk and Zetterberg wreak havoc like they did in the postseason last year.

Oh, and we need Rafalski and Draper back. Now. The Ducks will be able to control the matchups in Games 3 and 4, being the home team. You can bet they're going to put the Getzlaf line out there when Lidstrom isn't on the ice. Ericsson has played well over his head, and Stuart and Kronwall have been dependable through the first two games. But I don't trust Lebda, and Chelios has no value anymore. We need Rafalski back there now. That will allow Ericsson to go back to the 3rd unit with Lebda, and allow Chelios to go away like he needs to.

As for Draper, he's probably our best faceoff man, which is saying something since Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Helm are all awesome at it. If he ever gets the green light to go, it'd be a hell of a decision on who to sit. I'd lean toward Kopecky, personally. He looked a step slow out there today, but I wouldn't envy Babcock if he has to make a choice like that.

Nobody expected a sweep. Most picked six or seven games, which means the Wings had to lose. This one was definitely gutwrenching, but we just have to hope that the Wings who took the ice in Pittsburgh 11 months ago show up on Tuesday and take the war right to the Ducks in front of their wine and cheese crowd.

To close, I'm going to steal a line from a commenter at Abel to Yzerman, who quoted Paul Gauguin:

"Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge."

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