Jeff Riger: Are You Ready?
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One week ago Wings fans everywhere knew their fate. Detroit had just lost game 3 to San Joe in overtime and trailed the best of seven series 3 games to none and it was hard not to think that once again the Wings would lose in the second round of the playoffs. Sure there were people that thought they could come back, yes there were proclamations of fandom stating that real Detroit fans don’t give up. But we all knew, it was OVER! The only question was how long would it take? The answer: Game 7.
Tonight no matter what the outcome is, the second round will be over and either the Sharks or the Wings will move on to the Western Conference Final to take on the Vancouver Canucks. So who will it be? Can Detroit pull off something that just three teams in the history of the game have achieved? So hours before the biggest game of the season…again, I thought it would be fitting to give you my keys to a Wings game 7 victory.
Can’t repeat game 5: The Wings players and coaches know that they can never again play like they did in game 5 of this series and expect to win. Detroit was outshot by 20, they could not get the puck out of their own zone and they fell behind by a couple goals in the third period. It was actually worse than that as Detroit was dominated in every facet of the game and somehow still found a way to win. The three games at the HP Pavilion have been the Wings 3 worst of the series and now with game 7 being there, they have to make sure that trend does not continue.
Beat Neimi: Both Jimmy Howard and Anti Neimi have been very solid goal tenders in this series so far. Both have kept their teams in games and both have allowed a couple that they might still have nightmares about. Both also have not been broken and if Detroit can find a way to break Neimi tonight then they win this game. The Wings need to make Neimi appear like the goalie he was in the Sharks first round series against the Kings where he was pulled twice. Detroit came the closest to making that happen in game 3 where they scored 3 unanswered on Nemi in the early going, however after the three Neimi shut down Detroit and the Sharks scored four to win it. I know that Neimi won a cup last year with the Blackhawks and that he is a solid NHL goalie. But I also know that he has been exposed in the past and tonight seems like a good night to be able to do it again.
Homer must stay at home: After getting called for a lot of goalie interference and incidental contact penalties late in the regular season, Thomas Holmstrom was forced to change the way that he plays. We all know that Homer is most effective when he sets up shop right in front of the opposing goal tender. Well he recently got back to that and it resulted in a game winning goal in game 5 and him having several chances in game 6. Holmstrom has registered 7 shots on goal in the last 2 games and for the Wings to win game 7, Homer is going to need to be able to redirect a shot from somebody, maybe ohh I don’t know, Nick Lidstrom like he has done a billion times in his career before. Yes Holmstrom was called for an interference call on Tuesday night that took the Wings off the power play but that can not deter him. Holmstrom has to agitate Neimi tonight like he has never bothered any other goalie in his life before.
Penalty Kill: The Wings have killed off the last ten San Jose power plays and that trend needs to continue. At the beginning of this series, the Sharks were scary good with the extra attacker and they more times than not made Detroit pay. However something has changed, Detroit with consistent success is now killing off those chances and doing it without Nick Lidstrom who is being saved for even strength and power play situations. If the Wings can’t promise not to go to the penalty box in game 7, the next best thing is to continue to kill off Sharks power plays like they have done in the last 3 games.
X factors: Wings fans know who to expect from Pavel Datsyuk, Nick Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg. IN case you don’t know, Datsyuk will stick handle you to death and then beat you to make sure you are dead. Lidstrom will make the smart consistent plays to win you a hockey game while Zetterberg will shut down the opposition’s top line. With San Jose having the last line change in game 7, Detroit needs some of their x-factors to step up and make sure the Sharks are neutralized while finding a way to spend time in the offensive zone. The guys that I consider x-factors are Danny Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, Jiri Hudler (if he plays) and Valteri Filpula. All of the above are more than capable of being world class players and doing the job in game 7. But the reason that I have them as x-factors is because they always don’t do what they are capable of. Filpula was the hero in game 6 but over the span of the first five games there was a time where he didn’t show up and the same goes for Cleary and Bertuzzi. As for Hudler, he seems to play well every other game but has been solid the last couple for the Wings so hopefully that remains the case. IN order to win game 7, one of the x-factors will have to score in my opinion.
The walking wounded: I think it goes without saying that a healthy Johan Franzen would help immensely in game 7 but will he be available? Mule is a game time decision and if he is capable of being more effective then he was in game 5 then I say lace him up and get him out there. However if that ankle continues to give him trouble, Mike Babcock has a stable of guys ready to go like Drew Miller, Kris Draper, Jiri Hudler and Mike Modano. While the four all have talent, experience and are all eager to get into game 7, there is no doubt that if Franzen can play he could win this game all by himself. Ryan Clowe on San Jose’s side is another guy to watch for. Clowe is in the same boat as Franzen also being a game time decision suffering from an upper body issue. Clowe did skate this morning and seems to be closer to a return then Franzen.
OK, that is all I got, now it’s all about sitting and waiting for game 7. If this game is like the previous 6, no doubt it will be epic and maybe just maybe the next blog I write will be for game one of the Western Conference Final starting Sunday night.
Don’t forget I will be on after game 7 tonight to take your comments and calls. Make sure to tune in and Go Wings!