By: Mike McCann
April 17, 2013…it was a Wednesday night. It had no real significance when the day started. It had tremendous significance when the night ended. The Red Wings were in Calgary. From the looks of the outcome, their focus may have been in Detroit. Jimmy Howard gave up two BAD goals. The Wings lost by one, and most people who follow this team gave serious consideration to the idea that maybe, just maybe, the Wings playoff streak was over.
It’s so hard to compare teams from different sports, especially two teams as opposite as the 2012 Tigers and the 2013 Wings. The Tigers were a team painted with expectation. The Red Wings were a team that many questioned. But both seemed to have that make or break moment. For the Tigers, it was a make-up game in Chicago. They lost 5-4 to the White Sox, and most people wrote them off right then and there. You know what happened next: they somehow found a way into the playoffs, found a way past the A’s and Yankees, before eventually falling in the World Series. The Red Wings make or break moment was clearly in Calgary. They lost their next game in Vancouver (but managed to get a rather important point) before reeling off four straight wins to put themselves in a familiar spot.
But is it really that familiar? This franchise is used to being in the playoffs, yes. But not like this; not as the team who is the sexy underdog. No, they’re used to playing the sexy underdog in the first round, not serving as it. But that’s what they are. And as they get ready to take on Anaheim, the comfort level seems higher than I might have expected. So let’s look at the matchups.
The Wings have perhaps the two best centermen in hockey. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are as skilled as any, and most importantly they are playing as well as any two players in this league. Along with Jimmy Howard and Johan Franzen, they are probably the reason the Red Wings even made it to the playoffs. But after those two and Franzen, there isn’t a lot of firepower. Valteri Filppula has talent, but has underperformed. Damien Brunner has stepped up in spots, but had a horrible dry spell in the middle of the season. Aside from those guys, the Wings are laden with young talent. Problem is that young talent doesn’t have a lot of playoff experience.
The Ducks have tremendous size up front. Their top five scorers are all veterans, who can all hurt you. Ryan Getzlaf is as true a power forward the NHL has seen in a long time. They don’t get injured very often and they will wear you down. They are going up against a Detroit defense that is very young, and minus a few guys, very inexperienced. That’s where the Ducks greatest advantage lies. Expect the first two lines to offset each other and go at it. The winner of this series could very well be the team with the better third and fourth line play. Because the Wings have been so inconsistent this year and are so young minus the top two lines, Anaheim has a slight advantage.
You’re going to learn a lot about Nik Kronwall and Jonathon Ericsson in the next couple of days. They are the two players who must step up the most (other than Jimmy Howard) in order for the Red Wings to win. The Ducks have proven experience on that blue line. Sheldon Souray and Francois Beauchemin are both solid defenseman and are not strangers to big games. Cam Fowler and Danny DeKeyser should be fun to watch, and if all continues, should be two of the better defenseman league wide in the coming years. Switching back to Kronwall and Ericsson, they MUST stay out of the penalty box. The Ducks had the fourth best power play in the regular season. If those two aren’t on the ice, the Wings chances go down dramatically. Again, when push comes to shove, the top defense pairings for both teams should offset each other. And again, it will come down to the guys who make significantly less money than the top pairings. The Ducks don’t have a lot of experience on that back line, but they have more than the Wings. Advantage Ducks.
It’s time Jimmy. You got the big bucks; you led the league in shutouts. You need to put this team on your back and lead them. You need to steal this series if you want the respect that goes with that contract. Make no mistake about it; the Red Wings have the better goalie. Anaheim has two pretty good goalies in Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth. But they aren’t Jimmy Howard. Howard is 9-3-1 career against the Ducks. That win total needs to reach thirteen for him to be considered elite. Advantage Wings.
Bruce Boudreau had a lot of success in Washington, but his one knock was he couldn’t win the big series. He didn’t get out of the second round with the Caps. On the other hand, Mike Babcock has won a Stanley cup, a gold medal, and rocked an awesome hat at the Winter Classic in Chicago. Advantage Wings.
So often in sports, people put too much stock in momentum. A lot of people are doing that now. The Wings are red hot, yes. They are probably the hottest team in hockey, and comparisons with last year’s LA Kings are as regular as they are warranted. There are striking similarities, yes. But as Jim Leyland always says, “momentum is only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher.” If the Wings lose game one, that momentum is gone. Momentum gained within the series is a lot more relevant than momentum brought from the regular season. Remember that before putting money on the Wings to win it all.
Can the Wings win this series? Yes. I hope they continue to play well. They’ve been on fire since they came back from Vancouver and they’ve done it on the backs of their leaders. But this team was consistently inconsistent all year long. It’s nice that they’re playing well now, but this is the start of a whole new season.
Pick: Ducks in 6