Friday, May 30, 2008

Stanley Cup Finals Game 3 live blog


“All we got is one real goal and that’s to hoist the cup and bring it on home.”

With two more wins in Pittsburgh against the offensively-deprived Penguins, the Wings will do just that: Hoist the cup and bring it on home.

Those lyrics were stolen from one of the catchiest but cheesy songs of all-time, “I Want Stanley,” a track promoting the Red Wings 1996 playoff run that ended in the Western Conference Finals to those darned Colorado Avalanche. It’s one of those songs that you never forget after rocking out to it while playing street hockey as an eight-year old. Don’t laugh, but that song is seriously on one of the CD’s in my car as we speak. I’m a dork, I know.

This had me looking around on the internet for past Wings playoff slogans, and we’re going to have a little fun today in the game blog. I’m going to give you a trip down memory lane and attempt to drop each and every one of the slogans since 1994 – 14 in all – during the game.

Alright, enough with the slogans and back to the game. It won’t be nearly as easy as it looked in the first two games at Joe Louis Arena for the Wings, as they enter Mellon Arena, where the desperate Penguins are 8-0 at home in the postseason and haven’t lost since Feburary.

Do I think it’s going to matter? No, not really. The Wings defense is having a field day against the Penguins young guns who haven’t been firing all series. Defensively, they have frustrated the Penguins enough for them to resort to whining about obstruction – from player to coach – making one wonder if Sidney Crosby called his mom after Game Two, complaining that, “Mom! Nick wouldn’t let me past him today and that’s not fair!”

Stepping onto the ice for the series opener, Pittsburgh has gotten everything they expected and more, the first two games played out as if the ice has been tilted in Detroit’s favor. The Wings are in their young heads, with the Penguins too busy taking cheap shots and head-hunting – giving in to an experienced Wings ploy – than focusing on getting a puck past Terry Sawch – er, Chris Osgood.

Penguins coach Michel Therrien is trying to combat the experience by adding yet another veteran defenseman to the lineup in 36-year-old Darryl Sydor – who hasn’t played since March 31. This continuing a trend after inserting 42-year-old Gary Roberts into the lineup Saturday. I don’t see anything coming out of this besides a desperate move by a desperate team.

Osgood looks to gain more steam on the Conn Smythe boat that left shore before Game Three of the Nashville series, as he is making the saves that need to be made when they need to be made – albeit as rare as they come. The Wings defense is so skilled and agile that Pittsburgh’s offensive stars have yet to gain enough scoring chances to put something together.

Tonight, they will be re-energized by their home fans that almost said “Sayonara!” to them a couple years ago. They will crash the net and probably put an end to Osgood’s shutout streak with a dirty goal or two, but it won’t be enough. My prediction: Wings 3, Penguins 2.

I know most of you are tuned in to NBC, but I’m going to be watching on CBC. Their hockey coverage blows both NBC and Versus out of the water. A couple more pregame notes as we whittle down the minutes to the opening faceoff:

Mike Babcock: “We’re going to choose to be better. We’re going to go out there determined and let our will show.”

Babcock also stated that he wasn’t worried with not having the last line change due to being on the road and that he’ll put his top three lines out on the ice “So our opponents will have to worry about them.”

Another CBC tidbit: Darryl Sydor – playing his first game of the playoffs – talked to Mike Modano, who was ousted by the Wings in the conference finals. Modano told him Pittsburgh hasn’t been fast enough and attacking the zone enough and their defenseman need to follow the forwards, “You can’t play them 3-on-5,” he said.

Don Cherry, in a very colorful and flamboyant plaid suit, notes the Penguins need to keep the crowd into the game.

Speaking of the crowd, the place is rocking at Mellon Arena – kind of like fans would if they almost lost their hockey team a couple years ago and are now in the Stanley Cup Finals or something.

First period

Alright, let me breathe … As expected, the Pens are flying early in the game. Franzen gets called for holding roughly a minute in and for the first time this series the Penguins have settled into a true power play, moving the puck and getting two quality scoring chances.

Osgood makes two incredible saves on Ryan Malone. First, Malone walked in from the right, dangled a little bit and missed just wide on the left side of the net. Seconds later, Osgood stones him on a point-blank one-timer. The Wings – looking stagnant – get the job done and kill the penalty.

Jordan Staal is called for a penalty immediately after the Penguins power play but Detroit doesn’t get anything going. For the record, Marc-Andre Fleury has done his job so far, but is still looking somewhat nervous and hesitant out there.

At the halfway point of the first period, the physicality has definitely carried over from the end of Game Two. As usual, Holmstrom has been creating havoc in front of the net and has been drawing at least two Penguins each time, being knocked down once after the whistle.

More recently, Zetterberg gave Fleury one of those “I’m not going out of my way but if you’re in my way I’ll hit you” checks.

At first, the Penguins looked faster and sharper, but it was like they collectively drank a five-minute energy drink before. Both teams are now on the same level in terms of energy.

Gonchar – who is not playing against the Datsyuk and Zetterberg line tonight – draws a penalty for hooking Franzen with about eight minutes left in the period and the Penguins kill off another penalty. Their penalty kill looks better but the Wings are still getting their shots and chances. Detroit is also passing well, and they will absolutely tear you up when you allow them to pass.

You could sense that was going to happen. With about six minutes to play in the period, the Penguins took off and a barrage of shots and chances ensued. The crowd was back – one of those crowds that makes you feel like every shot will go in – and Crosby capitalized on a bad Wings turnover in their own zone.

Stuart fed Zetterberg a bad pass that bounced off of his skate, the puck taken over by Crosby who fed to Hossa, had his shot blocked and trickled back to Crosby. Crosby, at the left side of the net, snuck one through Osgoods five-hole, and Turn the Red Light On (2002), Penguins up 1-0.

Osgoods shutout streak ends at 155:04, stopping 45 stops in the process.

Rafalski takes a tripping penalty with 40 seconds left and the Penguins don’t let that 40 seconds go to waste. They produce a couple of good scoring chances, the final with a couple seconds left that had Hossa missing an open net to the right on a one-timer.

Technically, the Penguins have the momentum heading into the second period – in which they’ll start with a power play. But to me, an intermission can negate that. We’ll see in the opening moments of the second.

Detroit finished with nine shots to Pittsburgh’s six, but the shot differential was 9-1 around the six-minute mark when the Penguins took off.

Intermissions are just as enjoyable as the game with Cherry on CBC. Man, you get everything with this guy. Like him or hate him, he’s got some interesting things to point out about the game, he knows his stuff. And as a bonus, you get to find out that hockey players are half-asleep when they come in and water their hair with cold water so they wake up. That’s why their hair is always wet before the game. You learn something new everyday.

Second period

Crosby needs to be checked for rocket fuel right now. He starts the second off on a tear – beating Osgood glove side with a wrist shot – only to hit the crossbar seconds in to the period. Pittsburgh’s skill players are playing like skill players tonight.

Kronwall goes off for hooking – and the third Wings penalty – and shortly into the man-advantage, Crosby puts one home on the doorstep, sneaking behind Osgood’s left side and pouncing on a rebound. Put Your Hands Up (1998) Pittsburgh, 2-0 Penguins, 2-0 Crosby.

There’s about 13 minutes left in the 2nd and the Wings are being completely outplayed, outskated and outshot. I don’t think they’ve had the puck in Pittsburgh’s zone yet this period, and the Penguins have outshot them 13-2 in the second.

Hal Gill – funny name – goes off for cross-checking, retaliating to a Holmstrom cross-check right before. Holmstrom falls to the ice, while Gill tells him to “Get up!” (1997). The two dance and jaw with an official separating them, and Holmstrom answers “Bring it!” (2006) in his oh-so-Swedish accent. Disclaimer: That was paraphrased. Oh, and I just knocked two more slogans out.

Gill goes off for another cross-checking penalty at the 8:54 mark of the second and Franzen makes him pay.

He takes the puck over just outside of the Pittsburgh blue line – followed by Staal, who doesn’t put a body on him or catch up to him – and splits Staal and Dany Scuderi. Franzen walks in, fakes right, fakes left and sneaks one over Fleury’s left shoulder high and inside. Franzen ends up without a stick, pumps both fists, and the Wings get the goal they needed in the worst way. 2-1, Penguins, with a few to go in the second.

From watching this team my whole life, sometimes it takes an unexpected or fluke goal to spark them. Pittsburgh was doing work on their penalty kills, taking away Detroit’s shot lanes and frustrating them, but then Franzen’s goal changed the pace of the period.

The Wings won the last couple minutes. After two periods, shots are 18-17 Pittsburgh, hits 27-20 Detroit, faceoffs won 21-19 Detroit and penalties 4-3 Pittsburgh. That means you can expect a Red Wing in the box first in the third period.

Third period

Game Three. Third Period. Penguins up, 3-2. It’s the first time in these 2008 Stanley Cup Finals that it’s been a one-goal game and with the promise we had for this matchup before the series started, this should be a good third period.

Shortly after Crosby almost dangled his way to a hat trick the Penguins almost make it a two-shot game. Hossa wraps around the net behind Osgood from left to right, circles and backhands the puck off the right iron. Seconds later, Pascal Dupuis deflects a Crosby pass off of Osgoods glove, the puck creeped and creeped and creeped until he gloved it for the save within an inch of the goal line.

What a great stretch of hockey right there. Hit posts, chances on both ends, and it ends with a Pittsburgh goal by A – Alright, wait a minute. I need a commercial break worse than the Wings need a goal right now …

You just had to appreciate that. There was just an eight or nine minute stretch of play there that was so high paced, the hitting so hard, and the scoring chances so plenty that I couldn’t help but think of how people don’t love this.

You can’t even blog that it was so amazing and fast and just … beautiful. So I’ll try to do this in the quickest and most efficient way possible.

Pittsburgh’s Adam Hall scored to make it 2-1, the Wings had a slew of good chances – including Holmstrom hitting the post and Fleury making an out-of-this-world I can’t even explain it to you, you’ll see it later on SportsCenter save. Then Draper couldn’t escape from the corner and Penguins defenseman Brook Orpik kept slamming him into the board just overpowering him – the crowd gaining more steam with each hit like at a heavyweight fight.

I really don’t remember what happened after that but when I started that last paragraph, the Wings scored to make it 3-2 with left in the 3rd period. Samuelsson floated a soft wrister to the net that deflected of a Pittsburgh defender’s stick and sailed over Fleury’s right shoulder, beating him glove side. See what I’m working with here. Four to go, Wings down one …

Malkin gets whistled for hooking with just under 4:20 remaining on the clock, much to the dismay of the young Malkin and the Mellon Arena crowd. This amazes me, but more so because they called a penalty against such a critical time.

The Wings can’t knot the score on the power play, getting a couple decent looks, and this is how it finishes …

The young and upcoming Penguins then played a cat-and-mouse game with the elder, more experienced Wings with the time ticking away.

I thought they should have pulled Osgood when they were able to gain possession with 1:12. Lidstrom sent a stretch pass to Zetterberg, who crashed the goal and dumped it down low. It looked like they would have had a chance to control the puck but it was a missed opportunity.

Instead, the puck came out and the Wings didn’t get it back in until 40-something seconds later. They had a couple of fighter’s chance-looking heaves at the net trying to get a rebound, but they couldn’t put it together offensively with the game on the line.

The Penguins cleared the puck with four seconds left to ice the game, and the Pittsburgh faithful were shaking the arena. It’s right at that moment where when I said to myself “Hey, this could turn into a series …” Not only were the fans shaking the arena, but shaking a collective octopus out of the hands of our hands, ones we were ready to toss onto the ice after a sweep in four.


The obvious reaction to the outcome of the game was Sidney Crosby’s cup finals coming-out party, but the play of Marc-Andre Fleury in net was equally as important. Fleury made save after save – 32 of them to be exact – and played good enough to win.

The save he made on – don’t know who it was I think it might have been Franzen – was unbelievable. I raised my hands and let out a “YEAH!” only to sheepishly say to myself, “No way” when I realized he got his stick on it. Whoever was shooting had a wide open net, but Fleury made an amazing save.

Detroit out-shot Pittsburgh by 10 shots, 34-24, and had about the same number of hits and faceoffs won.

I really do think the play of Chris Osgood has correlated with the team’s defensive prowess. There were a good number of defensive breakdowns and they didn’t play as solid as in the first couple games. Osgood made some good saves and there were times where it looked as if a blowout was lurking, but he can’t post shutouts with the defense not performing.

A lot can be said about Crosby’s performance. I heard a caller today on the radio say Crosby was too young and immature to be the team captain so young. That’s ridiculous.
He’s the leader on this team and one of the top three players in the league. Age is a number. The kid’s got it. Asked if before the game Penguins owner Mario Lemieux had a talk with him about the task at hand down 2-0, he confidently said, “I think he knows I know.” Big players play in big games. That’s exactly what he did.

As far as Game Four, we have just seen first-hand how much a home-ice advantage can affect things. Pittsburgh showed us not only that they play with a different energy at home, proving that gaudy record true – but they can perform under adversity, with their backs against the wall. This very well could be another monumental learning step for that young group of guys.

And I’ll leave you on this: Back in 2003, the Devils jumped out to a 2-0 series lead, outscoring the Anaheim Ducks 6-0 in the process. The Ducks stole the next two at home and pushed the series to seven games, where they ultimately lost. Just some food for thought …

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