Monday, June 2, 2008

Stanley Cup Finals Game Five live blog


June 2, 2008. Not that you couldn’t cursor over the date and time on your computer, but that’s today’s date – one that could be etched in Detroit sports history as the sun sets on Joe Louis Arena, joining June 7 of 1997, June 16 of 1998, and more recently, June 13 of 2002, as the Red Wings try to hoist their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years.

It’s been a beautiful day in Downtown Detroit, sun-drenched and 80 degrees, almost as if to foreshadow the night ahead. You always remember where you were and what you were doing when these championship moments hit. The euphoric feeling you get when time runs out stays with you for a lifetime. It’s why, as fans, we live and die with our teams, to reach that pinnacle where you can say, “My team is the best in the world.”

I might sound jaded, but four years without a championship in this city has felt like an eternity – especially when victory has felt within an arms reach so many times. Since the Pistons championship run in 2004, our teams have reached the finals and conference finals numerous times, only to crash and burn, making us wonder “What if?” but all the while making us more thirsty for the next sweet champagne taste of victory.

Since the Wings jumped out to an early 2-0 series lead in dominating fashion, this has been the game circled on the schedule, the possibilities of clinching the Cup at home, celebrating downtown and hosting a parade looming large. After all, there’s no place like home.

But with the anticipation of what-could-be tonight clouding our heads, we innocently forget that a hockey game still needs to be won against a young team that doesn’t want their magical run to end.

Pittsburgh easily could have won Game Four, knotting the series at two and giving tonight’s game a more nerve-racking feeling than festive. They have shown their capability of playing with their backs against the wall – see Game Three – albeit in front of their home fans.

“We know we can play with them,” Pittsburgh defenseman Darryl Sydor said.

The Red Wings are a veteran team, they know they are in a very fortunate position to have a two-game lead with a chance to clinch at home, but they also know they need to stay even-keel and take care of business.

Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock stressed the importance of keeping their emotions under control, playing with a clear head, and understanding their job. We saw first-hand in the conference finals against Dallas what can happen when you let a team linger around.

The opening ten minutes will be key as always in the playoffs. The Wings can shut the door early with a quick goal or two, forcing Pittsburgh to muster some kind of offense in what has been a graveyard for them the first series.

The mischievous Tomas Holmstrom is back in the lineup tonight, sure to create havoc in front of Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. Emotions will be running high, with one team sixty minutes away from the sport’s holy grail, and one team facing a long summer ahead without a victory.

One thing we do know: The Penguins are going back to Pittsburgh after the game. But not for a Game Six. Wings win, 3-1, and Hockeytown is rocking tonight.

More notes

Babcock, on Holmstrom playing tonight: “I don’t think a broken leg would keep him out.”

For the fourth straight game, Chris Chelios is not dressing tonight.

Over the last couple of days, the Penguins have tried to boost Evgeni Malkin’s confidence by showing him a personal video highlight reel. Malkin has been invisible in the series and hasn’t been the same Hart Trophy-caliber player as he was during the regular season and playoffs.

Dave King, who coached Malkin in Russia, said when he’s under too much pressure, Malkin tries to do too much and sometimes forgets about his teammates.

A good omen or wishful thinking? The Pennsylvania Big 4 lottery numbers today were “7171.” 71 is Malkin’s jersey number.

I can’t lie, the nerves inside of me are jumping up and down, up and down. If CBC’s opening montage of Wings playoff highlights with Detroit Rock City in the background can’t get you up jumping, screaming “Let’s go!” at the top of your lungs, nothing can. Let’s drop the puck!

First period

Tempers are already flaring before the opening faceoff, with players on both sides pushing and shoving. Pittsburgh starts off strong, controlling the play in the Wings zone but failing to get a shot on net.

About two minutes in, Pittsburgh starts shooting themselves in the foot. First, Brooks Orpic goes off for hooking – two Nick Lidstrom shots that deflected wide were the big chances on the man-advantage – and right after, the Penguins are whistled for too many men on the ice.

About a minute into the power play, Pavel Datsyuk is called for tripping Jordan Staal in the corner, a marginal call that looked like both players got tangled up. The Wings kill the remaining minute of that power play off very efficiently.

Eight minutes into the game, the play is fast-paced, physical, and both teams are playing with a purpose – to get the all-important first goal. Not too many scoring chances yet, Detroit with only two shots to Pittsburgh’s zero.

And the all-important first goal goes to Pittsburgh. Marian Hossa gets a favorable bounce off Crosby’s skate and flicks one top-shelf over Chris Osgood’s blocker to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead 8:37 into the first. Before and after the goal, Pittsburgh is forechecking harder than they have in the previous three games.

Shortly after, Val Filpulla walks in uncontested and his backhand is stoned by Fleury, the Wings first true scoring chance of the game. Play is still very physical and chippy. Holmstrom and Hal Gill need to be separated before a faceoff in the Pittsburgh zone, followed by the oh-so-loveable Kirk Maltby causing a scrum in front of the crease.

In the scrum, a helmet-less Maltby gets his money’s worth, delivering a nice cross-check to Fleury’s chest. Fleury responds by scooping his helmet out of the net and doing his best Malkin impersonation by shooting it against the boards behind the net. Maltby and Max Talbot each leave the ice with matching roughing penalties.

The Joe is shell-shocked as Niklas Kronwall inadvertently puts the puck in his own net for a Penguins goal with about five minutes remaining. Pittsburgh’s improved forechecking has again paid dividends. Adam Hall wrestled the puck away in the corner to Osgoods left, took the puck to the net, and as Kronwall was trying to get the puck out of harm’s way, floated one over his left shoulder. 2-0, Penguins.

Pittsburgh nearly makes the game 3-0 on a Hossa and Crosby 2-on-1 that Osgood saves, and the crowd erupts as Darren Helm has a breakaway from the blue line in. Helm misses the shot wide off the glass as a Pittsburgh defender gets lumber on lumber, altering the shot and squashing a golden opportunity to cut the lead in half.

The first period ends with a couple more Penguins scoring chances, the most dangerous a Sidney Crosby takeaway right in front of Osgood, but Osgood makes the save.

First period play was very intense – indicative of the situation both teams are in – but Pittsburgh capitalized on their time in the Wings zone and took advantage of a huge break on Kronwall’s mistake. Pittsburgh’s forecheck has really improved, they are fighting for the puck after the initial dump-in and over the course of the period, you expected them to come up with the puck.

Shots are 8-7 Detroit, hits 11-4 Detroit. But Pittsburgh leads 2-0 in the only category that matters: goals.

Dan Cleary at the intermission: “We have a team that’s capable of coming back, no sweat.”

Second period

The Wings dodge two very early bullets in the second period. First Talbot sails one wide of the net and after a Detroit giveaway, Osgood makes a save on a Jordan Staal slap shot between the circles. Well, make that three. As I was typing, Crosby snuck loose and drove to the net, pushing the puck wide of the net to Osgoods right as he went to the left.

Pittsburgh is coming scary close to making this a three-goal game. Early in the second, the Wings look worse than in the first. The Penguins are letting valuable opportunities to stretch the lead and close the door on Detroit stand by the wayside.

And just as I dog their early second period play, Darren Helm floats a harmless-looking wrist shot to the net that hits off a diving Pittsburgh defender and sneaks through Fleury’s five-hole, who was caught off guard because he was cheating, expecting a pass. Wings cut the lead in half a few minutes in and the alarm has finally went off at the Joe, the goal awakening the crowd.

In a move more expected out of the inexperienced Penguins, Maltby is called for obstruction after retaliating from a hit earlier in the shift. The refs miss a Pittsburgh trip in the Wings zone, but the Wings escape the penalty kill unscathed. After the missed trip, Datsyuk gets roughed up – for the record, it wasn’t a penalty – but the Joe Louis crowd is starting to get on the officials. It was a very good kill, with Detroit pressing the puck more than Pittsburgh.

At the midpoint of the period, the Wings have turned up the offensive heat on the Penguins, out-shooting the visitors 7-2 early on. Crosby is called for a high-stick on Lidstrom – he tries to remind referee Dan O’Halloran that he’s Sidney Crosby but to no avail – and the captains exchange words as Crosby heads to the box.

The power play is unsuccessful with only one scoring chance – a Zetterberg shot that created a big rebound – as the physical play continues. Maltby puts Gary Roberts on his back with a big hit that ignites the crowd with a handful of minutes to go in the middle frame.

A Wing and a Penguin take sprawling trips into the boards back-to-back and the Wings oh-so-nearly tie the game as Cleary – from the boards to the left of Fleury – throws the puck at the net and Zetterberg almost bangs it home, but it’s wide.

Another unbelievable save by Fleury – reminiscent of his stick save in Game Three – as Filpulla and Samuelsson break out on a 2-on-1. Samuelsson flips it to Filpulla, who flips back – that’s kind of a tongue twister – and puts a shot on goal, only to be robbed by Fleury’s left toe. Amazing save.

Late in the period, Ryan Malone – who already broke his nose once in the series – takes a slap shot off the nose and immediately leaves the ice as blood drips. One of the officials puts his hand up to Malone’s face, as if to stop the bleeding, which was pretty gross.

Anyways, two periods are in the books and the Wings appear to have more life heading into the third, clearing a huge obstacle in getting that first goal.

Pittsburgh is still having their periodic spurts attacking the net and creating scoring chances – like pushing a turbo button. The Wings are still turning the puck over in their own zone, and one of these times it’s going to catch up with them.

Detroit is out-shooting Pittsburgh by six, 20-14, out-hitting them by nine, 23-12, but has turned the puck over five more times, which is a concern heading into the third.

Third period

The third period begins, the Wings needing two more goals to avoid a return trip to the Steel City.

“Ohhhhh!!!” I think I just lost my breath. Datsyuk – along the right boards – makes a dandy move to get to the net but lifts the puck just a smidgen too high and it clanks off the crossbar. The fans and Wings on the ice all believe it’s a goal, but replays confirm the no goal call. It was a beautiful move though, capping a Detroit attack to start the period. Datsyuk has this uncanny ability to make something out of nothing and it almost turned into a game-tying goal.

Hossa responds on the other end moments later with a clank off the post of his own, just missing a slap shot to the right of Osgood, off the iron.

The final period has opened with another trademark Wings-Penguins wicked stretch of hockey: scoring chance here, scoring chance there … big hit here, big hit there … crossbar here, post there. It’s heart-pounding seat-of-the-pants action, the kind of hockey we expected coming into the series.

Tyler Kennedy goes to the box with just over six minutes played in the third for hooking Brad Stuart’s midsection and right on cue after the CBC announcers agree that Pittsburgh won’t be able to keep Datsyuk and Zetterberg off the board the whole series, Datsyuk deflects a Zetterberg shot through Fleury’s five-hole to tie the game and ignite the Joe.

Moments later Pittsburgh is called for offsides – unbeknownst to Sidney Crosby, who is walking in on Osgood and delivers a late wrist shot that Osgood gloves – and this fuels the crowd more, chanting “Ozzie! Ozzie!” as Crosby gets hammered by Samuelsson after the whistle.

The Wings follow with a slew of shots headed Fleury’s way. The momentum has shifted, the crowd is into it, and the Wings are yet again playing on the tilted ice of Joe Louis Arena. The fans are starting to smell silver …

GOOOOOOOOOAL!!!!!! Rafalski snaps one past Fleury to give the Wings the lead from 38 feet out at the top of the right circle, drawing “We want the cup!” chants from the Joe Louis crowd. The Wings have completely taken over this game the first 10 minutes of the third, out-shooting Pittsburgh 12-0, claiming the lead and counting down the minutes and seconds until Lord Stanley makes an appearance at center ice.

And there he is. My favorite part of every potential Cup-winning game: When the guy with the shaggy hair pulls sport’s greatest trophy out of that navy-blue suitcase. The Cup is out, somewhere in Joe Louis Arena. The only question now is whether the Wings will hang on so it can come out and play.

The over-capacity crowd has not disappointed here the final 20 minutes, the decibel levels enough to scare the little experience out of the Penguins. The lower-level facing center ice hasn’t sat down since the tying goal, obstructing the television view slightly in an oh-so-gratifying way.

Three minutes to play, waiting for the icing-on-the-cake goal as the Wings continue to make themselves comfortable in the Pittsburgh zone, pelting Fleury with shots. The Wings have more than double the shots than the Penguins at this point.

You’d think this was a tie game in triple overtime the way my heart is beating right now. The anticipation is killing me and the clock can’t run fast enough …

What a buzz kill right there. With the net empty, Pittsburgh keeps plugging away in the Red Wings zone – not getting many legit scoring chances – but Max Talbot silences the roaring, Cup-hungry crowd with 35 seconds left. Talbot took two whacks at the puck, lying in the crease, and finally put it home to tie the game and send it to overtime.

Oh, the polar opposite of feelings we’ve went through the last minute. From absolute euphoria and confetti fluttering from the rafters in half a minute to a sick feeling of disappointment. The air at the Joe has been let out of the balloon, but overtime is lurking, as is every little kid’s dream playing hockey in the driveway late at night: Scoring a Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime.

Hats off to the Penguins, who kept at it – even with the seconds ticking on their fate – to score a clutch goal and prolong their season for the moment. Here’s to hoping that Joe Louis Crowd is just as rowdy as they were for a good part of the third, in overtime.

Totals after regulation: Detroit leads in shots, 34-18, and hits, 29-18. Win or lose, Cup or no Cup tonight, this has been one heck of a game.

For you casual hockey fans out there, playoff overtime is pretty simple: He who scores first, wins. Don’t plan on any bathroom or snack breaks with no television timeouts in the extra periods, but plan on some high-flying hockey.

The first five minutes of overtime is crucial. It’s there where the storyline of the game lies. Both teams will come out intense and energized, bodies-on-the-line for that goal. Generally after that, the play quiets down just a touch, but who knows with these two teams.

First overtime

Game Five. Overtime. Prepare for takeoff, people ….

Three minutes in, the play hasn’t been as high-paced as expected, with no real scoring chances but everyone knows that many a time scoring chances don’t produce game-winning goals, lucky bounces do. The Wings have thrown the puck on net a few times, trying to create something.

Detroit is putting the pressure on, chasing and taking control of the puck and getting clean looks at the net. One of these will beat Fleury.

A big chance for the Wings. Holmstrom, point-blank, spins and backhands one off Fleury’s left pad. “That looked like the Cup for Detroit,” the announcer says.

Nearing the halfway point of the first overtime, the Wings are in control, camping out in the Penguins zone and relentlessly firing shots at the net.

Pittsburgh has an aggressive two-minute stretch of hockey in the Wings zone between the nine and seven minute marks.

Both teams look on the same level right now, with the Penguins finally matching the intensity and speed of the Wings that wasn’t there at the beginning of the period.

Fleury once again stands on his head, Zetterberg rushing in with the shot creating a rebound, the puck sliding around in the crease before it’s finally covered.

Zetterberg inadvertently makes contact with Fleury, drawing a very borderline goalie interference call. Zetterberg was just going after the rebound, but made contact. Historically, the refs have swallowed their whistles in overtime and I think that would have been a good idea right there. Penguins on the power play under two minutes in overtime …

The horn sounds after Datsyuk misses wide on a shot between the circles with seconds left and we’re headed to a second overtime. I don’t mean to switch sports on you guys, but in the words of former Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks, “Let’s play two!”

I’ve come to realize I’m not cut out for his Game Five-overtime-about to win the Stanley Cup-blog thing. My heart hasn’t been beating at a proper rate since midway through the third period and I’m looking at this intermission the way I look at the finish line when running: Breathe … water … breathe …

Detroit won that first overtime period – whatever that means – creating more scoring chances, outshooting the Penguins 13-2.

One thing to look for: Pittsburgh lost defenseman Sergei Gonchar earlier in the game to injury – his return is doubtful – putting more stress on the Penguins defense. Minus one defenseman could wear out the rest of the squad. I don’t know how much longer Fleury can keep stopping the flurry – clever – of shots his way from the Red Wings.

Second overtime

And here we go again, Round Two …

Early on, the Penguins look a tad bit more fresh than the Wings, but still have no answer for their offensive pressure.

Cleary heads to the box for the Wings second overtime penalty – another goalie interference call. This call is a lot softer than the earlier Zetterberg call, which was borderline at best. Cleary was crashing the net and made contact with Fleury, but definitely not enough to make a call.

Not fazed by another fraudulent penalty, Detroit easily kills another penalty, drawing an ovation from the home crowd. Late in the kill, Zetterberg hits the left crossbar with a slap shot that nearly ended it.

Moments later, Pittsburgh responds with pressure of their own, Osgood allowing a rebound that’s ripped off the right post. The metal is getting some work tonight.

Fleury makes another game-saving stop, gloving a rebound off a Cleary shot right in front of the net. With nine minutes to play, the Wings look stronger, still creating offense seemingly at will.

The last few minutes have belonged to Pittsburgh, the Wings playing more conservative, just keeping the puck out of the zone.

With 2:16 to go, Peter Sykora is whistled for hooking, giving the Wings a power play virtually until the end of the period, giving the Wings their best chance to tally a title.

Nothing doing on that power play besides a lot of Lidstrom snipes from the point, and the clock runs out on the Wings man-advantage and the second overtime. Another great period of hockey between these two teams.

Could the third overtime be the charm? Thoughts of Slava Kozlov’s triple-overtime winner against Anaheim in 1997 and Igor Larionov’s brilliant professor-like move in the 2002 Cup finals fill my head right now. Oh yeah, and both those teams won the Cup.

Pittsburgh has shown a lot of poise, bending but not breaking to the Wings pressure. This team is gaining more experience with every shift, pushing their bodies to the limit under the fatigue of triple-overtime hockey. If they push one past, they will suddenly make this very interesting, heading back to their place.

So much for June 2nd as the day. Around 12:30 in the morning on the east coast, if a Cup’s to be won, it will be won on the 3rd.

The Penguins drink coconut water between intermissions in overtime. Nice.

Third overtime

The Wings open up the period with two quick chances in less than half a minute. First, Samuelsson fires a wrister high, then with a juicy rebound in front of the net, it’s knocked off.

Right now, Pittsburgh is a boxer – beaten up after ten hard rounds of fighting – being told to walk the plank on a sinking ship. They are getting thoroughly outplayed but the pessimist in me is saying this is going to be some messed up script where the lucky break could trump that.

Fleury is keeping pace with the Wings offense, stride-for-stride. With 13 minutes to play, he has 54 saves, 20 in overtime. A handful of those saves being absolutely huge now.

Or the third time could be a bad thing. Jiri Hudler gets a four-minute high-sticking call for drawing blood on – and oh man, the game’s over.

With the Wings a man short for four minutes, Peter Sykora ends it seconds in – right after a slap shot bounced off a referee’s back side nonetheless – beating Osgood’s glove top-shelf.


I’m at a loss for words right now, now desperately clinging to a Tigers victory to bandage up the bleeding for now – which probably isn’t going to happen either, they’ll walk the winning run home or something. And they just aired a Stanley Cup-themed commercial on CBC, showing like every winner ever raising the Cup, which didn’t pour salt into the wounds or anything …

There we go. Just what the doctor ordered. 10 minutes after the Red Wings lose, you turn to FSN to watch them lose on a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth. Great.

Alright, besides the fact that I feel like I just wasted five hours of my life and I want to find the nearest restroom, let’s finish this …

First off, that was an amazing hockey game. It was a five-hour adrenaline rush, a ride up, down and around this unbelievable roller coaster that they couldn’t even build at Cedar Point. From hit posts to big saves to big hits to fluke goals to a team scoring with half a minute left to keep their season alive, only to take punch after punch for two more rounds and win it in the end.

That’s what makes hockey overtime unlike anything else. A team can outplay another team, catch a break that team doesn’t and steal a game. There’s nothing you can do but tip your hat to an effort like that. They simply weathered the storm and persevered until the finish.

And don’t look now folks, but this team is officially scary. They’re going to be the team that wakes up in the morning happy that they’re sore and can barely walk. The Wings are the team, facing what I would have to imagine would be a very quiet plane ride to Pittsburgh, knowing what a golden – or silver – opportunity passed them by.

Oh, and they’re going home. Remember that crowd in games three and four? Multiply that by 10 and that’s what you’re going to get Wednesday night.

But on the same hand, you can’t overlook the fact that the Wings were the better team on the ice, they just didn’t catch and take advantage of the break. Obviously, if you’re Mike Babcock, you have to look at the positives. And the positive is you’re still up a game in the series with Game Seven at home.

The Penguins looked more loose and confident to the Wings tight and nervous look the first half of the game until they turned it on.

So as Don Cherry said before and after the game, “Beware of the Wounded Penguin.”

No comments: