Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Even Had The Red Wings Escaped The Oilers, A Cup Wouldn't Have Been In The Offing Anyway

For those of you who are in mourning this morning, here's something that'll make you feel better: The Red Wings weren't going to win the Stanley Cup anyhow.

Stanley Cup champions don't have their top scorers go into the tank. Stanley Cup champions don't have their top defenseman outplayed by their opponent's top defenseman game after game. Stanley Cup champions don't blow two-goal leads in the third period of games in which thier playoff lives hang in the balance. And Stanley Cup champions certainly don't possess the kind of golatending that the Red Wings lugged around with them during their series with the Edmonton Oilers.

Yes, it's about the person minding the net. And Manny Legace was a boat anchor around the Red Wings' ankles all series. Never was it more true than in this first round debacle against the Oilers, in which the Red Wings were put out of everyone's misery last night, 4-3, courtesy of one of the most obnoxious third periods of an elimination game that you'll ever see. Four goals against in the frame, and in every way imaginable: Rebounds into open nets; fancy-shmancy individual efforts; a controversial video review; and a "How was he left all alone?" tip-in.

But the Red Wings weren't going to win the Cup. That was painfully evident as this series moved along, even if they were able to muster the moxy to win it in seven games. Do you know what the New Jersey Devils would do to the Red Wings? Or the Calgary Flames? Or maybe even the Colorado Freaking Avalanche?

We've seen it all before: Outplayed in net; scoring stars silenced; unheralded players from the other team rising to the occasion; mediocre performances at home. It happened under Scotty Bowman, Dave Lewis, and now Mike Babcock. It's happened with Chris Osgood in net, Curtis Joseph, and now Manny Legace. It's happened against the Los Angeles Kings, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and now the Edmonton Oilers.

So how does that 58-16-8 regular season record look this morning?

Here's my theory -- and I think it's a pretty good one -- for why this keeps happening to the Red Wings in the playoffs: Every year, the team has little to play for from late-February to the end of the season. And don't tell me that the President's Trophy is incentive. I'm talking about a season in which perhaps the divisional title is on the line, or -- and here's the kicker -- a playoff berth itself is in question. So the Red Wings go into cruise control mode for the final, say, 20 games, and their first round opponent is some poor team that's been scratching and clawing for weeks just to get into the damn playoffs. Yes -- some pathetic lower seed, right?


These teams come into the playoffs already in playoff mode because they've been playing playoff-like games for several weeks. They probably even have their postseason beards growing, if you look hard enough. And they don't consider themselves lucky to just be there. They consider themselves victorious already, having survived the regular season while the #9 and #10 seeds are on the outside looking in, despite records that are far above .500.

So these lower seeds are ready to rock and roll, and they have the momentum of having qualified after a tough as nails battle to the bitter end. The Red Wings, meanwhile, have to take off their dinner jackets and slippers and suddenly change into a warrior's outfit. And by the time they realize it's the playoffs, they're down 1-0, or 2-1, or 3-2.

Wanna argue that I'm wrong?

But let's return to that man in net, shall we?

I truly don't believe that this is a knee-jerk reaction, but I think the Red Wings need to go goaltender shopping this summer. Manny Legace had his chance to prove to us that he's more than just the "best backup in the NHL", or that he's more than a guy who "blossomed into one of the best goalies in the league this regular season." And he failed. Miserably.

It would have been nice had Legace bailed the team out with a save here and there. Fernando Pisani's goal last night that tied the game 2-2 was a nice play, and he shouldn't have been that open on a 3-on-3, but that happens from time-to-time, you know? And you need your goalie to be, like, that last line of defense. Legace, only once, made a save that made me say, "Thank God for that stop." It was in the third period of Game 1, with the Red Wings trailing 2-1. He stoned someone -- can't remember who -- and enabled the team to tie the game several minutes later. Other than that...

Even the game-winning goal last night, I won't give Legace a free pass on. Again -- horrendous defensive breakdown, especially considering there was barely a minute to play in regulation of a 3-3 game. But the top shelf goalies can make that save. Dominik Hasek made them in 2002. Osgood made them in 1998 -- maybe to make up for the 90-footers he let in that year. And Mike Vernon made them in 1997.

Manny Legace didn't make them. And now the Red Wings hit the links this afternoon.

Gotta Get a Goalie.

Maybe the team's marketing darlings can do something with that one on billboards this summer.

So fret not, my little Wing Nut. Your team didn't have a prayer of hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup after all.

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