Sunday, May 31, 2009

"OOB" At the Stanley Cup Finals: 1-on-1 with Larry Murphy, more!

There have been two teams, and two teams only, who have repeated as Stanley Cup champions between 1991 and 2008.
Larry Murphy has played for them both.

Murphy, the Hall of Fame defenseman, was on the Pittsburgh Penguins teams of 1991-92, and, of course, the Red Wings’ back-to-back champs of 1997-98.

I pointed that out to him today and he smiled sheepishly.

“Timing is everything!” he said, laughing.

Murphy, today, is enjoying his broadcasting life after toiling for nearly 20 years in the NHL.

Murphy works Red Wings games for Fox Sports Detroit, and also puts in time for the NHL Network on a national basis.

I nabbed him after the morning skate and asked him his impressions of Game One and the prospects for the rest of the series.

On the Pens in Game One this year as opposed to Game One in 2008: “I thought they were in the series early this time. They played a strong road game, but got a couple bad bounces and the puck ended up in their net. I think they’re realizing that when you play the Red Wings there’s such a small margin for error.”

On the Red Wings’ style of play in Game One, when I suggested that it looked like they played a “road game” in their own building: “That’s how they always play. So much of the Red Wings’ offense is based on playing good defense and the transition game. So it looks like they’re emphasizing defense. You won’t see players hanging out around the center red line, hoping for a turnover. That’s not acceptable here.”

On the Red Wings’ best offensive players also being their best defensive players: “Oh, no doubt! That’s what you want. If you have players who put up big numbers but then don’t do anything for you in your own zone, then it’s a wash. The Red Wings’ star players are always on the right side of the puck.”

On Evgeni Malkin, who Murphy said had to have a good start in this series: “I thought he played well. Last year he never got untracked. Obviously, he would have liked to score on the breakaway, but I thought he was into it. That said, he wasn’t the dominant player that we’ve seen in other rounds. But I think he got off to a pretty good start.”

On Sidney Crosby: “Obviously, he didn’t produce offensively the way he would have wanted, but I thought he was in the thick of things. Don’t forget–he’s going up against Henrik Zetterberg and that’s a tough matchup for any player. It wouldn’t surprise me if (Crosby) came out and got two or three points in Game Two.”

On the Penguins’ mind-set after Game One: “They have to make a series out of this. The longer it goes on, the more the pressure increases. But at least now they have the formula for winning. They just need to go out and do it. But there’s such a small margin for error when you play the Red Wings.”

On the importance of Game Two: “I think Game Two is always important because it’s the first game of a series where one team is facing adversity.”

I wrapped things up by observing that Murphy seems to really be enjoying himself as a broadcaster.

“Oh, it’s a lot of fun.

“One thing I learned is that it’s a lot easier being on the media side of things than being a player. Being a player, it was tough.

“Now I just say, ‘Come on, boys–it’s the easiest game in the world!’”

For other quotes after the Red Wings’ morning skate, go to and start scrolling!

JLA End Boards, Role Players Help Wings Capture Game One

The typical NHL shift is around 45 seconds in length.

Sounds easy, right?

Take a spin around the ice for less than a minute, then skate back to the bench for a few, to rest up so you can skate those 45 seconds all over again.

Piece of cake!

Wrong again, hockey socks breath!

Here’s an example of what I saw last night midway thru the third period of Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena.

The Red Wings’ Kirk Maltby, when he jumped onto the ice, had his helmet on and his breath inside him.

After those 45-odd seconds had elapsed, it took all that Maltby had to make it back to the Detroit bench.

His helmet was off, spinning around the ice like a curling rock, over in the far corner.

He could barely breathe.

And the JLA crowd ate it up. They roared their approval.

Maltby, plus youngsters Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, had just spent their 45-second turn making a nuisance of themselves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ zone.

They created scoring opportunities. They played keep-away with the puck. They took some physical abuse in the process (read: Maltby’s missing bucket).

The Penguins’ defending zone was crawling with Maltby and his young linemates.

It was a grand effort, one that typified the Red Wings’ 3-1 win that nudged them ahead in this finals series, 1-0.

And it didn’t go unappreciated.

After the scintillating, gritty shift, as Maltby willed himself to the bench (he didn’t skate, per se, because skating involves moving the legs one in front of the other, and Maltby couldn’t, so he simply coasted), the partisan crowd got off their feet and gave the trio a rousing ovation.

After the game, I asked Maltby if that shift and the fans’ reaction to it reminded him of the heyday of the Grind Line, on which he played with Kris Draper and Darren McCarty so marvelously in the late-1990s, early-2000s. Won three championships, the Grind Liners did.

“You never like to live in the past, but yeah, this arena is awesome to play in,” Maltby said, appreciating the acknowledgement from the crowd for the hard work–not just on that shift but throughout all those Grind Line seasons.

“The fans are great (in Detroit),” Maltby went on. “They’re very hockey smart. They acknowledge all sorts of big plays, whether it’s a goal, or a hit, or a great save.”

On the way home from the game last night, I was trying to put into words how the Red Wings played, because it wasn’t a typical game for them. Mainly because they seemed to put defense first and offense second.

Then it occurred to me.

The Red Wings had won by playing the perfect road game in their own building.

Shifts like the one Maltby and The Kids had wasn’t the anomaly in Game One.

The Red Wings played it close to the vest, eschewing a lot of their famous puck possession for an emphasis on keeping Pittsburgh superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in check.

And, if we stumble upon a scoring chance, they seemed to say, then we’ll address that when the time comes.

Rare was the tic-tac-toe passing Detroit hockey fans have come to know and love. In its place for most of the night was grit and determination. And sticks in the way.

The Red Wings, maybe more so than in any other game this post-season, had their sticks in the passing lanes at seemingly all times.

The result was a severe limitation on the Pittsburgh transition game, which when it gets going can get a little Lakers Showtime on you, usually with Crosby and Malkin playing the parts of James Worthy and Magic Johnson. Or vice-versa.

There were no 2-on-1s for the Penguins. Not even, really, any 3-on-2s.

There was, for all intents and purposes, one odd-man rush–the clean cut breakaway that Malkin had early in the second period.

“Well, you try to get your stick on the puck and try to prevent those cross-ice passes, especially in our zone,” Maltby said when I brought up the Red Wings’ well-placed sticks.

“They have so much offense over there [in the Penguins' dressing room], with obviously Malkin and Crosby and they’re playing extremely well,” Maltby said. ”You can’t let them have any free passing lanes. Sometimes it hits your stick, sometimes it doesn’t, but you just have to make the play as difficult for them as possible.”

This was a grind-it-out win for the Red Wings. They were only 72 hours removed from clinching the Western Conference Finals.’s Pierre LeBrun bellyached that there wasn’t enough pretty here, and too much ugly to befit the skill level of the two teams’ rosters.

I can see LeBrun’s point, to a degree, but because there’s so much skill, you’re bound to see it emerge sooner or later. It just might not be as wide open or prevalent as what was displayed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Game One’s first period victimized both goalies.

At 13:38, Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart made a nifty play at the Pittsburgh blue line to stop a clearing attempt, then wristed the puck toward the Penguins net.

The live end boards at the Joe did the rest.

The puck was off the boards and back at Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury quicker than a Jose Canseco MMA fight.

The disc ricocheted off Fleury’s right pad and caromed behind him and over the goal line.

Stuart made no bones about it: sometimes it’s a designed play to shoot toward the net at JLA, instead of directly at it.

“Yeah, you do,” Stuart said with a sly grin when asked if the end boards are purposely used for ricochets. “We know how to play them here.”

Five minutes later, it was Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood’s turn to be red-faced.

Ozzie couldn’t gather in Malkin’s slap shot, and Ruslan Fedotenko made him pay.

As Osgood frantically tried to cover the puck with his trapper, Fedotenko poked it away, moved to his backhand, and neatly deposited the tying goal at 18:37.

The end boards picked up their second assist of the night late in the second period, a period that Maltby said was the Red Wings’ “nervous one, for whatever reason.”

But they survived it, killing off two power plays and dodging a bullet, in the form of Malkin’s breakaway.

Not only did they survive it, the Red Wings took the lead.

Brian Rafalski slammed a shot toward Fleury that went wide. Johan Franzen, the Playoff Scoring Mule, pounced on the lively ricochet and managed to tap the puck over Fleury and into the Pittsburgh net at 19:02.

The Penguins had outplayed the Red Wings in the middle frame, at times pretty soundly, yet still trailed 2-1.

2:46 into the third period, young Justin Abdelkader made a play normally befitting a veteran.

He took a shot near the face-off circle to the left of Fleury, and the rebound flew high into the air.
No one seemed to know where the puck was for a precious second or two.

That’s all Abdelkader needed. He never lost sight of it, and calmly knocked the disc down with his right glove, settling it, and slapping a shot over Fleury’s right shoulder.

“That goal kind of settled us down and enabled us to close the game out,” Maltby told me afterward.

So it’s one-nil, Detroit, and while I still believe this will be a long series, the Red Wings keep getting goals from the Abdelkaders and Darren Helms of the world. That makes them awfully difficult to beat.

And as for playing on back-to-back nights?

“Just get some rest, drink plenty of fluids, and get ready to go,” Stuart said when I asked him how the team would approach playing on Sunday. “It’s not like we haven’t done it before.”

Maybe in the regular season, Stewie, but back-to-back games haven’t been played in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1955.

Oh, the Red Wings won the Cup that year.

You know how superstitious hockey people can be.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"OOB" At The Stanley Cup Finals: LIVE Twittering, Blog Posts

Just a reminder that I will be Twittering LIVE tonight throughout Game One, from the press box at the Joe.

Also, come here for live blog posts in between periods.

Tomorrow, I'll be at Red Wings practice in the morning and will Twitter and file blog posts as well.

Follow me on Twitter:

Quiet Helm Lets Skating, Checking Do The Talking

As long as there’s been hockey, there’s been The Pest.

He’s the gnat circling your face. The army of ants invading your picnic.

The hockey pest is a whirling dervish of skating, checking, and supreme harassment.

They’ve had nicknames over the years—like hockey gangsters.

Bugsy. The Rat. The Little Ball of Hate. Terrible Ted.

What pack of NHL banditos would be complete without guys with monikers like that?

Yes, those are actual tags hung onto some of the game’s greatest disturbers.

Bryan Watson so infuriated the great Bobby Hull during a Red Wings-Blackhawks playoff series that Bobby himself called Watson “buggy”, which got turned into “Bugsy.”

Kenny Linseman seemed to be so close to his opponents as to be inside their jerseys. No doubt it was an exasperated victim of Linseman’s persistence who first called him The Rat.

Pat Verbeek possessed the typical physical trait of the NHL pest: he was short. Hockey players have often subscribed to the Napoleonic Complex. And Verbeek added just enough mean-spiritedness to his play to be dubbed The Little Ball of Hate.

Terrible Ted, of course, was Ted Lindsay. Enough said.

So how could a certified hockey pest be such a nice, quiet kid? How could he be so unassuming and shy that you think you’re talking to a high school freshman instead of a key player on the defending Stanley Cup champions?

Darren Helm and I spent some quiet moments together Friday during Media Day prior to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Of course, that’s easy to do, because Helm makes a clam with lockjaw seem talkative by comparison.

This is how deep the Red Wings are: on just about any other team in the league, the player who scored the game-winning goal, in overtime, to send his side to the Cup Finals would be mobbed by reporters on Media Day—the first opportunity to get 1-on-1 time with the hero.

Yet there Helm and I were, amidst all the frenzy, while the cameras and microphones and notepads surrounded, well, everyone else, it seemed.

“I’m more of a depth guy,” Helm said, as I strained to hear him. “I just try to chip in.”

And this is the guy who coach Mike Babcock called “The Energizer Bunny”?

Someone replace his batteries!


Helm does his talking on the ice, and that’s where he gets all pest-like.

Helm, making a nuisance of himself during last year's Finals

Blazing speed. Obnoxiously persistent checking, to the point where sometimes you swear the kid is working with two sticks. Or that the Red Wings are working with two Helms: one for each side of the rink. At the same time.

I asked him how he learned to skate so doggone fast.

He gave me one of his “Aw, shucks”, embarrassed grins before practically whispering, “Just hard work, I guess.”

I didn’t buy it. And I won’t, until I see a rabbit on a treadmill at the gym.

Or until I see a gym, period.

Helm is the 22-year-old Manitobian who propelled the Red Wings to where they are now—about to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals: The Sequel—thanks to his goal at 3:58 of overtime on Wednesday night in Game Five of the conference finals against Chicago.

Not that you would know it.

The reporters continued to ignore Helm as he told me about how his parents instilled a work ethic into him and that “anyone in this room” could have gotten that series-winning goal—present company excluded, of course—and that he plays “hard between whistles.”

The more I talked to him, the more I either wanted: a) him to be six years younger, or b) my daughter to be six years older.

Memo to all you dads out there: you’d be thrilled if your little girl came home with a kid like Darren Helm in tow.

The Red Wings, for all their success, have remained an even keeled, level-headed bunch. There’s not a prima donna in that dressing room. And there won’t be in the future, if the future is in the hands of players like Helm and Jonathan Ericsson and even Henrik Zetterberg, who’s not all that old yet himself.

I liked Helm from the get-go last year, when he functioned as a sort of X-factor for the Red Wings in the playoffs.

The speed, of course, stood out first. How could it not, when Helm makes everyone else on the ice look like inanimate objects?

Then there’s the dogged checking—fore and back—which is so thorough that you can practically hear the other team’s guys sigh in annoyance from the press box.

And don’t forget Helm’s uncanny ability to “chip in,” as he puts it, with the occasional big goal.

Why, he’s Kris Draper—only 16 years younger and with more of a scoring touch, at least so far.

Since we had so much time to chit-chat, I asked Helm to describe the series-winning goal against the Blackhawks.

“The play was pretty fast,” he said of the course of events, in which a Brett Lebda shot from the point ping-ponged off the end boards and ended up in the goal crease, behind goalie Cristobal Huet.

“The puck was just lying there. I poked it in.

“But it all happened pretty fast.”

Only Darren Helm could describe scoring a clutch goal as if he was a mugging victim, giving his statement to police.

But just because Helm is young and looks like he’s about to cut your grass for ten bucks, doesn’t mean that the kid isn’t mature.

To wit, about the big goal on Wednesday night: “That goal doesn’t mean anything now. We’re trying to win the Stanley Cup.”

Ahh, so THAT’S why everyone was leaving him alone.

Why bother talking to a kid who just scored a goal that doesn’t matter anymore?

Especially when you can barely hear what he’s saying.

No worries; Helm’s play is like fingernails on a chalkboard to his beleaguered opponents.

He’ll get his unflattering nickname, soon enough. Which means he’s doing his job quite well.

Friday, May 29, 2009

"OOB" at the Cup Finals: Red Wings Presser

Following are some highlights of the Detroit Red Wings presser, held downtown at the RenCen at 1:45.

Mike Babcock

On injuries: Everyone is ready to go. Pavel Datsyuk is a game-time decision.”

On the schedule: “Well, they don’t ask me, but it seems to me that the NHL could have used more time to hype the series.”

On NBC/Versus commercials for the league: “Sometimes I wonder if they know that we won last year!”

On being at the Finals: “I love seeing how excited the players are.”

On the Finals themselves: “One night you win and you feel like a million bucks; the next night you lose and you feel like you got your heart ripped out.”

On the schedule in the playoffs: “I could have gone bear hunting in the days between some of the games!”

On whether the Red Wings have an advantage in terms of experience: “I think that’s out the window because the Penguins were here last year.”

Nick Lidstrom, Marian Hossa


On the Pens: “They’ll be hungrier than last year. And better prepared. Last year (when he was with Pittsburgh) we were at The Finals but we kind of were wondering what was going on. Before we knew it, we were down 2-0.”

On signing with Detroit: “It was a very tough decision but I made it and obviously it was between two teams and they’re the two best teams in hockey.”

On the prospects of playing Pittsburgh in the Finals as the playoffs went on: “I started to realize that we could play the Pens in the Finals as I watched their games. Will be very interesting for me (smiles).”


On being injured: “It was very hard watching a playoff game.”

On what happened: “It happened during Game Three in Chicago.” (he wouldn’t say what the injury was)

On young guys like Darren Helm and Jonathan Ericsson: “The experience the guys got from last year’s playoffs was key to our success in this year’s playoffs.”

On the playoffs: “Even after 17 years, I still get butterflies playing in the playoffs. I still get nervous.”

On the Finals schedule: “You’re just excited to be here. I don’t think fatigue will be a factor.”

On Ericsson: “‘Johnnie’ doesn’t look nervous in the playoffs. He’s just getting better and better.”

Henrik Zetterberg, Chris Osgood


On Hossa: “His skating ability and size are big forces. He’s been unbelievable.”

On Sidney Crosby: “He’s a great player. You have to be on your toes when he’s out there or else he’ll hurt you.”


On what he’s learned about this year’s Red Wings: “That we can turn it on when we want to.”

On his season: “I wasn’t mentally ready for the season to start. I guarantee that I won’t have a regular season like that again.”

On experience: “We turned it on against Columbus. We didn’t panic against Anaheim. We ran out of gas at the end of Game Five against Chicago but we found a way to win.”

On Finals schedule: “It’s fun once the games start, and the crowd is loud. At this time of the year, you really don’t want to practice. You want to play games.”

On Helm and Ericsson: “I knew they were good. I didn’t know they were that good. They help inspire us older guys to keep up with them.”

On the Pens, 2009 version: “They aren’t trying to score pretty goals as much. Last year they played a lot on the perimeter. This year they’re going to the net and cycling more. And they have guys like [Bill] Guerin, who’ve won the Cup before.”

"OOB" at The Finals: Rundown of My Weekend

For those interested, here's a quick rundown of my schedule of events this weekend for the Stanley Cup Finals.

Friday, May 29

1:45: Press conference with Red Wings players made available to the media. Will Twitter as I go, and will post the best comments here.

Saturday, May 30

Will attend Game One. Will Twitter during the game and post live blog updates here between periods.

Will post any highlights from the postgame pressers here and on Twitter.

Sunday, May 31

10:30am: Will attend Red Wings practice and will get 1-on-1 interviews afterward. Will post highlights here.

I am NOT attending Game Two, but I will attend Game Five in Detroit, should it be necessary (likely it will be).

Join me all weekend!!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Osgood, Once Again, Is Playoff Gold; Red Wings In Cup Finals Again

First, it was supposed to be the young whippersnapper, Steve Mason, of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Mason, they said, even though he was just a rookie, was still enough of a hotshot that he could outplay the veteran across the ice from him. In the playoffs, no less.

Next, it was supposed to be another inexperienced young man, Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks. Hiller, despite zero minutes between the pipes in post-season NHL play, was still supposed to be a mighty enough Duck to elevate his team to the promised land.

Then, it was a wily veteran--Nikolai Khabibulin--who, for sure, had the chops to outplay the goalie 190 feet away. Khabibulin, after all, won a Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Why not, right?

Yet Chris Osgood still stands. And much taller than his very generous 5-foot-10 media guide listing.

Osgood has outplayed them all--Mason, Hiller, Khabibulin, and even Nikolai's replacement, Cristobal Huet--and has his Red Wings teammates right where they were last year at this time: in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Last night, in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals, Huet was fantabulous.

Osgood, in the end, was just a smidge better.

Hasn't he always been, in the last two playoffs?

The Red Wings have won seven straight playoff series with Osgood tending net for them.

He may as well carve notches in his goalie's stick, signifying the opposing goalies he's slain.

In almost every instance, those goalies were supposed to be better than Chris Osgood.

The Red Wings, you see, are this good despite their goalie.

In the spirit of hockey: what a crock, eh?

First, a few words about Game Five-- a 2-1 Red Wings victory in overtime.

This was hockey at its finest.

Terrific individual play.

Hard, clean hits.

Up-and-down action.

Very few penalties and power plays.

And magnificent, with a capital "M", goaltending.

On both ends of the ice.

What can you say about Huet? The man bounced back like a super ball from a horrid performance in Game Four in Chicago.

He made 44 saves, and none was more jaw-dropping than the robbery he committed against the Red Wings' playoff-scoring mule, Johan Franzen.

With about 20 seconds remaining in regulation, Franzen and Marian Hossa broke down the ice. The puck squirted to Franzen, who had his back to the net. Still, he managed a backhand shot, with Huet on his tummy, sprawled like he was going to make face-first snow angels.

Franzen lifted the puck a few inches off the ice. The net was gaping. A stunning end-of-game series victory seemed certain.


Huet raised his right leg, like one of those horror movie monsters who isn't quite dead yet, and it was just high enough to block Franzen's money shot.

The Joe Louis Arena crowd buckled, socked in the gut.


But Osgood, as I said, was just a little bit better.

He made fewer saves than the other guy, but that's what always happens.

When you talk about the netminding world of Chris Osgood, you talk in terms of quality, not quantity.

And the quality of saves in Game Five was very high indeed.

With the way Huet starred for the Blackhawks, if Osgood doesn't turn in the performance that he did, we're talking about Game Six. And the Pittsburgh Penguins would continue to fiddle.

There were close to 80 shots on goal last night, and only three goals scored--none of which were the fault of the goalies.

The netminders were TV sets, and the scores were technical difficulties.

The NHL should press last night's game onto DVDs and mail them to every U.S. citizen.

Free sample!

"Look at this game, and if you still don't think that hockey is for you, then fair enough. We tried."

For if the American people don't like what's on that disc, then you'll never win them over.

So now it's on to the Cup Finals for the Red Wings. Again.

Against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Again.

Oh, and the Penguins' goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, is, they say, playing some terrific hockey.

They say he's learned and matured from last year's experience in the Finals, much like his team allegedly has.

Fleury, they're already saying, has the goods to rob the Wings of a second consecutive Stanley Cup.

In other words, he, for sure, can outplay Chris Osgood, mano-a-mano.

Yeah, yeah.

Bring it on, kid.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Out of Bounds" At The Stanley Cup Finals!

For the second year in a row, I’ll be covering the Stanley Cup Finals games played in Detroit, should the Red Wings qualify.

Look for articles and insights from that perspective!

If You Missed Last Night's Broadcast Of "The Knee Jerks", No Worries (Just don't let it happen again!)

Last night was Episode Four of the new, improved, Blog Talk Radio version of "The Knee Jerks."

And oh, what an episode it was!

Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience and I were joined by Keith Shelton, the No. 1-ranked Red Wings writer on Bleacher Report.

We talked Red Wings-Blackhawks, and after we let Keith go, Al and I got into some Tigers discussion.

Plus, as usual, we played Word Association and named our respective Jerks of the Week.

When Al put Keith on the spot, asking him who would win a Red Wings-Penguins Stanley Cup Final, Shelton said:

"I pick the Red Wings in five or six games. Their defense is what sets them apart from every team in the NHL."

You can visit here to listen to archived shows, or click below to listen to last night's broadcast!

Lions, Stafford Best Served If The Kid Sits Out 2009

Charlie Batch is an ex-Lions quarterback, but not paying any alimony, despite his divorce.

In fact, Batch wears two Super Bowl rings, as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Life as a Lions "ex" often ends up being pretty good, after all.

Batch was gutting it out, leaving it all on the field in Detroit, gamely trying to lead a talent-challenged team to prosperity, when Matt Millen bounded into town as the Lions' new president.

Then, in the time it took Millen to utter a gauche comment, Charlie Batch knew his days were numbered as a Lion.

"We're married to Charlie Batch," Millen said, speaking of the Lions' quarterbacking situation shortly after being introduced as team president in January 2001.

It wasn't meant as a compliment.

Millen may as well have substituted the word married with "saddled."

Batch, despite that clumsy description of the state of his career from Millen, nonetheless went out in 2001 and worked his tail off, as he always had as a Lion.

"We're married to Charlie Batch."

That sentence clung to Batch, and to the Lions, like a school of zebra mussels.

And neither Batch nor the Lions could wash off the stench.

So when Millen drafted QB Joey Harrington out of Oregon in 2002, it didn't take a clairvoyant to figure out how the "marriage" between Batch and the Lions was going to turn out.

Irreconciable differences.

Harrington arrived in Lions Land, a smile on his face and with the reputation as an eternal optimist. He was a piano-playing quarterback in a guitar-playing town. A wine drinker among the shot-and-beer clientele.

Before long, Joey was starting, for a poor team with little pass protection and too few decent receivers.

Another match made in hell.

Harrington was routed out of town following the 2005 season after four turbulent seasons of marriage to the Lions.

In fact, Joey pretty much initiated divorce proceedings, when he failed to show up to Mike Martz's quarterback school in March, '06.

Millen consented, and Harrington took his piano and left for Miami.

Jon Kitna was then wed after a whirlwind courtship.

Matt Millen had become the Mickey Rooney and Liz Taylor of quarterback marriages.

Let's hope the Lions have learned a little from the Harrington failure.

There's a low rumble starting that I'm afraid is only going to get louder and more and more difficult to ignore as time goes by this summer.

Matthew Stafford, the Lions' bonus baby quarterback from Georgia, has his supporters, which is great.

But those supporters are taking their zeal too far.

They want Stafford to be the starting quarterback when the Lions tee it up for real on September 13.

What is it they say about those who forget the past?

If the Lions have even the tiniest peas for brains, they should at least be smart enough to know that Stafford shouldn't so much as warm up during any game this season.

He and his money should remain on the sidelines, from Week One thru Seventeen.

His jersey should be put on and removed week after week, never seeing a washing machine in between.

The Lions baseball cap should adorn his head at all times.

The clipboard should be firmly in hand.

Starting Stafford would be one of the biggest mistakes the Lions have ever made, and they've made some doozies.

Harrington wasn't ready to start in 2002, and it may have ruined him forever. Certainly it set the Lions franchise back several years, when they were already decades in arrears.

Stafford needs to sit. And watch. And learn.

But most important, he needs to wait.

Not on himself. On his team -- to get better.

Stafford would be working with, arguably, an even worse offensive line than the one that feebly blocked for Harrington in 2002.

You start him now, you turn him into David Carr -- flat on his back 60, 70 times from sacking, and his confidence eroded.

Is that how you develop and nurture a franchise quarterback?

Of course, Harrington never had anyone nearly as good as Calvin Johnson catching his passes -- when they were ever near enough to be caught.

That's OK, let Stafford throw to Calvin all he wants -- in practice. Just not during a real game.

The Stafford-to-Johnson pipeline might be the most exciting thing to happen to Detroit football since the jitterbug Barry Sanders dazzled us.

But it's not ready to be unleashed this season. Not even close.

Stafford, by all accounts, has impressive football IQ and a seemingly good grasp of what being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft means.

That's great. But you still don't start him.

For one, the Lions have Daunte Culpepper, and that's not chopped liver.

Culpepper has dropped weight, is working hard, and is embracing his role as leader. He's still only 32 years old.

Remember David Krieg? Or Steve DeBerg? Guys who called signals competently at advanced ages?

Oh, you wanna talk active players?

Then what about Kurt Warner?

Culpepper may be several years away from retirement number two. There might be a lot of good football left in his tank.

So it's not like the Lions have Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum listed first on the depth chart at quarterback.

But they will if they move Culpepper down a notch and replace him with the rich rookie.

This is no time for haste.

You're coming off an 0-16 season. And you'd put a rookie in charge of those bums?

Stafford, if all goes to plan, could be the best thing to hit the Lions in over 50 years.

If you treat him right.

Everyone -- Culpepper, the Lions, Stafford, coach Jim Schwartz -- is best served if the kid spends 2009 on the bench waiting for even more reinforcements to arrive courtesy of the 2010 draft.

It gives Daunte a year to prove to the NFL that he's still serviceable -- in Detroit or elsewhere.

It gives the Lions a veteran QB to lead them through a new coach's first year, coming on the heels of 0-16.

It gives Stafford a year to learn and saves him from a sack fest.

It gives Schwartz a smoother year of transition than if Stafford were the starter.

By my count, that's a win/win/win/win situation -- twice the usual amount.

And a much better chance of a long, healthy marriage between quarterback and team.

Resist the urge, Schwartzie!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The Knee Jerks" Are LIVE Tonight!! (This time I mean it!)

Hey, all you sports night owls!

Join Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience, and yours truly for another LIVE episode of "The Knee Jerks" on Blog Talk Radio.

No, really.

Last night we had major technical issues with BTR, and after ten minutes of on-the-air, off-the-air, we called it a night and deleted the debacle from the server.

It happens at 11:00 p.m. ET, and Al and I will be joined, in "Take two!" fashion, by Bleacher Report's premier Red Wings writer, Keith Shelton, to talk Wings-Blackhawks.

Hope to have you tune in tonight!

Remember, if you miss the live broadcast -- an expanded, 90-minute version, by the way -- then you can always download the show at your convenience!

We'll also hit on the Tigers, Lions, and do our usual, wildly popular regulars: Word Association and Jerk of the Week.

Don't miss it!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Young Blackhawks Schooled; It Should Help Them In The Future

One day, sometime in the not-too-distant future, when Jonathan Toews and company are skating the Stanley Cup around some rink, somewhere, the Chicago Blackhawks will point to Sunday's game against the Detroit Red Wings--Game Four of the 2009 Western Conference Finals.

That, they'll say, is when we learned.

That's when the cream rose to the top. The oil separated from the vinegar.

The Red Wings are a high performance spaceship, and they jettisoned the young Blackhawks like a lunar module on Sunday. All the better to be lighter and have more giddy-up when they face, likely, the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Stanley Cup Finals rematch.

If the Blackhawks have any hockey IQ at all, they'll point to Sunday and realize that Game Four was when champions behaved like champions and young challengers wilted under the bright lights of series-making like three-day old lettuce.

It was tough to watch, really--the Blackhawks unraveling.

Their goalie played at a level reserved for pond hockey, which seemed to deflate the 'Hawks.

There are two things that happen in hockey that make you cringe: giving up a goal in the final minute of a period, and giving up a goal in the opening minutes of a period.

The Blackhawks did both yesterday.

Then they lost their composure, and whacked and hacked the Red Wings, took penalties after the whistle, and even put themselves down two men in one fell swoop.

Sunday's game could be the Blackhawks' defining moment, if they play it right.

The videotape of the game should be preserved in a capsule, sealed, and placed in a climate-controlled vault.

It should be brought out in playoffs of the future, to remind the maturing 'Hawks how champions go about their business and how trash-talking punks go about theirs.

Rookie Kris Versteeg yapped more than a junkyard dog Sunday, and spent most of his ice time skating from the penalty box to the bench.

If you think you're going to throw these Red Wings off their game with your mouth and false bravado, then the hockey IQ in Chicago isn't at the level needed to be Cup champs.

Been there, done that. That's what the Red Wings bring to any playoff match.

Versteeg wasn't even born when Wings defenseman Chris Chelios broke into the league. He was still putting frogs in his pocket and pulling girls' hair when the Red Wings--several of which are still playing for the team--won their first of four Stanley Cups since 1997.

You think the Red Wings are going to be thrown off their game by young Kris Versteeg?

And it wasn't just Versteeg.

For whatever reason, coach Joel Quenneville's team lost it on Sunday. The goal that may have been the final straw was Marian Hossa's second, which came just 12 seconds after Toews brought the Blackhawks to within 3-1.

Oh, and that's the third hockey thing that makes you cringe: giving up a goal so soon after you score one of your own.

The Red Wings would have none of the Blackhawks' baiting--verbal or physical.

They fought back, as they usually do, with their skill. And their depth.

No Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, or Kris Draper?

Oh, didn't they play?

Huh. I couldn't tell.

Playing the Red Wings is like standing at one of those arcade games--the kind with the mallet and the rodent heads popping up.

Smack! Kill the Franzen head.

Pop! Here comes the Hossa head.

Smack! Kill the Hossa head.

Pop! Up comes the Zetterberg head.

Again, the Blackhawks are a fine young team. The Red Wings will have their hands completely full with these guys in years to come. Just as long as the proper personnel moves are made--the ones to complement the dazzling pieces already in place.

GM Dale Tallon is under the gun now. It'll be his moves that will determine this team's fate.

Like with the goaltending, for example.

Going into Game Five, there are issues in the Chicago net, which is the last place you want to discover issues while you're in a playoff series.

It's like finding hair in your food.

Cristobal Huet replaced the ailing Nikolai Khabibulin for Game Four--much the same way, I would imagine, that William Hung would replace the Dave Matthews Band.

Huet was awful. Terrible. A sieve. Anti-morale.

He waved at Franzen's goal late in the first period, the one that gave the Red Wings a 2-0 lead.

He looked feeble on Hossa's second goal, the backbreaker that came 12 seconds after Toews' goal.

So there's Huet and the ailing Khabibulin, and fuzzy-faced Corey Crawford, who wears No. 50 and since when did any goalie of any repute do that?

Those are your choices if you're Quenneville, facing an elimination game in Detroit on Wednesday.

Another cringe-inducer.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lions’ Schwartz Smart To Add Former Big Cheeses Cunningham, Linehan To Staff

When Gunther Cunningham first started coaching football players, Jim Schwartz was waddling around in diapers.

Now they both have a mess to clean up.

They have to be among the human diapers that will keep Ford Field’s turf from turning brown.

Scott Linehan doesn’t play Methuselah to Schwartz’s Baby New Year, like Cunningham does, but he’s been where Schwartz is currently.

Cunningham’s been there, too.

Schwartz, the man handed the keys to Bill Ford’s football Edsel in January, wasn’t shy to bring to his staff two men who’ve also been head coaches in the NFL.

The three of them—head coach Schwartz, defensive coordinator Cunningham, and offensive coordinator Linehan—form a triangle that best not be of the lovers’ variety.

It’s a sign of confidence and football acumen that Schwartz, after eight years as the Tennessee Titans’ defensive coordinator, has appointed two former head coaches to helm arguably the two most important positions on any football coaching staff.

Cunningham has probably forgotten more football than most Lions coaches in the past have ever known.

Not that that’s terribly difficult to accomplish.

But Cunningham’s like Schwartz in one distinct fashion: he’s a defensive guy—the coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2008 (and, prior to that, also from 1995-98). He’s coordinated defenses in Los Angeles (with the Raiders), and in college.

He’s coached linebackers. He’s coached the line.

And he was the big cheese, too.

Cunningham was tending to the Chiefs’ defense, as usual, when the call came.

You’re the head coach now.

Good luck to you.

It was 1999.

And he went 16-16 in two seasons as K.C.'s head man before returning to the relative safety of being an assistant coach.

There’s a certain coziness to coordinator positions. You can be in charge without really being in charge.

Of course, it can work the other way, too.

Charlie Knox used to coach the offense for the Detroit Lions, in the early-1970s, under Joe Schmidt.

In Charlie’s day, there were no “coordinators”.

Not in Cunningham’s early days, either.

Knox, years after becoming a head coach himself, once offered his viewpoint of employing offensive and defensive coordinators.

“I’ve seen it where you have a defensive coordinator, who’s the head coach in charge of the defense, and an offensive coordinator, who’s the head coach in charge of the offense, and you’re left with a head coach who’s in charge of nothing!”

I’m sure he has.

Linehan doesn’t look old enough to have been the head coach of his kid’s pee-wee team, but he’s got some coaching chops.

He’s known for his offenses. More specifically, Scott Linehan is now known, around Detroit, for his past dalliances with current Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

Linehan coordinated the Minnesota Vikings offense from 2002-04, the last year of which was Culpepper’s career year in the NFL.

That success in tandem wasn’t lost on Schwartz, at all, when he tabbed Linehan, fresh off getting the ziggy by the St. Louis Rams as their head coach, to run his offense in Detroit.

Naturally, the talk is that Linehan and Culpepper are about to make sweet music again together, with the Lions.

And rookie QB Matthew Stafford will lead the Lions to glory, simply because he attended the same high school in Texas as Bobby Layne.

If only it was that easy. If only current success was merely a nod to the past away.

Cunningham (left) and Linehan have both been big cheeses elsewhere

The Lions have indeed had, as Charlie Knox once opined, head coaches who were in charge of nothing.

Showmen. Snake oil salesmen. Clueless boobs. Stubborn old men.

The Lions have had them all.

If you think an old codger like Bobby Ross, or an egomaniac like Steve Mariucci, would have two former NFL head coaches on their staff, at the ready for upper management should things go sideways, then you’re probably still leaving milk and cookies out on the coffee table on Christmas Eve.

Schwartz is new wave. He’s secure, as a new guy stepping into the goo of 0-16.

He knows he has some honeymoon time, and so why not spend it with two dudes who know what it’s like to be the boss?

Not too many head coaches in the NFL right now can look to their right and to their left and see two more common denominators, professionally.

Schwartz has his work cut out for him, much in the same way as Michelangelo did when they gave him some paint and a brush and stuck him in the ceiling of that chapel in the 16th century.

Thank goodness, Schwartz isn’t going with the blind-leading-the-blind routine.

Matt Millen tried that, as a first-year GM when he hired a first-year head coach.

But here comes Schwartz, flush with success from his time in Tennessee, and he goes and hires two former head coaches as his coordinators.

It may not mean automatic success, but it sure seems smart.

I have no idea how many games the Lions will win in 2009. It seems foolhardy to think that they can manage even four victories, with their rugged schedule and being one year removed from a winless season.

It might be that they win two or three and consider the season a success, in a twisted, Lions kind of way.

But I do know one thing.

Jim Schwartz has already shown, with two hires, more football sense and vision than his 21st century predecessors displayed, combined.

Besides, how can you not love a coach of American football named Gunther?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Fix Was In: NHL Ensures A Game Five, At Least

Go ahead and accuse me of homerism--and I don't mean a man crush on Tomas Holmstrom.

Ignore the following as bleatings from a partisan.

Shake your head and say that my grapes are as sour as Dick Cheney's puss.

I don't care.

The Red Wings lost a hockey game in Chicago Friday night, and can you blame them?

They were playing five-on-seven all night.

It wasn't enough that the two referees got their jollies by watching the Red Wings play just about the entire first period shorthanded.

They also seemed to forget that hockey is a contact sport.

Niklas Kronwall just about killed Marty Havlat last night. But it was perfectly legal.

Legal to everyone, apparently, except for Gary Bettman's minions wearing the zebra stripes and orange arm bands.

Havlat looked dead, literally, when the Versus cameras cut to show his seemingly lifeless face, with the eyes rolled back into his head.

It was Concrete Charlie Bednarik, hockey style.

Bednarik was the Philadelphia Eagle who hit Frank Gifford of the Giants so hard in 1960 that a few of the Giffer's teammates thought ole Chuck killed handsome Frank.

No joke.

Kyle Rote of the Giants, who was on the field, mere feet away from the violent collision, said in recalling the hit later, "I thought Frank was dead. I really did. Chuck hit him that hard."

I think I know how Rote felt.

Havlat was laid out. Pancaked. Destroyed. Killed, almost.


The Kronwall hit--and the Versus guys plus the Canucks on Hockey Night In Canada admitted as much--was completely within the rules. Kronwall never left his feet. Didn't go for Havlat's head.

Yet not only was Kronwall whistled for a penalty, they threw the book at him. Tossed him into the locker room and threw away the key.

A five minute major, plus a game misconduct.

The shame of it was that it didn't appear to be called a penalty initially. But then the refs held a kangaroo court trial and convicted Kronwall, right there on the ice.

Then the Red Wings, already down 2-0, busted their tails to kill off the unjust major.

Only to be called for a phantom penalty immediately thereafter.

By the time the Red Wings enjoyed a man advantage, they were trailing 3-0 and all seemed lost.

Bettman's minions in stripes and arm bands seemed to be successful in ensuring that this series go at least five games, if not longer.

But the Red Wings, showing the heart of champions, rallied.

They scored three goals late in the second period in the same amount of time, it seemed, that you can watch that ShamWow! commercial.

Bettman's minions must have been getting nervous.

The fix was in for Game Three. If you're going to defend it, then tell it to the judge. I'll see you in court.

To show you my fairness, I'll inform you that I didn't think the Red Wings would win Game Three. It's a tough one to get, when you're the favorite going into the underdog's building with a 2-0 series lead.

I just didn't think the outcome had been determined during the team's bus ride from the hotel to the rink.

Bettman's minions gave every call to the Blackhawks, especially in the first period. It was laughable, almost, how unjust things were on the United Center ice surface.

A Red Wings player would get held, mugged, or otherwise impeded, and there'd be no call.

Conversely, if you so much as looked at Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews cross-eyed, you were whistled, if you wore the blood red and white of Detroit.

Highway robbery. Series shaving. A fix. Take your pick.

If I was a member of the Blackhawks, I wouldn't show off that victory too much, because it's stolen goods.

They did it all to the Red Wings last night except kidnap their wives and girlfriends.

Speaking of which, don't allow the ladies into the rink on Sunday. Just in case.

All that, and the Red Wings still could have won Game Three.

It would have been worth it to see the looks of defeat on the faces of the Blackhawks.

And on the crooked mugs of Gary Bettman's minions in stripes and arm bands.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Mark Howe's Playoffs Spent Spying, Legally

Mark Howe was no stranger to May hockey as a player.

Today, Howe is very familiar with it as well, but instead of lacing up skates he's filing reports. Instead of making the breakout pass from his own zone, he's racing to catch the next plane at the airport.

If it wasn't for those darned Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils, there'd be two Howes with their names engraved on the Stanley Cup, as players.

Howe, the most talented hockey player among Gordie's kids, went to the Stanley Cup Finals three times, in skates. This year, he hopes to make it five times in Armani.

Mark came up empty as a player--losing twice with the Philadelphia Flyers to the Oilers (1985, 1987) and once to the New Jersey Devils, as a member of the Red Wings (1995).

Nowadays, Mark Howe is the Director of Pro Scouting for the Red Wings. Which means, especially at this time of the year, his job is to coordinate scouting of possible Red Wings opponents.

Fancy words for, he has to criss-cross the country, watching hockey games.

While the Red Wings were dispatching the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, Howe and his staff, which includes former Red Wing Pat Verbeek, were spreading themselves out, not knowing exactly who Detroit would face in Round Two.

As the Anaheim Ducks emerged as a possible opponent, thanks to jumping out to a 3-1 series lead over San Jose, Howe focused on the Ducks. He ended up attending all six of the Ducks' playoff games in California.

While the Wings played the Ducks, Howe took in the Blackhawks-Canucks series.

Now he's checking out the Hurricanes and the Penguins. And filing reports.

Legalized spying. That's what scouting is, basically.

But there comes a time, if your team advances far enough, when there's no more scouting to be done. Just watching and hoping.

During last year's Cup Finals, I trudged down to the Red Wings' dressing room after Game One. With no more scouting to be done, Howe and Verbeek had joined coach Mike Babcock and his staff in the coaches' room, adjacent to the lockerroom.

Babcock, despite a shutout win, was still wound up.

"They're gonna give them a bunch of power plays, you can bet on it!" the coach barked as Howe and company looked on. A few choice words tumbled out of Babcock's mouth as well.

During the game, I kept an eye on the Red Wings' suite, filled with hockey intelligence.

Gordie Howe, no less. Scotty Bowman, no less. Kenny Holland, no less. Jimmy Devellano, no less. Steve Yzerman, no less.

And Mark Howe. No less.

They sat, scrunched together, in suits and ties, their work done, but not their worrying.

The stuffed shirts, as I called them, could only look on. Like expectant fathers.

Howe and Yzerman, of course, could relate to what was going on below them, on the Joe Louis Arena ice surface.

I was pulling so hard for the Red Wings to win the Cup in '95, which was 40 years exactly since their last one.

I knew it was Mark Howe's last season as a player. What a way for him to go out, I thought--to win the Cup, 40 years after his dad last won it for the Red Wings. And just a couple weeks after his 40th birthday.

Mark was born just weeks after dad Gordie's Wings won the '55 Cup.

Game One was played that year, appropriately, on Father's Day weekend.

But the Devils would have none of sentiment and nostalgia.

They swept the Red Wings, using a suffocating trap.

Mark retired, Cup-less.

Mark Howe in the 1995 Finals

But then he went to work in the Red Wings' scouting department, and his name got engraved on the Cup, after all.

Four times, in fact.

It's not the same, of course. It never is the same. Ask any former player. There's nothing like winning the Cup, in uniform, in skates, and parading the chalice around the rink.

Your name can be engraved, but if it wasn't because of toil, tears, and sweat on the ice, it's just not the same.

Not that it doesn't mean something, of course.

The Red Wings signed Mark Howe in the summer of 1992. Finally, at age 37, he was coming home to play NHL hockey in Detroit.

He had played junior hockey in town, as a member of the Junior Red Wings, but when it came time to turn pro, Mark was not Red Wings property.

The Houston Aeros, of the World Hockey Association, owned Mark and brother Marty's rights.

Then old man Gordie joined them, in 1973.

Mark and the clan could have come back several years later, after mom Colleen (who passed away earlier this year) tried to broker a deal that would bring the Howes back to Detroit after their exile to the WHA.

The Norris family, who owned the team at the time, would have none of it. For whatever reason.

It's almost over now for Mark Howe--the miles in the sky, the reporting, the advanced work needed to prepare Babcock and his staff for the next opponent.

If the Red Wings escape the Blackhawks in the conference finals, Howe will end up back in the team management suite for the Finals, another stuffed shirt.

The work done. The worrying, not so much.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Blackhawks' Imperfection Gets Them Again

It was a line uttered by one of baseball's boys in blue from "back in the day", as they say.

To be an umpire, the line went, "You have to be perfect on your first day on the job then keep getting better."

That philosophy of the impossible might be appropriate for opponents of the Detroit Red Wings.

You have to be perfect in Game One, then keep getting better.

Because just one teeny tiny misplay, one little moment of indiscretion, and that's all it can take for the puck to end up in your own net when playing the Stanley Cup champs.

Last night the goat was Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell.

In overtime at Joe Louis Arena (where the 'Hawks had the Wings right where they should have wanted them; more on that later), Campbell had himself a split second of carelessness with the puck, and moments later, three Red Wings skated in on goalie Nikolai Khabibulin with but one Blackhawk skater back as a deterrent.

Just like that, the puck hit the twine behind Khabibulin, and the game was over.

Game, Detroit.

Series advantage, Detroit -- two games to love.

Campbell is a fine defenseman. He's been a terrific free agent acquisition for the Blackhawks. In fact, he was one blue liner that the Red Wings themselves had interest in, before he was traded by Buffalo to San Jose at the trade deadline in 2008.

But Campbell short-armed a pass in the attacking zone, slipped to the ice, and Red Wings Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula and Mikael Samuelsson were away--with the puck.

Those three coming down the ice on a 3-on-1 are harder to stop than it is to correctly spell all their names without peeking.

After Game One, I wrote that walls are easier scaled than plowed through.

Shoot up high, I implored the Red Wings. That's the weakness of Khabibulin, nicknamed The Bulin Wall.

But Hudler, Filppula and Samuelsson executed the breakout to perfection, and in doing so they came armed with demolition balls, each of them.

The Bulin Wall crumbled, not that it had a chance.

Samuelsson rifled the puck home after the brilliant display of tic-tac-toe passing.

In Game One, the puck was inexplicably left at the Detroit blue line and pounced on by Dan Cleary, who motored down the left wing and wristed a shot over Khabibulin's left shoulder.

In Game Two, Cleary took advantage of another moment of Blackhawk indiscretion, and beat Khabibulin between the legs on a penalty shot-like breakaway.

Here's Barry Melrose on after Game Two: "If you make a mistake against Chicago, you can overcome it. If you make a mistake against Detroit, it's in your net."

No disrespect intended to the Blackhawks. One day they'll be skating the Cup around the ice, and in the not too distant future.

You can count on it.

But they have displayed already, after just two games in these Western finals, why they're not ready to be champions.

Too many unforced errors. At the worst possible of times.

Now, why did I say that the Blackhawks had the Red Wings where they should have wanted them? Meaning, in overtime. At Joe Louis Arena.

The Red Wings, as I've noted here before, are lousy in overtime at home in the playoffs.

Just flat out lousy.

They lose far more than they win in situations such as last night's.

If Game One was the 'Hawks' chance to steal a game in Detroit, because it came just a couple days after the Red Wings' rugged seven-game set with the Anaheim Ducks, then Game Two presented a rare second chance to break the Wings' serve.

Overtime, in Detroit? In the playoffs?

You could practically envision a grizzled dude with a cowboy hat on in the Old West, rattling a metal triangle, yelling about the game to the Blackhawks, "Come and get it!"

But the soup wasn't on for the Blackhawks. Instead, the Red Wings feasted. For a change.

Of course, one of the biggest OT wins the Red Wings have had at home occurred in 1995 against Chicago, when Slava Kozlov thrust his team into the Finals in double overtime at JLA.

So we're two games into the Final Four in the West, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record (remember records?), it still looks like a five-gamer to me.

The Blackhawks didn't start out this series perfect, which is the level at which they must play to win even one game against Detroit.

The way things are going, before they can manage that, the Red Wings will be in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Two, three games hence, I reckon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Knee Jerks: Highlights From Last Night's Broadcast!

Last night was the second LIVE episode of "The Knee Jerks" on Blog Talk Radio, my weekly broadcast with Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.

In case you missed it, here are some highlights culled from last night's episode:

On Tigers manager Jim Leyland and his contract situation:

Eno: He says he's had two good years and one bad one. No, Jim, you've had three bad second halves in a row, is what you had!

Big Al: When he went public with [his contract situation] last fall, he couldn't have mis-read that situation any more than he did. He was in NO position to ask for a contract extension.

On the Tigers' rotation once Jeremy Bonderman returns from surgery in a couple weeks:

Eno: I think Armando Galarraga ought to be worried. I think he's on the bubble.

Big Al: (on Dontrelle Willis) I'm not convinced that he can get big league hitters out.

On Red Wings-Blackhawks:

Eno: (on Marian Hossa/Pavel Datsyuk's goal-scoring slumps) You can't have EVERYONE going ALL the time. Or else you'd win every game 9-2!

Big Al: If Johan Franzen is a playoff God, then Dan Cleary is playoff Jesus!

On Chris Osgood:

Eno: I wish all the Osgood haters would shove it. When the stakes are high, he plays his best. Period.

Big Al: You can make a case that Chris Osgood is a Hall of Fame goalie.

To download the broadcast, click below!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Red Wings Realize: Walls Are Best Gone OVER, Not Through

Game One, they say, is the one that the visiting team can sneak into the home building and grab, especially if the hosts are all tuckered out after a long, grueling series.

The Chicago Blackhawks tried some of that sneaking-into-the-house thing Sunday, but they tripped a motion detector, lights and sirens went off, and the Red Wings came storming down the stairs to see what was the matter.

Then they beat back the intruders with their hockey sticks, finished off a 5-2 victory, and went back upstairs to get some more sleep.

No more sneaky-sneaky.

"They're a really good team," goalie Chris Osgood said afterward, and he wasn't trying to convince himself. As usual, Ozzie was schooling the media. "They have four good lines and good defensemen. The only difference [between them and the Anaheim Ducks] is that they're a little younger."

Ah, but that is quite a difference--one that will eventually be the 'Hawks' undoing.

It was evident during the first two Red Wings goals.

Both were the results of turnovers.

Dan Cleary swiped the puck at his own blue line and finished with a perfectly-placed wrister upstairs. Then Johan Franzen stole the puck behind the Chicago net and wrapped it around and into the net, using his reach, which is longer than Shaun Rogers' grocery list.

Memo to the Red Wings, by the way.

When shooting against Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, go high. Very high.

Every wall has its top, including the Bulin Wall.

The Red Wings scored three times by elevating the puck over Khabibulin's shoulders, including a nifty redirect by Dan Cleary to make the score 4-2.

Early impressions of the young, playoff-inexperienced Blackhawks: they're young. And playoff-inexperienced.

But they have speed, and their legs looked relatively fresh. But the Red Wings are a very efficient team. Maybe it's because of the advanced age of some of their compatriots. Regardless, the Red Wings don't expend a lot of energy needlessly.

They are individually, as one of the NBC announcers said Sunday, very smart without the puck when their teammates possess it, which is very often. And those smart players without the puck are extremely patient with it.

It was never more evident than during Mikael Samuelsson's goal that broke a 2-2 tie.

Brett Lebda snapped a shot from the point that was blocked. It bounced to Samuelsson, who, despite the game situation and the multitude of players surrounding him, held on to it and bided his time.

Samuelsson showed more patience, on the ice in the third period of Game 1 of the conference finals during a tie game, than I show waiting at the fast food drive-thru.

When he deemed the time right, Sammy snapped a shot.

Oh, and it was high, by the way. Over the Bulin Wall.

Goal. 3-2, Detroit.

Once again, Osgood was sharp when he had to be, except just before the game's first goal, when he was caught with his hockey pants down trying to play the puck. He didn't see Adam Burish, and the puck was slipped between his legs and into the net.

But as usual, Ozzie shoved that to the back burner and forgot about it. He does that very well, especially after goals where he was clearly the goat.

Despite the third period tie, I saw nothing that changes my mind about this series.

It will not be anywhere near as taxing as the Ducks' seven-game boogaloo.

The Red Wings will wear these Blackhawks down much sooner than they did the Ducks, which isn't hard to do because it took six games, a couple of overtimes, and 57 minutes to shrug off Anaheim.

But you know what I mean.

This still has "five game series" written all over the Bulin Wall, in bright red spray paint.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Blackhawks’ Cup-less Streak Pretty Much Par In Chicago

They don’t win Stanley Cups in Chicago. Not lately, at least—if your definition of “lately” can be broadened to include most of the past five decades.

In Chicago, the Stanley Cup is something everyone else wins. The only time it passes through town is if Chris Chelios brings it home with him as a member of the Red Wings, to show off.

Bobby Hull led the last Blackhawks team to the Cup, and when he did, Bobby had hair—real hair. Son Brett, who’s into his fourth year of retirement, wasn’t even born yet.

But don’t get too cocky, Red Wings fans. Don’t get too smug in your little Hockeytown.

You’ve been there. You’ve been over 40 years into a Cup-less drought, so wipe those smirks off your faces.

The number 61 has some magic to it, in the world of sports.

61, as in the number of home runs Roger Maris hit, breaking Babe Ruth’s single season record. Done in 1961.

John F. Kennedy was three months into his presidency when the Blackhawks last won hockey’s Holy Grail—in ’61.

It wasn’t all that long ago when the year 1955 had a ghoulish, infamous meaning for Red Wings fans. And players.

1955—the last Stanley Cup won in Detroit. By Gordie Howe and company.

A young Gordie Howe, no less.

Howe was 69 years old when the Red Wings finally broke through in 1997, some 42 years after Gordie, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Wilson, and the gang skated the Cup into the dressing room.

There was no pomp and circumstance in those days, for winning the Stanley Cup.

“They brought a table out to center ice, put the Cup on it, and [NHL President] Clarence Campbell would hand it to the captain,” Lindsay told me a few years ago. “Then you skated it into the dressing room, and Mr. Adams expected you to do it again the next year.”

That would be Jack Adams, the chubby, bulbous-nosed tyrant who ran the Red Wings, first as coach, then as general manager.

Eventually, Adams would trade Lindsay, as punishment for daring to try to organize a players union.

That Red Wings Cup in 1955 gave birth to a tradition, thanks to captain Teddy Lindsay.

“I just thought that the fans deserved a look at the Cup before we took it into the dressing room,” Lindsay explained to me. “So, on a whim more or less, I took it and started to skate around the ice with it, showing it to the fans.

“I did it before Mr. Adams, or anyone else, could stop me,” Lindsay added with that famous scarred, crooked grin of his.

So the next time you see a team captain parade the Stanley Cup around the rink, held high over his head, you can thank Ted Lindsay.

Bobby Hull no doubt took a turn around the ice with the Cup in 1961.

Fewer and fewer people are remaining alive who can remember it.

In professional, team sports, 48 years without a championship is both incomprehensible and unacceptable. And demoralizing.

When the Red Wings were being dumped out of the 1996 conference finals in Colorado, the fans in Denver taunted the visitors from Detroit. It didn’t take much.

All they had to do was hold up poster board with the year “1955” painted onto it, blood red. And several of them did.

It was all that needed to be said.


The ’97 team put an end to all that nonsense, and in doing so, one Original Six team became the NHL’s longest-running slapstick act.

The Chicago Blackhawks, coming to a hockey rink near you!

Five of the Original Six brethren have Stanley Cups won since 1961.

Detroit. Montreal. Boston. Toronto. Even the stinking New York Rangers, who went 54 years (1940-94) between Cups.

The Blackhawks are the cheese that stands alone. A big, rotting gob of Limburger.

The Red Wings are everything the Blackhawks, and every other NHL franchise for that matter, would like to be.

This season, the Blackhawks, led by young, spectacular talent like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, gave the Red Wings a run for their money for Central Division supremacy—for about half a season.

Still, it was half a season longer than the Blackhawks can usually manage.

So it will be Detroit-Chicago for the right to play in the Cup Finals.

Motor vs. Windy. Depression vs. Recession. Coney dogs vs. Deep dish pizza.

Feast vs. Famine.

Chicago sports, once you get past Michael Jordan, isn’t exactly awash with success.

The White Sox stumbled upon a World Series title in 2005, the team’s first in over 80 years.

The Cubs? 101 years and counting.

Makes the Blackhawks’ 1961 Stanley Cup look like a dynasty.

The Bears? No championships since 1985—the last one before that, in 1963.

And that’s pretty much it.

But not for much longer.

This year’s Blackhawks, with Kane and Toews and company, have the makings of a Cup-winning outfit.

Someday, soon.

But not today.

The Red Wings had the Blackhawks nipping at their heels around the holidays. Looming was a home-and-home set—December 30 and New Year’s Day. First in Detroit, then in Chicago. For the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.

The Red Wings enjoy little challenges like that during the regular season. Keeps them interested.

In Detroit, the Red Wings hogtied the ‘Hawks, 4-0. Two days later, playing outside in the snow at Wrigley, the Red Wings beat them again, 6-4.

The Blackhawks weren’t really heard from again, when it came to who might win the division.

It’ll be more of the same in the conference finals. The Red Wings, scared to death by the Anaheim Ducks, are duly awakened after their first round lullaby with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Much will be made of this matchup, because of its Original Six roots. The league office likely needs drool cups.

But it will be much ado about nothing.

The Blackhawks aren’t ready yet to topple the Red Wings. Their time isn’t here, yet.

But it’s coming.

One day, in the not-too-distant future, Chicago hockey fans won’t have their skin crawl or their blood curdle whenever someone mentions the year 1961.

When Bobby Hull had hair.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wings Escape Ducks In The Ugliest Of Ways (But It's The Playoffs, Remember?)

Thomas Edison ought to be proud.

It was Edison, the inventor, who famously opined, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."

Ole Tom would have loved the Red Wings' series-winning goal Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena.

It was a typical playoff tally. Devoid of artistry, full of ugly.

Dan Cleary's goal with exactly three minutes left in the third period wouldn't make the highlight reel of a beer league team's end-of-the-year video.

But it was beautiful to the Red Wings, who now move on to face the Chicago Blackhawks in a Western Conference Finals series that can't possibly be any more taxing than what the Wings and Anaheim Ducks just went through.

The series-winning goal, though, might have been drawn up on a playoff chalkboard.

Flick the puck to the net. Charge net. Bull your way in and keep jamming your stick where you think the puck might be. Repeat until red light goes on.

"It was the biggest goal of my career," Cleary said afterward.

So far.

The Red Wings are now rid of these Ducks, who seemed to made up of one line and two defensemen. Yet those five players managed to take the defending champions to the brink of disaster.

Oh, and a goalie. The Ducks did have that. And a good one.

Speaking of goalies, where are all the Chris Osgood bashers this morning?

Anyone? Anyone?

Osgood won the game for the Red Wings. That's all. Won the series for them, too, in the process.

Ozzie, yet again, came up big when the stakes were the highest.

Early in the game, he charged from the net, stacked his pads, and committed hockey robbery on Jim Wisniewski, who slammed his stick against the glass as a result, when he thought he'd be raising said stick in triumph for giving the Ducks that precious 1-0 playoff game lead.

Later in the period, Osgood validated the work of his three defenders during a 5-on-3 disadvantage and made sure all their hard work didn't go for naught. He made two or three terrific saves while the Ducks had 70 seconds of a two-man advantage.

None of the blame for the three goals that the Ducks scored could be laid at Osgood's skates.

He did what is required from a Red Wings goalie: just make the saves when we need them to be made, OK?

That's what Grant Fuhr did, by the way, playing for those turbo-charged Oilers teams in Edmonton, back in the day.

Ole Grant would surrender four, even five goals, but if the Oilers needed one stopped, Fuhr stopped it.

To the tune of three Stanley Cups.

Which is how many Ozzie has won, by the way--two as a starter.

History will show, me thinks, that this series will go down as one of the very best and most thrilling that the Red Wings have ever participated in.

That the Ducks were able to push the Red Wings to the 57th minute of Game Seven is a testament to their outrageously productive line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan.

Those three, I swear, played 45 minutes last night. Maybe more.

If they ever left the ice, it was while I was blinking.

Yet the Red Wings are supposed to wear such teams down, with their depth and their grind-it-out style of play, right?

Well, they did. It just took them six games, some overtimes, and 57 minutes of the seventh game to do it, that's all.


But, they did it.

So now it's on to the Final Four, for the third straight year and eighth time in 14 years.

Ahh, so THAT'S why they call it Hockeytown, a nickname that I, as a Detroiter, have long had a problem with.

What must they say in Montreal, with their 20-plus Stanley Cups?

Detroit's borrowing the self-proclaimed title. But that's OK.

All is forgiven today.

It's hard to imagine the much younger, much more playoff-inexperienced Blackhawks giving the Red Wings anywhere near as difficult of a series as the Ducks did.

I may not be allowed back into the Windy City for saying this, but I don't see this anticipated Original Six foray going any longer than five games.

So sue me.

That said, the Red Wings better be ready to go on Sunday. Maybe a series like this tussle with Anaheim will be of benefit to the Red Wings going forward.

They needed a test after their four-game laugher with Columbus.

There was hardly anything to laugh about during this ordeal with the Ducks.

The overtime loss, yet another at home, in Game Two.

A quick whistle to rob them of a tying goal at the end of Game Three.

A stinker of a Game Six, when the Wings skated in muck all night.

Not funny at all.

But they're gone now, these pesky Ducks. Maybe the best No. 8 seed to show up for the playoffs in quite some time. Maybe ever.

The Wings playing the Blackhawks after the Ducks is backwards.

It's like the Rolling Stones opening for a garage band.

Told you I wouldn't be allowed into Chicago.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Knee Jerks: Our Swan Song re: The Text Version

Hey!! It's the FINAL webisode of "The Knee Jerks", my weekly IM chat with Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience.

Why is it the final one?

Why, because we're taking our act to Blog Talk Radio, that's why!

We've already had two broadcasts, and we intend to continue--every Monday night at 11 p.m. ET LIVE. Of course, all shows are available for download at your convenience, too.

Join us every Monday night!

For our last webisode, it's a slimmed down version.

We preview tonight's Game Seven at JLA, discuss the Tigers and a certain "physical" umpire, and the usual suspects show up: Word Association and Jerk of the Week.

Enjoy, and remember:
Listen to The Knee Jerks on Blog Talk Radio


Eno: Well, folks, welcome to the swan song of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno & Al." I'm Eno, aka Mr. Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot/Mr. Blogger. Al, it's the swan song because of our WILDLY successful decision to move this chat to Blog Talk Radio every Monday night at 11 p.m. ET LIVE.

Big Al: WILDLY? Really? Cool! But yes, sadly this will be the final text chat as we jump in, headfirst, into pod casting. What feedback we've been getting on the pod cast is positive, so the time is right, and we're lacking the time, to do both. We're going to try and keep the chat swan song short and sweet.

Eno: And with that, let's start with the only place TO start—tonight’s Game Seven at Joe Louis Arena. I don't know about you, but those weren't the series-closing Red Wings we all know and love in Game Six. They were just sluggish enough to open the door for the Ducks. Very un-Red Wings-like. Cause for concern, or were they simply due for a clunker in that situation?

Big Al: Concerned? Some. But let's not forget the Ducks are a very good team, not your usual No. 8 seed. I'm not surprised they held serve at home. I do think the Wings will do the same on their home ice at The Joe. There's too much at stake for them to go into a two period-long funk. I'm hoping the Ducks' thuggishness at the end of Game Six (and yes, despite what they are saying in Anaheim, it was all Ducks causing the end of game mayhem, the penalty minutes bear it out: Anaheim 36 to Detroit's 10) fires up the Red Wings. Especially Pavel Datsyuk, who was on the receiving end of a Scott Neidermayer cheap shot elbow. (Uh, what does it take for the NHL's Colin Campbell to give out suspensions anymore? Someone have to die? Even then, it would only be a one-gamer...) Red Wings will come out flying tonight.

Eno: I agree. I predicted 6-2, Detroit. Back to Datsyuk. He missed that golden opportunity in the waning seconds of Game Six to tie the game. No telling what kind of point-scoring outburst that goal would have unleashed. Can the Wings win much more without more Datsyuk production?

Big Al: No. Even if Datsyuk doesn't score, he needs to produce points, in setting up Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom. [Pavel]'s an MVP candidate. MVP candidates need to be your best players, and Datsyuk hasn't been in this series. (The best overall Wing has been the scoring machine named Johan Franzen) The thing with Datsyuk is when he's slumping, rather than continuing to shoot, he gets overly fancy with the puck, passing up good shot opportunities in attempting to get great opportunities, often ending up with no opportunity. He needs to be effective tonight, and not get caught up in all the extra-curriculars. It's fun to watch Datsyuk drop the gloves, but that's not what the Wings want or need from him.

Eno: True that. Game Sevens, as you know, are highly unpredictable. Who could have foreseen the Red Wings' 7-0 demolition of Colorado in 2002? You just never know. But something in my bones tells me the Red Wings will bust loose and end the Ducks' quacking for good.

Big Al: Moving on, what's your take on the brouhaha in Wednesday night's Tigers-Twins game? Jim Leyland went NUCLEAR on home plate umpire Paul Schriber for pushing Magglio Ordonez toward the Tigers' dugout after Maggs gently disputed a called third strike. Leyland was on top of Schriber mere seconds after he touched Ordonez, and let loose with both barrels. Personally, I think the ump crossed a long known line. It's an automatic suspension if a player touches an ump; you have to believe the umps should have to toe the same line, right?

Eno: Oh my goodness, I couldn't believe what I was seeing! Good for Leyland for protecting his player. He went nuclear justifiably! Maggs wasn't even arguing very strenuously, or for very long. What Schriber was thinking, I don't know. He damn well better be disciplined. This isn't a high school game. At first I thought the ump simply placed his hand on Maggs' back as if to say, "That's OK", but then I noticed that there was an attempt to push Maggs toward the dugout. I have NEVER seen that in my 40 years of watching big league baseball. Never.

Big Al: Same here, I was flabbergasted. If there isn't some sort of suspension for Schriber, I believe the all-powerful Player Association will have something to say....and it won't be good. But kudos to Leyland. His actions are totally defensible. As for the game, I'd rather not talk about it. Though for everyone wondering why Brandon Lyon was sent out for a third inning (his night ending on Tiger killer Joe Crede's game-winning grand slam), Nate Robertson was placed on the 15 day DL Thursday morning with a back strain.

Eno: Hmmm....well, I gotta cut Lyon some slack. He threw about 70 pitches, which is wayyy more than he's used to. I loved the balk call in the top of the inning, though. Curtis Granderson clearly induced it. I'm amazed at how umps spot balks, no matter how subtle. OK, anything else before we move on to WordAss?

Big Al: For what it's worth, that ugly Baggiedome, where the Twins play, can't be imploded soon enough. The game played there is not really baseball, and should be called the Hubert H. Humphrey Horrordome! That place has nothing but bad, bad, bad memories for Tigers fans. GOOD RIDDANCE.

Big Al: Now I'm ready for WORDASS...


Eno: OK, let's start with this one....the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Big Al: The NHL's Golden Children. You know they are hoping their Chosen One, Sidney Crosby, gets back to the Stanley Cup finals. He's a Don Cherry approved Canadian boy, you know. Gary Bettman is just dying to push the Penguins. Unlike the Euro-dominated Red Wings. Screw it, don't get me going on the FUBAR'ed NHL. It's not worth it.

Eno: Next, back to Magglio Ordonez.

Big Al: He's no longer worth $18 million, which is what he'll be paid if the Tigers continue to play him full time. But even if they keep him under the salary-guaranteeing at bat threshold (which is around 450 ABs), allowing the Tigers to buy out his deal, there's no one in the pipeline to replace him. The Tigers have to ride it out with Ordonez.

Eno: Two more: I say the Lions will play a meaningful Thanksgiving Day game in 2009 and you say....

Big Al: If you are watching a meaningful Lions game on Thanksgiving, it's because your turkey was stuffed with hallucinatory drugs.

Eno: OK!! Finally, I ask you who comes out of the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup playoffs and you say.....

Big Al: The Penguins, as Bettman has deemed so. It shall be written, it shall be done...'

Big Al: Ready for a few, Eno-sabi?

Eno: Go for it!

Big Al: The Tigers' highly paid, anxiety ridden starting pitcher, whose start last night was the beginning of his final chance of sticking long term with the Tigers, Dontrelle Willis.

Eno: He made it through that first start and it wasn't a disaster. It's like a recovering alcoholic: one start at a time, brother.

Big Al: Baby steps for the D-Train. Next, the suspended for PEDs Dodger, Manny Ramirez.

Eno: There's a REALLY good joke in there somewhere, but I'll be darned if I've found it yet!

Big Al: Just Manny being Manny, I guess. Nothing he does surprises me, though like any slugger who thrived earlier in this decade, his entire career is now under suspicion. One more before we get to our final (in print) Jerk of the Week, the Twins' Joe Crede.

Eno: Not only does this Tiger killer stay in the AL after leaving the White Sox, he stays in the freaking division!! I can't wait for his retirement.

Big Al: You and me both, Eno. I'm sick of Crede beating the Tigers. Ready to name your JotW?


Eno: My, my....let's see....I think I'll go with Paul Schriber, the aforementioned umpire. Heck, how about Jerk of the Baseball Season? I can't wait to see what happens in the aftermath. The video evidence is damning. I saw him mouth to Leyland, "I didn't push him." Bull----

Big Al: Well said. My JotW is the NHL's Director of Hockey Operations, and the point man for on-ice incidents, Colin Campbell. The man is an IDIOT. Maybe insane as well. Has there ever been a league with a more inconsistent policy in regard to on-field/court/ice actions than the NHL? Neidermayer's flying elbow to the side of Datsyuk’s head was a reprehensible, suspendable move. The NHL's (re: Campbell's) response? There was no response. It's not just the Wings who have a beef, it's every team in the league! I have no idea where the line in the ice is set in regard to in-game violence anymore, and neither do the players. Someone is going to get killed. Seriously.

Eno: Yeah, you just can't figure the NHL out anymore—in every area. OK, my friend, thus ends our seven-month-plus run doing "The Knee Jerks" chat. Now it's all on the radio show to take it from here!

Big Al: Indeed. We'll be on Blog Talk Radio every Monday night at 11 PM, bringing the Jerkosity! Jerkitude? Jerkism?

Eno: All of the above!! So remember to tune in every Monday night LIVE if you'd like to call in and talk to us, or you can always download the broadcast at your convenience. Every Tuesday we'll post highlights from the broadcast, to give you a taste of what you missed! Thanks so much for all these IM chats, Big Al! Looking forward to talking with you Monday night.

Big Al: See you then, Sir Eno. Book-em, Dano! Murder one...Uh...I mean, Aloha!

Eno: Ciao, Italy!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Red Wings In Seventh Hell By Their Own Making

And for their next trick, the Detroit Red Wings shall thrill you by winning their conference semi-finals series against the Anaheim Ducks with one Pavel Datsyuk tied behind their backs!

With one deadeye shot, with one well-placed snapper, the Red Wings' slippery superstar would have jammed a sweat sock into the mouths of all those asking, "What's wrong with Pavel Datsyuk?"

It was in the waning seconds--less than three of them remained--of the third period, and the Ducks inexplicably coughed the puck up.

Marian Hossa found himself with it, and nudged a pass over to Datsyuk, planted between the circles, perhaps 15, 20 feet from the net.

A game-tying goal, right there, in that situation, for that guy, might have been the lynchpin to not only win the game and the series, but maybe the whole darn Stanley Cup.

Who knows what kind of a point-scoring tear by Datsyuk would have been unleashed had he found the twine with just a couple ticks of the clock left, sending Game Six into overtime.

Who knows?

Instead, we'll read more about Pavel, and the words associated with his name will be like this.


Can't get off the schneide.

Where is he?

No puck luck.

Actually, you could use those words to describe the Red Wings and their ultimately futile effort last night, squaring their series with the still-quacking Ducks at three games apiece.

But the Red Wings were snakebitten, couldn't get off the schneide, non-existent, and had no puck luck because they didn't play well enough to right all those wrongs.

This was not your typical Red Wings game in a closeout situation.

You kept waiting for them to flick that switch and grab control, quieting an already nervous crowd and goading the volatile Ducks into bad penalties which would simply lead to more damage on the scoreboard.

Anyone who's followed the Red Wings over the past 11 years, since the 1997 Stanley Cup, knows that when the team sniffs the end of a series, especially on the road, then it's pretty much olly-olly oxen free.

The end usually comes for the underdog home team with definity. By the final buzzer, the Red Wings are surrounding their goalie in triumph, while the game but outclassed opponents are wheezing from having their playoff hockey life choked out of them.

Not last night. Not even close.

The Ducks didn't do much offensively themselves, but turns out they didn't need to, for the Red Wings played just enough below their capabilities to shoot themselves in the skates.

It was as if coach Mike Babcock rousted them from their beds in the middle of a dead sleep and ordered them to suit up and hit the ice in 30 minutes.

Still, it was a "one-shot game", as they say, after Johan Franzen the Playoff Scoring Mule netted another, his 21st in his last 26 playoff games, with a couple minutes and some change left.

The crowd at the Honda Center got nervous again.

But the Red Wings, even with the goalie pulled and six skaters, still didn't really get enough of those "oh my goodness"-type scoring chances in the closing 90 seconds.

Except the one at they very end, off the turnover. The one that, had Datsyuk buried it, might have been the one we'd be talking about all summer as the Stanley Cup got passed from one Red Wing to another in their respective hometowns.

"Remember when Datsyuk ended that scoring slump with that uber-clutch goal in Anaheim in Game Six? The one that led to the series clincher in OT?"

Which would be followed by how the Red Wings used that goal, as they've used so many other big goals in the past, to storm their way past the Blackhawks and through whatever paper champion the Eastern Conference has to offer.

If only.

That's OK; it says here that the Red Wings win Game Seven, and it may even be bordering on the laugher variety.

There's no way, no how, that the Ducks go into Detroit on Thursday and come out with a Game Seven win. No way.

You're going to beat this veteran, battle-tested Stanley Cup champion in its own building in a Game Seven?


The Red Wings have done this to themselves, though. That they have to suit up for a seventh game instead of planning on how to beat the Blackhawks in the conference finals is all their own doing.

The Red Wings, shockingly, didn't totally show up for Game Six. Quite out of character.

So now we have to hear more about Datsyuk, and where IS he, anyway?

The Wings took a 3-2 series lead sans No. 2 defenseman and lovely Nick Lidstrom assistant Brian Rafalski.

Can they win it with Datsyuk tied behind their backs?