“Look, if certain folks want to accuse the Red Wings of being old (more on that later) and tired after the Pittsburgh games, then it’s only fair to jab at the Penguins’ relative youth and immaturity.”
Yesterday, June 6, was D-Day, for the nation. The 65th anniversary of the storming of Normandie.
It was also D-Day in The D.
Desperation Day for the Detroit Red Wings.
That was the theme as I traipsed around the locker room following Saturday night’s 5-0 shellacking of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Five of the Stanley Cup Finals.
But another D, defenseman Nick Lidstrom, had another D-word for me.
“I think determination also,” Lidstrom told me when I asked if desperation was part of the Red Wings’ mindset, coming off two less-than-Red Wings-like performances in Pittsburgh in Games Three and Four, which squared the series at 2-2.
“I thought we really stuck to our game plan for sixty minutes,” Lidstrom continued. “We got the puck deep into their zone when we had to. All four lines skated really well.”
And scored really well, too.
There was a feeling of nervousness from the madding crowd and the air seemed heavy when I walked into Joe Louis Arena last night. It didn’t help matters that the Penguins came out of the hopper jumping, looking to carry whatever momentum they had in Pittsburgh into Detroit.
The Pens carried play in the opening minutes, and they got the first power play of the game.
The “uh-oh” feeling at the Joe was kicked up a notch, for the Red Wings’ penalty killing in Pittsburgh was about as reliable as the price of gasoline.
The math in Pittsburgh seemed to be this equation: Red Wings penalty = Penguins goal.
Heck, the math even went Red Wings power play = Penguins goal, to show you how tough it was for the Wings in the Steel City.
But the Red Wings got the kill, and the JLA crowd breathed a little more freely.
Then Dan Cleary struck, and it was as if a giant window had been opened, letting millions of cubic inches of fresh oxygen into the building.
Cleary was set by…drum roll please…Pavel Datsyuk.
You know, one of the league’s MVP candidates? The guy who hasn’t played since the May flowers were still sprouting?
Datsyuk glided through the neutral zone, feathered a pass to Cleary, and No. 11 notched his first goal of the Finals when his wrist shot from between the face-off circles eluded Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
It was a stoppable shot, and it, at the same time, both ignited the crowd and made Game Four a more distant memory.
The games in Pittsburgh were the Red Wings’ bad dream. The Cleary goal was the waking up.
If this was poker, the Red Wings called the Penguins’ monumental second period of Game Four and raised it.
After Thursday’s game, I wrote that the Penguins’ scoring three goals in 5:37–which turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead–might have determined thru which team’s hands the Stanley Cup will be passed this summer.
Check that. The Red Wings’ second period onslaught likely trumped that.
Three power play goals chased Fleury as the Wings blitzed the Penguins for four goals and a 5-0 lead.
I served up the desperation theme to defenseman Niklas Kronwall, whose sweet curl from the side of the net to the front of the crease culminated in a pretty over-the-shoulder shot that beat Fleury for a 3-0 Detroit lead. Another power play effort.
“Well, absolutely,” Kronwall said. “You don’t want to go into Pittsburgh with a loss and down 3-2 in the series. We had that first (penalty kill) and our forwards did a great job going after their (defense).”
Cleary echoed the sentiment.
“We knew the importance of the game. We played desperate, we played hard. We didn’t sit back. We kept skating, kept pressuring. We knew (the Penguins) would be excited after winning two games at home so we just tried to take that away.”
Here’s another D-word for you: Discipline.
As in, that thing that the Penguins didn’t have much of.
Bad English, but this is hockey, eh?
Look, if certain folks want to accuse the Red Wings of being old (more on that later) and tired after the Pittsburgh games, then it’s only fair to jab at the Penguins’ relative youth and immaturity.
What’s worse, the Penguins’ two brightest stars were also their dimmest bulbs when it came to leading by example.
Evgeni Malkin, who seemed to only show up when he was skating to the penalty box, showed, once again, that he has a pretty nasty disposition when things don’t go his team’s way. He was whistled thrice for penalties, and the Red Wings scored once while Malkin was in the box.
Sidney Crosby, the captain no less, chipped in with an ugly slashing penalty.
Now, as promised, back to this “old” thing, which, if you listen to Detroit coach Mike Babcock, is getting, well, old.
“I keep hearing about how old we are,” Babcock said in the post-game presser. “I don’t think (Valtteri) Filppula is old. (Henrik) Zetterberg’s not old. (Datsyuk) isn’t old. (Marian) Hossa isn’t old, so who’s old?”
Someone from the crowd mentioned 47-year-old Chris Chelios, who hasn’t even played in this series.
“Well, yeah, Chelly is older than me, I’ll give you that one,” Babcock said to chuckles. “But if you take a few guys out, like (Brian) Rafalski and (Nick) Lidstrom, I don’t think we’re that old.
“I mean, our goalie is 36…,” Babcock said with a care-free shrug.
“The big thing for us now are the extra days off,” the coach said, referring to the fact that, after this whirlwind schedule, Game Six won’t be played until Tuesday. “Age has nothing to do with it. We have two days off and we’ll be a better team [in Pittsburgh] and we’ll be ready to go.”
Desperation. Determination. Defensemen scoring (Rafalski added a power play marker). Discipline.
It was most certainly D-Day Saturday, and nowhere more so than in The D, Detroit, on Saturday night.