The Detroit Red Wings it is.
After the Hawks disposed of the Canucks and the home crowd was expressing their desire for the next opponent, I called for a holding of everyone’s horses. After taking in tonight’s Game 7 tilt, I may have spoke a bit out of turn. The fact remains, number one, that this is the Western Conference Finals and there are no pushovers left.
Then after seeing Detroit’s play for the last period and a half, they looked completely and utterly exhausted. Anaheim gave them everything they could handle for seven games. Detroit wobbled, but ultimately stood tall, thanks to Daniel Cleary being a pest in front of the net.
So now, the Wings must turn their attention to the Hawks after a quick turnaround and be ready for more-rested squad ready to throw their best punch.
Nevertheless, things are looking pretty good ever since Anaheim forced that Game 7. It would’ve been nice to see overtime, but as someone once told me, “beggars can’t be choosers”.
With all this being said, here are some things you can expect to see throughout the Western Conference Finals:
Pavel Datsyuk will be elated that he won’t have to see Todd Marchant’s face until next October. Marchant played the role of ‘shadow’ to such critical acclaim that Esa Tikkanen is asking for royalty rights. Datsyuk was held to just 2 assists through the seven games and if that tells us anything, it should be that Datsyuk is the straw that stirs Detroit’s Shirley Temple.
Niklas Lidstrom will log a half hour of ice time per game. Since I’m still on a “Lost” kick, I’m going to call Lidstrom ‘Richard Alpert’. The man doesn’t age. He’s been around since the dawn of time and he is still shutting down the opposition’s top two lines. This is why he’s so great: Calgary and Vancouver had to decide which defensive pairing was in charge of HavBolLadd and Kane-Toews-Sharp. Detroit can just throw Lidstrom out there and he’ll counter both of them.
Patrick Kane will be target numero uno for the Red Wings. The formula the Wings have used all year against the Hawks was to pester and hit Kane. It shouldn’t be any different come playoff time. Kane torching the Canucks will only give them more reason to administer the same game plan.
Chris Osgood is still a mediocre NHL goaltender. Save percentage be damned, Chris Osgood is not very good. The key to this series may very well be how many shots the Hawks can direct towards him. If they average 30 shots per game, they will have a terrific shot at bouncing the defending champs. However, if Detroit’s defense puts the squeeze on them the way they’ve done the first two rounds, the Hawks will have some problems.
Detroit’s power play will put more terror into you than the previews for ‘Drag Me to Hell’. Another key to this series will be the Hawks limiting their idiotic penalties. Detroit’s power play is like a machine sent from the future designed to kill your first born. They will stop at nothing and chances are, they will succeed. The key here will be for the Hawks to take as few penalties as possible.
The silver lining in all this is the Wings won’t be trying to beat the tar out of the Hawks so that should limit the possibilities of Ben Eager or Dustin Byfuglien swinging a wild haymaker at an unsuspecting Wing (although Jiri Hudler probably deserves it).
Expect a ridiculous amount of attention paid to Scotty Bowman. While Bowman hasn’t been seen or heard from by the public since the Denis Savard firing, he is still very much alive and you will be reminded of it at every whistle. Bowman will probably end up getting credit in some corners for single-handedly turning around the Hawks by drafting Kane and Toews, putting home games on television, hiring Joel Quenneville, and re-modeling the Hawks dressing room. Then on the seventh day, he scouted Kyle Beach.
There will be no talks of neutral zone traps or left wing locks. These teams are nearly identical copies of each other. They each use the neutral zone as a launching pad into the offensive zone and get a considerable push from their defensemen. Not to mention, they both go four lines deep. When each team gets a one goal lead, they will look to tack on more.
The only dump and chase played in this series will be on penalty kills, line changes, and empty net situations. You’ll hear the words ‘puck possession’ in your sleep.
The Hawks will still struggle to play with the lead. Perhaps the most disturbing trend of the playoffs thus far for the Hawks has been their inability to play with a lead. The Hawks had no idea what to do with themselves when they held a lead for more than five minutes against Vancouver. Only in Game 2 did the Hawks grab the lead and look confident while holding it. You could go back to Game 5 of the Calgary series and the Hawks have looked more comfortable playing 3 goals down than with a one goal advantage.
Make no mistake, this will be one entertaining series. Both fan bases have a strong distaste for each other and the players don’t seem to care for one another all that much either. It’s only fitting that the two deepest teams in the Western Conference battle for entry into the Stanley Cup Finals.