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Bring on the Wings
and another round for the table
4/27/07 - By Ken Smyth

Okay on to the second round of the playoffs. The San Jose Sharks opened this series like they did the last one: taking the first game on the road against a team that isn't used to losing in their own building. A difference this time was that the Sharks played well defensively and held onto their lead rather than blowing it and having to come back in overtime. All so much the better.

Stuff like this isn't supposed to happen to the Detroit Red Wings. But this isn't the Red Wings team that won the Cup in 2002. Brendan Shanahan is a New York Ranger, Steve Yzerman's jersey is up in the rafters rather than out on the ice every third shift, and Brett Hull is on NBC between periods doing a good Jeremy Roenick impersonation. Head Coach Scotty Bowman is retired with nine Stanley Cup wins and people are nice enough to stop asking him what went wrong in Buffalo.

Gone too, thank God, is the "left wing lock" defensive trap thanks to a redefinition of the interference rules and the realization that NHL games were becoming less exciting than two hours of "The Weather Channel". Remember that Red Wings/New Jersey Devils Cup final? Like watching a cat barf a hairball in slow motion.

The Red Wings are now a "puck possession" team, meaning that they move quickly across center ice and keep the play in the opponent's zone. Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom and Hendrik Zetterburg are the guys who throw the puck around now, and when you get frustrated and haul one of them down, the power play goes to work. Mathieu Schneider has found a home wapping pucks from the point and the rest of the gang pounces on rebounds in the crease.

Usually effective, especially in the Central Division. Ideally, the Wings' game plan is to take a two goal lead into the third period and let the grinders take advantage of your desperation, sort of like used car dealers on San Carlos street. Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper are still the grinders for Detroit along with Todd Bertuzzi. Besides Schneider, the blueline features all-stars Niklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios, though the Chili Dog is starting to look like he's running low on mustard. You cough up the puck, give up a garbage goal, and the Wings win 4-1 or maybe 5-2 if you got a lot of shots off. Only the Sharks weren't following their part of that script last Thursday.

I saw the third period last and the Sharks looked very effective in blocking shots and pushing play out of their own end of the ice. They were able to hold things up just enough at center ice to allow their defense position to deal with the Detroit forwards, unlike the first game in Nashville where the Predators' speed was a factor in tying the game in the third period. Like in Nashville, Evgeni Nabokov was the star of game one- though this time he had some help.

What happens next? Hey, this could easily be a seven game series. Neither team looked that sharp after the lay-off. The Wings played six games of whack-a-mole against a Calgary Flames team that played with unchecked emotion and very checkable forwards. How much did this take out of them? The Sharks, like the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference, are a team that habitually cools off in the playoffs. Will the infusion of front line veterans Bill Guerin and Craig Rivet be what we need?

The second round is where the real teams are. Remember how San Jose fans used to be so happy to just make the playoffs that somehow the real goal, the Stanley Cup, was forgotten? A good change this year is that the Sharks didn?t act too excited when they clinched a berth or when they beat Nashville in the first round. It takes sixteen wins to party with the Stanley Cup, this Sharks team seems to understand they need eleven more.

First Round Highlights-

Best short-handed play- Calgary goalie Mikka Kiprusoff taking the Detroit Red Wings to six games.

Best Timing (as voted by Nashville media) Hockey finished in time for NFL draft in New York City

Best Timing (as voted by Atlanta media) Hockey finished in time for NASCAR race in Talladega

Best beard- Sharks head coach Ron Wilson. Look-alike to Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow in DC comics (for my five fellow comics nerds out there).

Best song dedication- Wilbert Harrison's "Kansas City (Here I come)" to the Predators

MVP-Trevor Linden, Vancouver Canucks. Game winning goals in #1 and #7 to beat the Dallas Stars

Best ice- whatever the Penguins' trainers were using on Sidney Crosby's broken foot

Worst ice- Anaheim, as usual

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