One For The AgesPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Flying from San Jose back to Detroit after Thursday’s Game 7 loss to the Sharks couldn’t have been easy for the Red Wings. Having your season end with a playoff loss on the road and then having to endure a long flight home is far from ideal, but the Red Wings didn’t seem like losers to me last night, despite the 3-2 loss that ended their season. It didn’t seem like there were any losers last night. Certainly we fans were winners. Hockey fans live for Game 7 at this time of year, and last night we were treated to a thriller of deciding game from the Sharks and Wings. It was a thriller from opening puck drop to the final horn, and for every one of the 3,600 seconds of action in between. The game itself was tremendous, but when you add in all the underlying subplots and nuances, it was even more so. Here are a few observations I made during and after last night’s classic Game 7 between the Sharks and the Red Wings. * Six of the seven games were decided by a single goal, making this the closest Stanley Cup playoff series ever contested. No prior seven-game set ever had as many as six one-goal games. The two teams were separated by a single standings point (105 to 104) during the 82-game regular season. • Detroit was built for a run in 2010-11. It’s likely we’ve seen the last of several of these players in the Winged Wheel, and perhaps the last of some of them altogether, thinking of Mike Modano (he played in just two of the Wings’ 11 playoff games) Kris Draper, Chris Osgood and Ruslan Salei here. All are on the far side of 35. • I’d include Nicklas Lidstrom in that previous list, but I just can’t believe we’ve seen the last of him. He’s showing no signs of age and I hope (and believe) he’ll be back for at least one more season. • The Wings’ last, best chance to tie the game came after Detroit gained control of an offensive zone draw with less than 30 seconds remaining. The Wings worked the puck to the front for a one-time bid from Patrick Eaves, but he was checked hard and didn’t get much of a shot off. Had Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary not left the game with injuries earlier, one of them might have been standing in the slot waiting for that pass. • Veteran Sharks captain Joe Thornton and longtime Shark (and one-time captain Patrick Marleau both had terrific games, emerging from some long-standing playoff shadows that had haunted both players. Thornton was a beast all over the sheet. Playing in his 105th career Stanley Cup contest, he played the dominant game that Boston and San Jose fans had been waiting to see from him for years in the postseason. • Marleau responded to sharp criticism from former teammate and current VERSUS talking head Jeremy Roenick, who referred to Marleau as “gutless” earlier in the series. Marleau debuted with the Sharks as an 18-year-old in 1997-98 and has played more than 1,000 games in a San Jose sweater, plus 120 playoff games. He scored the game-winner in Game 7 and started the play that led to the goal with a good defensive play behind his own net. Fourteen of Marleau’s 49 career playoff goals have been game-winners. That’s not bad. • San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle led all skaters on both sides with 27:04 in ice time. His secondary assist on Marleau’s game-winner is as good a secondary assist as you’ll ever see. Boyle, who was a member of the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, skated the puck into the attack zone on a 3-on-2 rush and drifted toward the right side. In doing so, he drew a defender with him, isolating Devin Setoguchi on the left. Boyle threaded the a sublime pass through the defender’s skates right to Setoguchi. He and Marleau took care of the rest. • Just before that Marleau game-winner, Boyle cleaned out lumbersome Detroit forward Tomas Holmstrom in front of the San Jose net on a Red Wings power play. Holmstrom had set up shop in the crease and appeared to get a stick on a deflection bid and was seeking shrapnel when Boyle launched him. • Wings goalie Jimmy Howard and Sharks netminder Antti Niemi were both outstanding, and both made brilliant saves at key moments – and in sequences of sustained pressure – to keep the game tight. • San Jose’s first goal of the game was a one-timer from Setoguchi with helpers going to Thornton and Boyle. Boyle pushed a pass from the point to Thornton who was parked down below the goal line on the right side of the night. Setoguchi lurked alone on the weak side, and Thornton put the puck right in his wheelhouse. Watching Thornton operate from that spot makes me wonder why more teams don’t work their power play from that spot. It’s so difficult to defend from in front when you’re shorthanded and you’ve got your back to dangerous offensive players. • Henrik Zetterberg’s uncharacteristic giveaway to Sharks rookie Logan Couture in the final minute of the first was costly, but Zetterberg got it back with a brilliant backhand roof shot from the slot for Detroit’s first goal of the game in the second period. Pavel Datsyuk also scored on a backhand roof shot in the third to account for all of Detroit’s offense. • Datsyuk was brilliant this spring, with four goals and 15 points and a plus-10 in 11 games. What a terrific and unique talent he is. • San Jose won 15 of 21 (71%) face-offs in the first period, but the two teams were even in the circle (33 wins each) at game’s end. • The Red Wings took 57 shots (29 on net, 21 blocked and seven missed) in the game’s final 40 minutes to 27 (13 on net, nine blocked and five missed) for the Sharks. Couture’s goal was huge, enabling San Jose to get to the room with a 2-0 lead after a strong first frame. • The Sharks have played 26 playoff series in their history and five have come against Detroit, the most they’ve had against any foe. San Jose has now won three of the five. • How much will the Sharks have left for the conference final against Vancouver after going six games against Los Angeles in the first round and seven against Detroit? • No team has won a Stanley Cup title after needing seven games to close out a first-round series since the 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins. Of the four remaining teams only San Jose did not need seven games to get through its first-round series. Okay, so San Jose and Vancouver hook up now in a Western Conference final in which both teams have been up 3-0 in a series in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs only to need a Game 7 win to advance. Meanwhile in the East, Boston and Tampa Bay both rebounded from two-game deficits to win in the quarterfinals then swept their way through the semis and have been idle for a week. Hopefully, there is more great drama to come. But we’ve already had five Game Sevens in the first two rounds. These last four teams have a lot to live up to the rest of the way.
When the 2011 Memorial Cup championship gets underway later this week in Mississauga, three young and promising Capitals prospects will be competing against one another for the holy grail of Canadian junior hockey. Center Cody Eakin of the Western Hockey League champion Kootenay Ice, forward