Yet again, our swarthy men of virtue drop the gloves and face off on top stories from around the NHL.
The Detroit Red Wings said all the right things before their must-win Game 5 battle with the Predators.
Almost everyone, including yours truly, said that this would be a close series. On many levels it has been: three one-goal games, with Game 4 last Tuesday in Detroit ending 3-1 Nashville after starting with 40 scoreless minutes. Yet, the series tally isn't close, as the Predators hold a commanding 3-1 lead.
Regular season series: split 3-3
What a rollercoaster season for the Detroit Red Wings. Early-on, they went through an 0-5-1 skid with Pavel Datsyuk struggling to find the net. He recovered his form, and throughout the middle portion of the season looked like a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate. All the while, the Wings piled up points at the Joe during what turned into an amazing record-setting streak of 23-straight home wins.
So, the Red Wings set the NHL's all-time record for home wins at 21 and the achievement is at once impressive and divisive. What it takes to get the desired result -- a victory -- that many times in a row and send your fans home happy each time is mind-boggling. It is a testament to preparation and focus.
Last week, Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland commented that he likes his team and is comfortable as the February 27 trade deadline approaches. His club has the most points in the NHL right now, validating his position. And there has been much to like about his team thus far.
With the NHL Board of Governors in Pebble Beach, CA. on Dec. 5-6 to discuss the subject of realignment for the 2012-13 season, we asked SI.com hockey scribes Michael Farber, Sarah Kwak, Darren Eliot, Brian Cazeneuve and Adrian Dater -- to say what they would do if they ran the zoo. While addressing the question of where to place the Jets and a western team that must take Winnipeg's vacated spot in the Eastern Conference/Southeast Division, our writers were free to move teams at will, rename the divisions and conferences, and even reformat the schedule.
The Stanley Cup Hangover puts those recent Hollywood movie hits of the similar name to shame. There aren't enough aspirin in the bottle to wipe out its effects, which are a kind of nausea-in-reverse.
The opening of a new NHL season arrives with anticipation, excites on multiple levels and sometimes is even telling. Some things are easily identifiable, such as the Ottawa Senators as a team that will struggle all season. The bigger issue in analyzing the Sens is how does an organization that competed for the Stanley Cup in 2007 fall so far so fast?
MORE DIVISION PREVIEWS: Northwest | Pacific | Northeast | Atlantic | Southeast
Two years ago, coach Mike Babcock told me early in the season that he felt making the playoffs was going to be a challenge for his Red Wings. I thought it was merely so much cautious early-season coachspeak, but it turned out that the sage bench boss knew what kind of season his squad was in for.
It just never gets old in Detroit. Presidents change office, entire generations of technology become hip and passé. But the Red Wings just never seem to change.
Every time San Jose's loud, loyal fans seem to want to buy what their Sharks are selling, they get stuck with a bill of goods.
1. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings: Too hurt to take faceoffs, Datsyuk's hands were sure enough to dish three beautiful assists and, ahem, single handedly carry the Red Wings to victory and keep their series hopes alive.
Well, these doesn't look like the San Jose Sharks of old. No loss of nerve. No gaffes that give the opposition momentum. In fact, this edition of the Sharks looks determined and composed. And in goaltender Antti Niemi, they seem to have found a dependable puck stopper who battles hardest when the game is on the line. At least through two games, that's the Sharks' team I witnessed.
1. Joe Pavelski, Sharks: It was another strong night for The Big Pavelski. hen the Sharks needed to make something happen in the third period of a game they trailed 1-0, Pavelski accomplished two things: 1) Draw a penalty on Detroit's Todd Bertuzzi for boarding -- perhaps a questionable call, but one that Pavelski sold well, which is part of the game sometimes. 2) Score a goal on the ensuing power play, a nifty bat of the puck in midair past Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. It was one of Pavelski's five shots on goal, leading all forwards in the game. Making something happen in the playoffs is becoming a Pavelski staple. He entered the game with four game-winning postseason goals since last year.
Regular-season series: Sharks win, 3-1
Even at playoff time, it was hard to separate off-ice business from on-ice action in the Detroit-Phoenix series. The specter of possible relocation for the Coyotes hung over their Western Conference quarter-final like a rumor in a high school hallway. The Red Wings, though, made sure that, in a hockey sense, the Coyotes did indeed go away yet again in what is now an NHL-record of 12 straight fruitless postseason appearances dating back to 1988 when the franchise was in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
This thought blindsided me like a Rule 48 elbow the other day: we are drowning in hockey bile.
Here's some bad news for the many fans outside of the 313 area code who really, really hate the Detroit Red Wings and so badly want to equate the team's general manager, Ken Holland, to the evil Lord Vader:
DETROIT (AP) -- Nicklas Lidstrom is walking a fine line, trying to play at a high level for the Detroit Red Wings as long as he can without figuring out too late he played one too many seasons.
After Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee made a coaching change in November of the 2007-08 season, the team's assistant GM, Don Fishman, did some research into the timing of firing a coach. More than performing a detailed statistical analysis, Fishman mostly rummaged around in precedent, notably the 2006-07 St. Louis Blues.
Week Two and some things we never saw coming...
DETROIT (AP) -- The Detroit Red Wings signed coach Mike Babcock to a four-year extension Monday.
More: Atlantic | Northeast | Pacific | Southeast | Northwest
Last time out, I wrote about how the salary cap era has created a growing reliance on young players at the core of many NHL teams and that the great expectations in Washington, Pittsburgh and Chicago are based on the skill of groups who are under the age of 25. Hopes might not be as high as the Presidents' Trophy or Stanley Cup in St. Louis, Colorado and Los Angeles, but those teams' goals for the upcoming season also rest on an emerging nucleus of young players.
The best American-born hockey player has officially retired.
One thing about summer is that it allows for a different perspective on the game of hockey than when we are fully immersed after October rolls around. With that in mind, I give you five things I have learned or relearned or merely observed while "getting away from the game" over the summer:
There aren't many happy endings in the National Hockey League these days.
Steve Yzerman's signature move as a player was to stride down the left-wing side and, as soon as he was in the offensive zone, stop sharply just above the face-off circle and make precise decisions from there. He would step in and shoot if left unchallenged, pass to a late-arriving teammate if the back-checking coverage was lax, or move the puck down low if pressed from low to high. In that comfort zone, Yzerman rarely made a misplay.
To the lengthy list of life's unanswerable questions we offer the following: What takes longer -- the recovery of an NHL player who's been concussed by a blindside hit to the head or the NHL passing a rule to finally and officially penalize that hit?
With the Chicago Blackhawks making the Stanley Cup Final, much will be made of history. The franchise hasn't won since 1961. It's made five finals appearances since that time, the last in 1992. Before last season's Western Conference Finals appearance, the it had but one playoff appearance since 1997: a five-game rout at the hands of the St. Louis Blues in the first round of 2002.
The anticipation is building for what everyone is expecting to be an epic battle between the Flyers' bruise dispensing defender, Chris Pronger, and the Blackhawks' buffalo-sized forward, Dustin Byfuglien. I'm starting to wonder though if this might not be an epic mismatch, with the heavily-hyped Byfuglien coming out on the short end.
Somewhere between Detroit and San Jose, the beleaguered Sharks located the composure they'd lost during Thursday's 7-1 thrashing.
Momentum from game to game in the playoffs is a bit of a myth. Each outing has it's own rhythm and pace and flow. And outcome. One doesn't really impact the other. Certainly Sharks coach Todd McLellan hopes that's the case after his team flopped 7-1 in Game 4 in Detroit.
Rest assured that the San Jose Sharks won't shed that "choke" label with a win tonight vs. the Detroit Red Wings. Sure, it would be a four-game sweep of a team that's been to the Stanley Cup Final in each of the last two seasons, winning it in 2008, and a model of consistency for the better part of two decades.
1. Johan Franzen, Red Wings. It's not as though Franzen had been a non-factor in this postseason -- he carried a 10-game scoring streak into Game 4--but the goals weren't coming. And considering his rep for postseason prestidigitation, there was some concern that perhaps his magic around the net had run out. Turns out it was just backed up. Franzen struck four times, tallying a natural hat trick in a 3:26 span of the first, to lead the Wings to victory in a must-win Game 4. Franzen also added two assists to give him six points on the night, breaking the franchise record previously held by Norm Ullman and Steve Yzerman.
Let's get this out of the way, shall we? The officiating wasn't exactly friendly to the Red Wings on Sunday. In fact, there were so many egregiously bad calls made in that contest that Kevin Pollock and Brad Watson are certain to be watching the next round on TV from the comfort of their summer cottages.
1. Joe Pavelski, Sharks: After garnering our first star honor last Sunday in San Jose's series-clinching win vs. Colorado, Pavelski again distinguished himself in all facets of the game and continued to find seams in the offensive zone to get open looks on goal and score big tallies, including the Sharks' first and last of this night. To begin the third period, Pavelski struck on a 5-on-3 carryover powerplay to put the Sharks ahead 4-2. It proved to be the game-winner as the Red Wings refused to go away.
Season Series: Detroit won, 3-1
Forget the rout indicated by the 6-1 final score, or the territorial advantage suggested by a 50-33 shot advantage.
1. Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings. Maybe it was the thought of turning 40. Maybe it was failing to finish among the finalists for the Norris Trophy for the first time in 12 years. Or maybe it was just a great player reacting to a critical moment in the way that great ones do. Whatever the reason, Detroit's captain lived up to the letter on his chest, guiding his teammates to a dominating 6-1 Game 7 win over the Coyotes (RECAP | BOX SCORE) . Lidstrom showed incredible patience with his behind-the-net set up of Pavel Datsyuk's critical first goal, scored the third and sixth himself on power plays and controlled the defensive zone with flawless positioning and keen reads.
So you don't live in Detroit and you don't live in, uh, Glendale, Arizona, but you're fixin' to pay some mind to tonight's Game 7 showdown between the Red Wings and Coyotes. And you're asking yourself: "Who am I rooting for?"
The Phoenix Coyotes were planning on flying home after Sunday's contest in Detroit. After capturing the pivotal Game 6, they'll be bringing the Red Wings with them.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres: A three-goal lead heading into the third period should be as sound as the pound, but the Sabres have seen this movie before. Boston has owned the final stanza in this series, outscoring Buffalo 6-0 and outplaying it by a wide margin. No surprise then that it was more of the same tonight. Miller could have played Words With Friends through the first two periods but he was in the weeds during the third as the Bruins blitzed him with 14 shots in the first 10 minutes alone. A late goal by Johnny Boychuk snapped his shutout bid, but that was hardly the point. The Sabres bent, but he refused to break.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The distance from Tombstone to Phoenix is 167 miles, which might be a long way to go for a shootout what with all the traffic. Glendale, a suburb of the Arizona metropolis, is much closer and swank Jobing.com Arena clearly is a more comfortable venue than a dusty alley to witness all kinds of flying projectiles.
Click here for Eastern breakdowns.
MORE BRACKETS: Michael Farber | Darren Eliot | Jim Kelley | Kostya Kennedy | Brian Cazeneuve | Sarah Kwak
MORE BRACKETS: Michael Farber | Darren Eliot | Kostya Kennedy | Jim Kelley | Allan Muir | Sarah Kwak
MORE BRACKETS: Michael Farber | Kostya Kennedy | Brian Cazeneuve | Jim Kelley | Allan Muir | Sarah Kwak
MORE BRACKETS: Michael Farber | Darren Eliot | Brian Cazeneuve | Jim Kelley | Allan Muir | Sarah Kwak
MORE BRACKETS: Darren Eliot | Kostya Kennedy | Brian Cazeneuve | Jim Kelley | Allan Muir | Sarah Kwak
Heading into the final week of the season, much of the attention is on the races for the final playoff seeds and the ordering that will dictate the match-ups in the first round. But at the top of the brackets, the Stanley Cup contenders are trying to make sure they are in the best place possible both physically and mentally to make a run at the championship.
"Psst, hey buddy, need a goalie? I've got one. Tim Thomas, with an up-to-date Vezina Trophy on his resume. I can let you have him real cheap, at least as cheap as a bona fide scorer with maybe a prospect and a draft pick if you're interested."
NHL teams will soon be turning their attention to next week's resumption of play that begins on Monday night in Denver where the Avalanche host the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings, currently tied with the Dallas Stars at 28-21-12, find themselves in the unfamiliar circumstance of chasing down a playoff spot. Both the Stars and Wings trail the Calgary Flames by a single point, having played one less game. In seventh are the Nashville Predators with 71 points.
Can Motor City combat its economic ills by becoming Rail City?
For the first time in 15 years, the script is vastly different for the storied Detroit Red Wings. Instead of gradually gearing up for a Stanley Cup run, the Wings know the playoffs aren't a certainty this time around. Beset by injuries, their depth has been taxed to the limit. In the past, injuries afforded the regulars some rest while the front office and the fans got a glimpse of prospects toiling in the AHL.
1. Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk to the Avalanche from the Bruins for Brian Rolston, Samuel Pahlsson, Martin Grenier and a first-round pick; March 6, 2000 After two decades spent redefining excellence in Boston, Bourque was finally put out of his Stanley Cup-less misery by Bruins owner Harry Sinden. The Avs saw the future Hall of Fame defenseman as a missing piece. Though they didn't win the Cup that season, Bourque immersed himself in the team's culture for the full campaign of 2000-01. The desire to win one for the highly regarded veteran served as a rallying point. In a touching moment, captain Joe Sakic handed the chalice to an emotion-wracked Bourque after their Game 7 finals win over the Devils.
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings He's a man for his era, a defenseman who is practically perfect in every way. With post-lockout rule changes making the off-the-glass, crease-clearing blueline behemoth practically obsolete, the ability to play positional hockey and move the puck became paramount. Lidstrom, a Swede, was the most accomplished at the refined art, winning six Norris Trophies in the decade and becoming the first European to captain a Stanley Cup champion.
Last week, I had the honor of traveling to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to play for our troops and their families stationed in America's oldest continuously functioning overseas base.
They came to call him "Lucky", but Luc Robitaille was only so in a happy-go-lucky sort of way. Seemingly always smiling and in a good mood, Robitaille's demeanor belied a serious sense of purpose when it came to improving as a hockey player.
I don't remember an awful lot from my first year statistics class, but the professor managed to burn one truism into my head: sample size matters. So I understand that, when considered in the grand 82-game scheme of the NHL's regular season, a 10- or 12-game segment is relatively small.
There is a buzz surrounding Russian hockey like never before, at least not since pre-Glasnost days. Much of the anticipation has to do with Russia winning the World Championships in successive seasons heading into an Olympic campaign. So much of their promise comes from the talent level of their young core, many of whom have little if any knowledge of how it used to be.
The first weekend of the regular season had plenty of action and a few surprises. The Avalanche going 2-0 and the Red Wings 0-2 surely fall into the surprise category. So, what did we learn, exactly, as everyone got busy with all 30 teams in action on Saturday in four countries?
Here's who our NHL writers predict will make the playoffs, win conference titles, the Stanley Cup and major awards, plus their picks in other categories including breakout player and biggest disappointment.
UNRESTRICTED: F Eric Boguniecki, F Josh Green, D Bret Hedican, D Brad Larsen, F Rob Niedermayer
As training camps grind on toward opening night next week, it's time to grab the old mailbag and address some of your questions and concerns.
NEWS: The IIHF has denied Jiri Hudler's transfer card at the request of USA Hockey and the NHL.
DETROIT (AP) -- The Detroit Red Wings refuse to concede that they will be rebuilding next season.
Woodridge, Ill. -- A year ago, new San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan was adamant about keeping Patrick Marleau as his captain. During a lengthy phone conversation prior to the start of training camp, On the Fly trotted out the argument that it would be the perfect time to shift Marleau from the prestigious but potentially onerous role -- a fresh start, reduced responsibilities that would allow him to focus on the ice etc. But McLellan, who had ties to the center/left winger from Saskatchewan, would hear nothing of it.
DETROIT (AP) -- Forward Jason Williams is returning to Detroit.
Like an air traffic controller or Britney Spears's publicist, Detroit Red Wings goaltender traditionally has been among America's most thankless jobs -- a fact not lost on incumbent Chris Osgood. The 35-year-old Osgood, who stoned the Dallas Stars 2-1 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals last Saturday, has been a Red Wing long enough to know that in Detroit, skaters win Stanley Cups and goalies lose them. He shrugs at the skewed logic. "That's changing," says Osgood, who improved to 8-0 since relieving Dominik Hasek during the first round against Nashville. "I think people realize now that we win and lose as a team."
Although Pavel Datsyuk officially is being called a game-time decision, the Red Wings' star center will miss Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Friday night.
CHICAGO -- The last time the Chicago Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup was so long ago, Bobby Hull didn't even have hair.
The sign on Interstate 76 East on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border on a dim Monday morning reads "You Are On The Road To The Stanley Cup." After two games of the 2009 final, evidence suggests the road is right but the direction is wrong.
PITTSBURGH -- In their pivotal game of their playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the battle of wounded knee.
The déjà vu Stanley Cup final is now a must-see.
The seventh game of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final has already been played in the recesses of minds and in recreation rooms and on driveways and rutted roads and in the temporary rinks that sprout in city parks during the northern winters.
The Penguins have completed the hotel hat trick in Detroit, staying in their third auberge in three trips during the final. For those keeping score at home, they started at the Westin for Games 1 and 2, moved out to the suburbs to a Ritz-Carlton for Game 5 and, after going 0-3, are now ensconced at the MGM Grand.
The Chicago Blackhawks dipped deep into the NHL free-agent market by signing star forward Marian Hossa away from the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday with a 12-year, $62.8 million contract.
In yet another chapter of the be-careful-what-you-wish-for saga, we present the July 1 opening of the NHL free agency period.
He won't be a Detroit Red Wing, but Chris Chelios still wants to play.
The NHL -- for reasons inexplicable to anyone who doesn't understand that it is always sniffing for potential expansion cities -- convened in Las Vegas to hand out its rotating collection of silver not named Stanley. All and all, a slick affair worthy of a watch.
DETROIT (AP) -- Henrik Zetterberg called Sidney Crosby's actions disrespectful. Nicklas Lidstrom said the Pittsburgh Penguins' young captain would learn from his mistake.
And so it goes, on and on and on.
DETROIT -- On the night of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the hands of Max Talbot are just fine. Nine days after his linemate Evgeni Malkin jokingly remarked about him, "Yeah, little bit bad hands," Talbot scored twice in the second period, as the Penguins won the deciding game, 2-1 (RECAP | BOX), at Joe Louis Arena Friday night. "[But] he's still right about that," Talbot said, chuckling.
The Pittsburgh Penguins proved their mettle in prevailing in Game 7 in Detroit over the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings. They played better. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury came up with his best effort at Joe Louis Arena when it mattered most, saving the celebration with his left-shoulder lunge save on Nick Lidstrom with one second remaining. Role player Max Talbot stepped into the spotlight and took a star turn with two goals. And the team overcame a mid-game injury to Captain Sidney Crosby to carry on and finish its comeback from a 0-2 series deficit.
The dour headlines were delivered with drumbeat regularity: MICHIGAN BRACES FOR MORE BUDGET CUTS, roared the Detroit Free Press.
DETROIT -- On the night of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the hands of Max Talbot are alright. Nine days after his linemate Evgeni Malkin jokingly remarked, "Yeah, little bit bad hands," Talbot scored twice in the second period, as the Penguins won the deciding game of the Stanley Cup finals, 2-1, at Joe Louis Arena Friday night. Winning the championship for the first time since 1992 against the team that defeated them just a year ago, the Penguins defied history, becoming the first team to win Game 7 on the road since the 1971 Montreal Canadiens.
You've probably heard a lot of crazy stats being tossed around prior to tonight's all-or-nothing Game 7. My favorite? That no road team has captured a Game 7 to win the championship of any major sport since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates.
History is supposed to teach us lessons and give us insight into the future. When it comes to tonight's Game 7 in Detroit between the Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins, what view is pertinent -- the overall history or recent recall?
It's been another rough week for the Motor City, in a year filled with them.
A straw poll for the players of the NHL: How many of you would like spend the next few years tapping home laser beam passes from Sidney Crosby?
We can imagine how the late Bob Johnson might have consoled his troops after the Penguins were humiliated 5-0 by the Red Wings in Game 5. "You can lose three games and still win the series," he'd have reminded them.
1. Pavel Datsyuk, Red Wings. First game back and the center doesn't look any worse the wear. He played more than 17 minutes even though he was limited to just four minutes in the third period when the Red Wings had the game in the bag. "He looked like his old self," said Niklas Kronwall. Despite the injury, Datsyuk made plenty of impact in the game, assisting two goals and even chipping in with four hits. Is he getting that foot frozen, though? "I don't know," he said. "It's a secret." Whatever he's doing, it's working.
In a welcome change of pace from the seemingly endless saga of Will He Or Won't He Play Tonight, Pavel Datsyuk is finally making news for something other than his bum foot. The Red Wings center, who hadn't played since Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, had two assists in Detroit's commanding 5-0 win over the Penguins in Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena (RECAP | BOX) and are now within one win of hoisting the Stanley Cup for the 12th time.
Pavel Datsyuk will rejoin the Red Wings lineup for tonight's pivotal Game 5 in Detroit. This was the thought heading into Game 4 as well. The difference? As Coach Mike Babcock put it, "Last game we thought Pav would play, but we didn't plan on it. This time, we're planning on it." Aside from a masterful job of semantics, Babcock's task becomes judging Datsyuk's readiness to perform in his customary roles after missing the last seven games. Typically, when a star player suits up, even when coaches mention managing said player's minutes, once they drop the puck, the player plays fully and completely.
Well, maybe Pavel Datsyuk is finally ready to make his debut in the 2009 Stanley Cup finals.
In last year's Stanley Cup Final between the Red Wings and Penguins, it was easy to see the series as a battle of the young and the ageless. Pittsburgh, led by its star 20-somethings, challenged an experienced Detroit team for the championship, but just couldn't get past the old standard.