Monday, May 6, 2013

Back to Anaheim on Top of the World! (A Game Four Recap)

                The naming of Samuelsson to first line was an early omen. Of what, we knew not. Many (including me) thought a miserable front line situation in which Samuelsson left with a papercut or an eyelash in his eye or some other sort of silly thing that defined our day. This was not a game we could afford to lose, though, whether or not the gamble of putting Samuelsson on the first line paid off or not.

                For the benefit of those researching the Wings in future decades and centuries, having Sammy on the first line did not pay off. Having Quincey on the team as a whole did not pay off as he was a near direct cause of the first Anaheim goal. (I’ll get to the good parts of the game later. I want to get the bad out of the way.) And as many of us, again, thought most of the game: having Smith on the team not only didn’t pay off but it brought us down. A lot.

                And yet miracles happen. I could recap the first two periods for you, but let this suffice: we were wretched. We looked like a team stuck in glue, taking shot after shot after shot that had no chance, no screen, no anything. “Hiller was god-like,” commentators from all sides remarked, and as far from the truth as that actually was it seemed plausible. Hiller was no god, we were just pathetic. We came into the 3rd a goal down and the boo-birds emerged on Twitter to put a team down that has, if we’re all honest, shown a remarkable ability to survive when everyone leaves them for dead.

                Dead we were not, down we were not when that paragon of futility, Brendan Smith, put one past Hiller to knot the game at one and give us our first tally since 1936. Or game two. Who can tell? Maybe, just maybe, that should have marked the night as special. If BRENDAN SMITH can do it, can’t the Wings as a whole? Maybe. But at the time, the night looked dire.  And when the second Ducks’ goal went in, the perpetual fakers of twitter pulled off their Wings caps, pulled on their “I knew we’d lose all along” caps and settled in for what would surely turn into a loss. Doesn’t it always when the Wings play like this?

                No. Because on our team we have a man that will put the team on his back and never quit. From the left side he pulled off a shot that was so filthy, so sick that no one even knew it went in. Today we learned Pasha hates water bottles and will obliterate them with pucks. Today we learned anew that Pavel Datsyuk will not let this team go down quietly. He knotted us back up at two, and if you haven’t seen the goal stop reading right now and go find it. I’ll wait. Go. I’m not kidding.

                All set? See what I mean? Good. To overtime we went, and where Jimmy was a star in regulation he was the universe in the extra period. This was a man inspired, on a team that finally started to look inspired. A team that really looked the part of a playoff threat, not simply the recipient of a “participant” ribbon. Overtime tested our nerves, but the result was sweet. Nyquist came up the center, in with the flash of speed that youth brings (and we’ve been begging Babcock to allow). He was stopped, but there, as a man should have been all game, was Brunner to pick up the trash. Rebound, shot, score. 3-2 to the good guys and we go back to Anaheim tied.

                And if that moment didn’t define, absolutely define, what we have needed in this series, I do not know what does. That pass up the center, that burst of speed, and finally that *tiny* bit of support that makes all the world of difference fooled an Anaheim team that had our regimen down pat and had thus shut us out the game before. If we want to continue this, we will to repeat this in game five. Excellent passing, speed, and rebound support. We have the youth for speed, we have the veterans for passing, and anyone with a hint of hockey knowledge should understand the rebound support. It’s an incredibly simple concept, we just have to execute! We must dump this ridiculous strategy of shots from the point that don’t go through a screen and have no follow up whatsoever, in favor of a strategy that any peewee hockey coach could explain to you: surprise them, and be there if there’s a rebound. Simple hockey, yet thus far so difficult. Hopefully it will not be anymore.

                And I’m sure I couldn’t finish this without a mention of Abdelkader. I won’t get into whether or not I think his suspension was fair, I will say only this: we won. We won on a goal scored through a style of hockey I don’t necessarily equate with a grinder like Abdelkader. That is not to say we wouldn’t have won had he played (we all know we’d prefer him on the first line over Sammy. Let’s not kid ourselves.) But we hit a situation that hurt us, another player lost, and we overcame. We adapted and we won. And that, my friends, is Red Wings hockey. So for the benefit of yourselves and everyone around you, if you are thinking of giving up on this team any time before we have lost all four games in a series: stop. This team isn’t quitting. This team has been given up on so many times this season, and here we are: 7 seed going back to Anaheim knotted 2-2. Have a little faith. In this young group of kids that continue to impress we trust. In Jimmy we Trust. In Pavel we trust.