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 Lucky Ducks? Hardly! Here's how the West was lost 
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Post Lucky Ducks? Hardly! Here's how the West was lost
freep.com wrote:
Lucky Ducks?

Hardly! Here's how the West was lost


May 23, 2007

BY MITCH ALBOM

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Like dripping ice, like descending smog, there was karma all over the building Tuesday night -- and still the Red Wings almost shook it off, they fought to the choking finish. But in the end, it was covered in feathers and spoke with a beak. And by the time the sun set in the West, it had already gone down on Detroit.

Duck, duck, gone.

Say good-bye to the 2007 dream. It ended with a fury, like two mad heavyweights plundering each other. The Wings battled back from 3-0 and 4-1, closed it to 4-3, and with three minutes to go, they unleashed a relentless passion that makes fans swear hockey is the greatest sport of them all. Swarming. Charging. Pavel Datsyuk had a swipe at the goalie and another swipe. Denied! Dan Cleary had a swipe and another swipe. Denied!

Dominik Hasek was pulled. The puck kept coming, this close, that close. At a whistle, Todd Bertuzzi and Chris Pronger were clenching like boxers, heaving, you half expected a referee to yell, "Break it up! Keep fighting!" The Wings skated as if the last lights of their lives were in those final minutes, and, in truth, for this season, they were. But when the horn sounded, the Wings were panting, they were one goal short, and the season was over.

"Right now it stinks," said Kris Draper, after the season-ending Game 6 defeat. " ...We did so many things in this series. We battled to the end. We just didn't find a way to win a couple more games."

And winning is how playoffs are measured. Never mind all that talk about Detroit playing better than Anaheim in this series. Never mind Game 4 (shoulda won) or Game 5 (shoulda won). There is only what you capture and what you lose. And for all the talk about great Detroit effort without a victory, there remained a wait for a great Anaheim effort with a victory. That came Tuesday. Detroit won the final minutes. But Anaheim won all the minutes before it.

Duck, duck, gone.

A painful summer

"We threw everything at them in the third period," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said in the locker room. "I think it says a lot about us reaching as far as we did. I think a lot of people didn't think we were capable of doing that."

But, just the same, for Detroit, the playoffs end in the Western Conference finals. And now comes the worst kind of summer, because for hockey players the worst kind of summer is one spent in the shadows of what could have been, might have been, if only a play here, a moment there. That is the summer the Wings face now, two victories and one series short of paradise.

The beards come off. The gear gets packed. And the brains start churning. What if Mathieu Schneider hadn't gone down during the playoffs? What if Niklas Kronwall had been available? What if they had taken advantage of Pronger's being suspended and two 5-on-3 chances in Game 4? What if they had cleared the puck with less than two minutes left in Game 5?

What if they had turned it on in the first two periods Tuesday they way they did in the third?

"You're gonna go nuts if you think about that too much," Henrik Zetterberg said. "What happened, happened. Of course we could have done more to win Game 5. But we didn't. We had to win this game and we didn't do that either."

Here's the truth about what ifs: like ice, they melt. What remains are the results.

Duck, duck, gone.

A Game 5 hangover

The truth is, you knew this night was trouble early on, before the traffic-plagued Southern Californians fans could fully fill the building. Anaheim came out hopping, got the first four shots on goal, drew the first penalty and scored the first goal less than four minutes in, a typical playoff job, a hard shot by Pronger that skirted off the skate of Rob Niedermayer and danced behind an out-of-position Hasek.

It was 1-0 -- a shorthanded goal to boot -- and that was probably the worst thing that could have happened to the Wings. Had they scored first, it might have done wonders for scrubbing away the residue from Game 5's haunting end.

"We came out back on our heels," Draper admitted. "And they were still flying with momentum from Game 5."

If you ask me, that's when this series was actually lost, Sunday afternoon, back in Detroit, when a penalty left the Wings two skaters down with less than two minutes left. A victory turned to a tie. A tie turned to a defeat.

And if you don't think these Wings were skating with that in their heads Tuesday night, you haven't been around sports. Sure, they will all say they forgot about it. That's what they are supposed to say. But look at how they played -- beginning with the overtime in Game 5 and all through the first two periods of Game 6. A step behind. A bit less aggressive. It wasn't that the Wings played badly. It was that Anaheim played better. The balance of power changed.

And then, let's say this, too: This was a night when the Super Glue melted, when Hasek was human and reverted to flopping too often for comfort. Three of the four Anaheim goals came with Hasek sprawled on his back. But in his defense, where was the defense? Take a look at the replays of the Anaheim goals. Most began out front, straight on, where your rebounds and your ricochets are most likely to disrupt a goalie. The Wings, by contrast, tried too much of their offense from the sides in this series, where a goalie can see and stop more easily.

It's simple: In the playoffs, it's about traffic in front of their goalie and defense in front of yours. Tomas Holmstrom is brilliant at this. But the Wings need more of that from other players.

And, come on, admit it: Jean-Sebastien Giguere was amazing.

But admit this, too: The Wings never quit. They came so hard in that third period -- harder than the first two combined. Coach Mike Babcock has reason to be proud of this team's effort. The Wings could have folded it up and been thinking about the airplane ride home. Instead, they were charging to the final horn. It was maddening, furious, desperate hockey, with shots that just missed and sticks that were an inch away from payday.

"They scored early ... got momentum and energy and we weren't handling the pressure they were putting on us," Babcock said. " ...I thought we got ourselves back in the game. The fourth goal ended up being a killer for us."

The pros and cons

And so the first season of the No-Yzerman-No-Shanahan Era comes to an end in Detroit, with many good things and memorable highlights: nice development by the team's young guns and a return of perhaps the cagiest goalie to wear a Red Wings uniform. And before any critical analysis, we must acknowledge this Detroit team went farther than any since the Stanley Cup-winning squad of 2002.

But while the amazing Lidstrom proved that being shy and humble is no reason you can't inspire, fans still are left hungry for more in the playoffs from Zetterberg, who scored a goal in the first game of this series, and Datsyuk, who scored one in the second. Neither scored again until Game 6 was out of reach Tuesday night -- then they got productive.

Yes, it was great that they led a comeback. But it was, if we're being honest, too little, too late. If you are going to advance, your big guns have to fire. Your big guns must draw blood. The skill of these two players is hugely apparent. But the productivity has to match the wow factor, or all you have left is highlight footage -- none of it involving a Cup.

But that still can come. They still are young. This is a team that had to mix young and old players together, not always easy, and had to play the toughest games without its Nos. 2 and 3 defensemen. And let's recognize that playoff hockey by nature is such a dicey proposition, a bounce here or there, a hot goalie to shut you down (and the Wings certainly faced that with Giguere).

Babcock has improved this team. Its regular season wasn't as good, but Detroit made it two rounds deeper in the playoffs, and that is how you measure things. The conference finals is a plenty respectable finish for a team in transition like the Wings. And remember. Anaheim is hardly a slouch. The Ducks, too, began the year with sights set on the Stanley Cup.

Their vision is still alive. Detroit's is over. In the end, the Wings will be haunted by a puck hitting a stick, by a giveaway in overtime, by blown power plays, and by one game in which Hasek was human and three games in which Giguere was not.

Duck, duck, gone. The Wings should be proud. They can keep their heads up. But next year, they should tilt them a little higher, up where the Ducks are flying now.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch "The Mitch Albom Show" 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). www.freep.com/mitch.

Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

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May 23rd, 2007, 6:44 pm
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What I'm upset about is that the Wings got eliminated by a "dirty" team. I don't think I have to elaborate

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May 24th, 2007, 12:37 am
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slybri19 wrote:
What I'm upset about is that the Wings got eliminated by a "dirty" team. I don't think I have to elaborate


Eh... yes and no...

I'm pissed that the Ducks get away with a TON of poop... Game 5 they refused to come out of the locker-room on-time... We skated around on the ice and waited for them.. IMO that was calculated... They do a lot of "chippy" sh*t like that... IMO Neidermayer doesn't deserve to be in the league anymore after what he did to Holmstrom... IMO Giggy ALWAYS does poop like this (remember last time we lost to them in the playoffs when he was knocking the goal off of the morings, and "adjusting his pads" to get extra time to "gather himself"... He admitted that we flat out wore him out and he had to do that stuff to get back into the game...

For w/e reason the league lets the Ducks get away with murder... Perhaps they see an emerging market out there... I can't blame them... The bottom line is this series was doomed from the beginning... And the bottom line is we weren't CONSISTENTLY physical enough to TAKE this series from the Ducks...

As much as it sucks... they beat us... hands down...

I hope we get better next year...



What I want to know is... What does anyone think about Cheli... IMO he's great and one of our best... but... if we're going to succeed long-term, we need to get younger, better, and more physical...


May 24th, 2007, 2:49 am
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While I have grown to love Cheli (man did I hate him when he played for the Blackhawks) and I feel he has something to offer as a bit player, I agree that we need to get younger, bigger and stronger. Then turn around and pound the living snot out of the *ucks.

Anybody remember Dino Ciccerelli reaching from behind to punch Cheli (then a Blackhawk) in the kisser. It was during the playoffs in 94 I believe. That was one of my favorite fight moments ever, nobody saw it coming. :lol:


May 24th, 2007, 7:36 am
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Modmin Dude
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Here's something to think about.......

Why is Detroit in the Western Conference????

All 3 series this year required TONS of travel for the Wings. WTF??!!??

Approx travel time:
Calgary - 3 hours
San Jose - 4/5 hours
Anaheim - 4/5 hours

From what I can tell, Detroit was the only team in the playoffs that were required to travel so far. Why??? Why is Detroit in the West? They should be in the East! Fix it Bettman!!

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May 24th, 2007, 9:50 am
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I agree that the Wings should be in the East.
I agree that the Da-ucks get, and got away with alot of BS.

But...

I do see the failure...
the Wings had yet another GREAT season! Being only 2 wins away from the Cup Finals in what was said to be a rebuilding year. I'm PROUD to be a WINGS FAN!


May 24th, 2007, 5:20 pm
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GreyCrow wrote:
I agree that the Wings should be in the East.
I agree that the Da-ucks get, and got away with alot of BS.

But...

I do see the failure...
the Wings had yet another GREAT season! Being only 2 wins away from the Cup Finals in what was said to be a rebuilding year. I'm PROUD to be a WINGS FAN!


Oh, don't get me wrong... I'm proud of the team too... But that said... We blew that series... We're a better team than Anaheim IMO... With two minutes left in game 5 we went into "play not to lose" mode, and there went the series...


As for getting younger... I agree that we need to get younger, but I don't think we need to get rid of Cheli to do so... Cheli has been one of the more physical Wings on the ice... Why get rid of him?... IMO We screwed the pooch BIG TIME when we didn't sign Chris Pronger... He's better than Lidstrom and he's not making that much coin... I hear he's got a pretty demanding wife, and that's why he left his last team... Maybe she didn't want to come to Det., but if we didn't offer him the same contract he got from Anaheim, we're stupid...


May 24th, 2007, 9:44 pm
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I do not understand tying up all that money with Datsyk. I think it is great how he tries against bigger and faster athletes, but you need lightning speed at his size to be effective. Now they have made a major commitment to him, when the key to their team has been flexibility.

Cleary was amazing-I would rather keep him than Bertuzzi, although I would not mind Bertuzzi at the right price.


May 24th, 2007, 11:40 pm
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Guildenkrantz is dead wrote:
I do not understand tying up all that money with Datsyk. I think it is great how he tries against bigger and faster athletes, but you need lightning speed at his size to be effective. Now they have made a major commitment to him, when the key to their team has been flexibility.

Cleary was amazing-I would rather keep him than Bertuzzi, although I would not mind Bertuzzi at the right price.


IMO we need to keep both Cleary and Bertuzzi...

The Datsyk signing was not a mistake... He is definitely a special player...


May 25th, 2007, 10:02 am
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