Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

05/14/2008

Congratulations

Given that both Conference Finals series sit at 3-0 as of this writing with Detroit looking to end Dallas’ season tonight, I’ll offer up a jinx-proof congratulations to both the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, who lead the Flyers, a hearty, “Thank you” deep from the bottom of my hockey-loving heart.

I thank them for playing ridiculously good hockey of late. I thank them for showing that yes, indeed, skill can win out over blatant laziness and goonery. I thank them for carrying out my marching orders that neither the Sharks nor the Canadiens could take care of in the previous round.

Most of all, I thank them for giving me the game I love back to me and others like me with a vengeance.

Detroit has been nothing short of a cold-blooded monster of a team, carved out of the mold of the most bad-ass of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. Pittsburgh has proven to be the most resistant and most opportunistic of teams, capitalizing on every turnover and every mistake offered up by the Philadelphia Flyers – and most notably, Steve Downie. Downie has had two crucial and demoralizing turnovers in the last two games that lead to cinching goals for the Penguins.

Karma is indeed a nasty trollup Mr. Downie and don’t you forget it.

What most bloggers are doing now is taking a look ahead at what the Finals will bring about, however, I’m not completely presumptuous and will save such a thing for when both the Prince of Wales and Clarence Campbell trophies are presented and ignored by team captains.

These Conference Final matchups have provided something interesting amongst the potential double-whitewash. Philly and Dallas writers and fans both have had plenty to say about the officiating through the first two games, but Game 3 in both series silenced even the most ballyhooed complainers. Detroit and Pittsburgh both took care of business so thoroughly that any complaining from then out just rang hollow and very bitter, nevermind completely uneducated.

Every bit of momentum the Stars attempted to seize from Detroit was met swiftly with an answer – no more pointedly than Grossman’s goal in Game 3 that tied the game and got the Stars faithful fired up only to have Pavel Datsyuk score 37 seconds later to quiet the crowd. Pittsburgh has been nastier, jumping out to leads and not letting Philly get comfortable in any way. Philly would rather get ahead, sit back and beat the tar out of you. It’s tough to do that when you can’t get the lead and the injuries suffered by the Philly defense have rendered them tired and toothless. Even Derian Hatcher can’t muster up the strength to hit someone cheaply.

Not yet anyhow – there is still at least one more game to go.

Detroit’s work in Games 2 and 3 was even more pointed given that Johan Franzen, the latest Swedish goal-scoring sensation, was sidelined with something resembling concussion-like symptoms. Franzen single-handedly slapped around the Avalanche and got a taste of some more in Game 1 against Dallas before being benched for recovery. Valteri Filppula is banged up as well and Tomas Holmstrom is showing signs of all the abuse he dishes out/takes in front of the net as he’s clearly a step or two slower than his linemates Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Then again, with linemates like that, who wouldn’t look slow? Come Finals time, you’re looking at, potentially, a fully recharged and rested Red Wings team. My goodness.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has only seen the flu sort of take chunks out of the lineup, but not really. Gary Roberts sat out Game 3 and his physical presence wasn’t even necessary to beat Philadelphia. Players like Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell and Daniel Briere have taken plenty of abuse at the hands of guys like Hal Gill and even Evgeni Malkin, and what have they done to fight back?

Turn around and yell at the officials. They’re in your head boys, just play the game.

Nevermind that virtually every beat writer in Philadelphia has been yelling about one-sided officiating since the start of the playoffs, the players appear to have picked up the same poorly cynical attitude. All the complaining led to having the officials set the tone at the start of Game 3, tons of penalties early on on both teams which effectively neutered the rabid Philadelphia crowd. Talk about your slaps in the face – you get what you’ve been asking for but at the price of killing the buzz and emotion of the crowd.

What’s been most exposed about the Flyers though is their youth. A lot of the youth is in action thanks to injuries on the blueline, the rest of it is there because they’re supposed to be ready. The Flyers aren’t an old team and they’ll be back at it again next year, and perhaps even better. Dallas, on the other hand, has looked slow from the get-go and Dallas writers and VS. analysts have used that early on as a crutch; That the Stars aren’t playing like the real Stars because the series with San Jose wore them out.

That’s fine to say that and think that that’s true, but all those guys on the ice will tell you that that’s no excuse and they’re just getting beaten by a better team.

Well maybe Marty Turco wouldn’t say that, but his mental stability in regard to playing Detroit is, at best, extremely fragile given that Turco has managed only two wins in his career against the Wings, both of which came in Dallas. Detroit isn’t going away any time soon in the West and if Turco wants to get over the hill, well, he’d better start winning a few against Detroit – praying you don’t face them in the playoffs can’t work every year.

Let’s hope that Detroit and Pittsburgh can end the warm-up act quickly and we can get to the Main Event because we haven’t had a Cup Finals, potentially, this good in a very long time.

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