April 28, 2010
The San Jose Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings will meet in the Western Conference semifinals, and we can expect two things: Predictions that the Sharks will fold mentally against the battle-tested, savvy Winged Wheel; and an endless parade of references to the 2009 cult classic "Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus" featuring Deborah Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas, whose poster you see here.
The Wings advanced with a 6-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes that wasn't even that close. This is what Detroit can do when it's all clicking: They can own you on special teams, humble you defensively and allow their stars to take over a game as Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom did with their 2-goal efforts. There are few teams in the NHL that can dismantle an opponent with the assassin-like proficiency of the Detroit Red Wings; when they're on, they're practically unstoppable and impenetrable.
But as the Coyotes showed in the 7-game quarterfinal: They're not always on.
Jimmy Howard was good when he needed to be, but was protected well in Game 7; less protection, and we've seen him surrender five goals in a playoff game. We've also seen the Red Wings outhustled on some nights in the playoffs, and the Sharks have fast and tenacious players that can push the tempo.
This will be the fourth all-time meeting between the Sharks and the Wings, with San Jose having lost two since shocking Detroit in the Arturs Irbe series in 1994. (Leading scorer on that Sharks team? Sergei Makarov.) Their last meeting was a 4-2 semifinal win for the Wings in 2007, back when Ron Wilson was coaching San Jose and Lidstrom was just 36 years old.
To hear Joe Pavelski tell it, the Sharks figured out a few things about themselves in Round 1. If this is in fact their year, there's no better catharsis for playoff frustration than eliminating the Red Wings, a symbol of everything the Sharlks have not been in the postseason. If such a feat can, in fact, be accomplished by this San Jose group.
(SPOILER: Mega Shark and Giant Octopus kill each other in the film. Which, we guess, bodes well for the Blackhawks and the Canucks.)
A few thoughts on Phoenix: Not having the emotional jolt of Shane Doan on the ice mattered tonight, in this spot. You'd have loved to have seen what a warrior like that could do in a Game 7.
But the only reason the Coyotes were in a single elimination game was because their power-play rolled to three goals apiece in Games 1 and 6. Tuesday night? They were 0-for-5 with six shots in 7:12, suffering a mortal wound by not converting a 5-on-3 power play and then having Brad Stuart(!) score on a breakaway with 5 seconds left in the second period. That was the dagger.
But as we've said many times before: This series and playoff run was what the fan base needed in Glendale. Living and dying with their team for seven games. Dressing up in white, throwing the snakes, loathing the Red Wings fans who invaded the building. Having your throat hurt slightly less than your ears after four playoff home games.
There's a sense of community there now. A seed's been planted. It's up to new ownership, new fans, the local media and, most importantly, continued success on the ice to see what grows in the desert.