A Leg Up!

by | May 31, 2009 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

That’s the way the puckie bounces around here.

What? You never heard of the famous shoot-it-off-the-boards-and-let-it-trickle-off-the back-of-the-goaltender shot? We use it all the time in Detroit. None of us was surprised when Brad Stuart scored the first goal of the Stanley Cup finals with that old chestnut.

What? You never heard of the shoot-it-off-the-boards-and-backhand-it-lightly-so-it-scrapes-off-the-goalie’s-leg maneuver? Of course Johan Franzen scored the second goal that way. We have fifth-graders who know that move.

What? You never tried, in your backyard pond, the always popular shoot-it-off-the-post-and-flip-it-over-the-defenseman-then-catch-and-drop-and-shoot-it-in move? Where did you grow up? Young Justin Abdelkader pulled that off Saturday night, and he wasn’t even in the NHL at the start of the month!

That’s the way the puckie bounces around here, and if the Penguins aren’t ready for it, well, maybe they shouldn’t be.

“Shouldn’t be”…

Ah, forget it. Call it what it was. One of the weirdest bouncing openers in recent memory. It’s not that the Red Wings didn’t work hard enough to earn this 3-1 victory. They surely did. But on another night, they work just as hard and don’t have any of those particular goals.

Heck, a nuclear physicist might not be able to draw those up again. Penguins came out firing

In addition to the goals, how about the third-period heart-stopper where Sidney Crosby fired on Chris Osgood at breath-smelling range, and Ozzie dove to block it and the puck flipped up and landed on his back.

Right between the “Os” and the “good.”

“I’ve never seen that happen before,” Crosby said.

Oh, come on, Sid. That old play?

No, OK, even we admit, that’s a fresh one. But as Osgood told NBC about the bouncy boards in Detroit: “It makes it fun, but for a goaltender it’s not.”

Just ask Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who no doubt had nightmares of ricochets and pucks flipping like burgers. But hockey messes with you that way; the great teams let the bounces help them to victory but not haunt them to defeat. The building didn’t win Game 1.

The Wings did.

They did it with depth. (Abdelkader? Are you kidding? Is he out of college yet?) And they did it with goaltending. Osgood (31 saves) had one bad bounce of his own – a rebound that was cashed in by Ruslan Fedotenko. But outside of that, Ozzie was spectacular. He singlehandedly denied almost certain goals by Evgeni Malkin and Miroslav Satan, and he saved this game on a night when the Penguins were ready for an upset.

“When I get in the net I’m not doubting myself one bit,” he told NBC.

One day, someday, his critics will finally feel that way, too.

The little keys to victory

Meanwhile, let’s say this about the Penguins. These are not last year’s stargazers. The kids are shaving and have licenses and may even drink a beer or two. Pittsburgh is not intimidated. Not by this stage. Not by this place. And if you thought a nervous hangover from last year’s finals defeat might haunt the Pens’ early minutes, you were wrong; Pittsburgh started strong and got stronger. If you thought rookie coach Dan Bylsma might swallow hard in his first finals, forget it. Bylsma was juggling combinations with his biggest players before the halfway point.

There were stretches where the Pens had the Wings back on their heels, and stretches where only Osgood kept this thing from slipping away.

“Ozzie made some real critical saves,” Mike Babcock said. When asked about the boards at Joe Louis Arena, Babcock rolled his eyes. “Every building you go to there are little nuances.”

Here’s another nuance: Henrik Zetterberg and crew once again did a great job draping Crosby, limiting him to two shots and no points. And another nuance: The Wings won with a less-than-healthy captain Nicklas Lidstrom.

“It’s a race to four,” Bylsma said. “They’ve got one.”

Well, then, here’s a last nuance: The Wings won without Pavel Datsyuk. And he has moves that make the puck look boring.

We’ll see how things bounce tonight.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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