MITCH ALBOM ANALYZES HOW WINGS BLEW CHANCE TO CONTROL THE SERIES
Can’t agree with the refs on this one
The head is attached to the body. You attack one, you’ll affect the other, and to the naked eye, at the speed of hockey, it is damn hard to know how much contact is made where or when. So Justin Abdelkader saw a play develop, charged toward Anaheim’s Toni Lydman and plowed into him for a check. Hit his body, shoulder high, knocked Lydman up and down like a land mine explosion.
Was Lydman’s head affected? How could it not be? Was it a hit to the head? Clearly not. Did Abdelkader build up speed heading toward him? Don’t you have to? Did he continue that speed through the hit? Not at all. Did the refs call it clean – or did they call it dirty and throw Abdelkader out?
Yes – and yes.
On such things can playoff hockey turn.
At first seemingly a legitimate check, the referees spoke and turned that play into a major charging penalty, a game misconduct, an ejection for Abdelkader, and a five-minute man advantage for Anaheim – which, very quickly, turned it into the first goal of the night and the start of a Ducks blowout.
No surprise. The head is attached to the body. The Wings, having played to that point a hard but fruitless game of power-play trading, slumped mentally, and gave up the ghost just 18 seconds into the Ducks’ advantage.
That one goal would be enough to win the game.
“I don’t think it deserved a five,” said a frustrated Henrik Zetterberg, after the Wings lost ugly to Anaheim, 4-0, to surrender home-ice advantage and fall behind in their first-round series, two games to one. “It was no call from the beginning. Both refs didn’t do anything. And then when they saw the guy was down all of a sudden it was a five. If they think it’s not a penalty right away, it’s tough to make it out to a five after they talk. I didn’t see that he deserved to get kicked out of the game. Maybe two. … Five? That’s a tough call.”
No power in their play
I agree with Zetterberg. A dirty hit should be obvious from the contact itself – not from the effect it has on the player. The Abdelkader penalty – and his ejection – was clearly the turning point of Saturday night’s game. But you could argue the stars were crossed early on at Joe Louis Arena, when the Wings, in the first period, had all kinds of power plays – and couldn’t bury a puck. They had a 4-3 man advantage. A 5-3 man advantage. A 5-4 man advantage.
In fact, for much of the night, the most productive things in the arena were the hinges on the penalty box door. Neither team did much with one-man or two-man advantages. And Anaheim, with a free five minutes of power-play action, only managed the one goal.
So coming into the third period, the Wings still had a chance. “We felt good about where we were,” said Zetterberg, the Wings’ captain.
Not for long. Six and a half minutes in, with the Wings at the end of another empty power play, rookie Damien Brunner made a mistake he won’t soon forget. Bringing the puck up, circling into center ice, he was pocket-picked like Fagan by Ryan Getzlaf, who juked Jimmy Howard and poked the puck into an empty net – as Brunner dove in desperation. The rookie lay on the ice, face down, for several excruciating seconds. Earlier in the day, he had told the media how excited he was to play in his first Joe Louis playoff game. “I’ve been waiting for this for quite a while now,” he said. “It’s going to be an awesome atmosphere walking into the Joe tonight.”
Walking out was no doubt a different story.
“We came unraveled after that,” coach Mike Babcock admitted.
It’s best to forget
Unraveling is not something Wings fans are used to. But this is a young team (with a couple of older stars) and youth is going to show nerves and make mistakes. The Wings need to forget about the last 20 minutes Saturday night. In fact, forget the whole game. What happens next is what matters most.
Today, the Wings will learn whether Abdelkader is suspended for his hit. Brendan Shanahan, who used to deliver shots like that on this very same Detroit ice, will make the call in the NHL offices. If Abdelkader is out, it’s bad news for the Wings. This is not a group that can afford to be without any of its better players.
“When you’re really deep and you lose people it’s a not a big deal,” Babcock said. “When you’re like us, it’s a big deal.”
The shame of it is the Wings came into Saturday with a chance to take real command of this series. Their overtime victory in Game 2 in Anaheim brought them home on a high. And the first game at Joe Louis Arena is always an advantageous atmosphere for the home team. The fans did their traditional part.
The Wings did not.
“I thought tonight we had everything set up for us,” Babcock said. “When we gave up that second goal, we let it get away.”
We’ll see if they can get it back. The head is attached to the body. These young Wings need to get the mental part right, and get the physical to follow.
Hopefully, without hearing a referee’s whistle.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or email@example.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.
ALBOM: A wasted chance to control series