Wings had shots but Pekka is a wrecka

by | Apr 16, 2012 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

The best part of Game 3 was a Red Wings goal. Pavel Datsyuk came charging behind the Nashville net, chopped his stick like a Benihana chef – swick-swick – stole the puck from Roman Josi, then spun and tucked it in for a score. I think he made stir-fry as well.

The worst part of Game 3 was also a Red Wings goal. Late in the second period, Johan Franzen, after a mad Detroit skirmish near the Nashville net, took a loose puck and fired it in. The red light lit. But so did the blue light. And when the smoke cleared, blue beat red by about a tenth of a second. A goal that would have tied the game was ruled never a goal at all.

It turned out to be the Wings’ best shot at tying this game. Instead, they lost, 3-2, and trail the series, 2-1.

Chances are still chances. You must bury them to win. The Wings outshot Nashville by a near 2-to-1 margin (43 shots to 22), but with Pekka Rinne in the goal, that’s often an even fight.

“With Pekka, we know if we can deflect things or keep them to the outside, they can have as many shots as they want,” said Nashville coach Barry Trotz. “He’s a pretty good goaltender.”

Pretty good? He’s as big as a giraffe and as nimble as a rabbit. He’s 6-feet-5 the way an NBA guy is 6-feet-5, not the way an NHL guy is 6-feet-5. Usually the NHL version is beefy, thick, Goliath-like – a Chris Pronger. Rinne is more like a point guard in pads. He has amazing balance, uncanny quickness plus (and this was once considered critical in the soulful ’70s) he can really get down.

In the goal, I mean.

No way to start in your building

Consider this. Datsyuk’s shot was, until the last minute of the game, the only puck the Wings put past Rinne. And they had 43 shots on goal. If the Wings are counting on stolen pucks that Renne has his back to, they’re not going to score a lot this series. Solving him is a challenge. They can do it. But while they are doing it, they need to be near-perfect elsewhere on the ice.

On Sunday afternoon they were very good, but near-perfect was out of reach.

They started flat, which you can’t do in your first home playoff game of a series. Joe Louis Arena was roaring. Fans were waving red light sticks. Two octopi hit the ice during the national anthem.

And with all that, the Predators took it right to the Wings, had three shots and a couple of steals in the opening 60 seconds and won the first five face-offs.

“We were back on our heels,” Mike Babcock said.

Nashville got the first power play – after goaltender interference on Drew Miller. And then, with the crowd booing his every touch, Shea Weber broke Datsyuk’s stick with a shot, then put a rebound through Datsyuk’s legs and past Jimmy Howard for the Predators’ first power-play goal of the series. Weber, thanks to his nasty hit on Henrik Zetterberg, was the villain coming in. He didn’t seem fazed at all.

“He was a monster out there,” Trotz said.

Well, sure, he’s Weber’s coach. But from Detroit’s point of view…

He was a monster out there.

In need of a few breaks

But Rinne is the story. He simply doesn’t make many mistakes. On Sunday, the Wings thought they had him when Miller fired on a breakaway and the puck rebounded out to a charging Cory Emmerton. Rinne, finally, was out of position. The net was wide open.

“I wanted to pound it in,” Emmerton said.

But at the last instant, Nashville’s Kevin Klein stretched to get the shaft of his stick in front of the puck, and Emmerton’s hard shot bounced harmlessly away – and with it, maybe the Wings’ last great chance to tie the game. Rinne went over to thank Klein during the next break, which is a little like Superman thanking a fellow citizen for throwing away that kryptonite.

And here we are this morning, right where you expected this series to be, 2-1, with each contest decided by a goal. Lose the inexperience talk, now that Nashville has won its first playoff game in Detroit. This is a fine team with a very hot goalie. And as Zetterberg said, “If you keep giving them chances, they will eventually score.”

And if you keep getting chances, you have to bury them. Maybe next time the blue light will be slower, or that defenseman’s stick won’t be so quick.

After all, when a team has a giraffe/rabbit in goal, it doesn’t need any help.


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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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