May 29, 2013

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The Mystique of Game 7

By: Matt Bowen

Sports mimic life, the movies, and folklore—Game 7 in any playoff series is the cat’s meow.

Nothing is better than a winner-take-all, no-holds-barred bout between two teams that have grown to hate one another over the previous six rounds.

For some, the rivalry is just blossoming as teams and their fans quickly grow a disdain for all things opposition. For others, the enemy is familiar and not welcome.

The Red Wings and Blackhawks face-off in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Nothing brings such a rivalry to a fever pitch as a Game 7. With the season, pride and bragging rights on the line, losing to a despicable foe stings the worst. Players don’t get to wash away the pain in their soul with a win the next time out. Fans have to stomach the body blow knock-out dealt by the gloating faithful of their rivals. Sometimes these memories torment players, fans, and franchises for an eternity.

Even though one may find themselves on the wrong end of a Game 7, the love of the game leaves them desiring more.

The NHL has received a gift from the hockey Gods—on May 29 the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks will duel in a Game 7 that promises to be one for the ages. You see, this game will be something special. This is not a normal Game 7, this is THE Game 7. The next time these bitter rivals will meet in the playoffs it will be in the Stanley Cup Finals.

With NHL realignment set to take place, the Detroit Red Wings will venture into the Eastern Conference next season. This leaves the Chicago Blackhawks as the lone Original Six team in the Western Conference.

All of a sudden there’s much more on the line in this Game 7. The winner gets the satisfaction knowing that they got the last laugh with so much at stake. Sure, the loser may exact their revenge in a somewhat meaningless regular season game next season, but the playoffs are different. Game 7 is different. This rivalry is different.

Two blue collar cities such as Detroit and Chicago are too hard-nosed to lie down for their opponent. Expect both sides to come out swinging and fight til the end. Both sides know how much this means to their diehard fans.

Every year there’s a playoff game that just won’t end—it lasts way past your bedtime. Five overtimes later, you can’t fall asleep, can’t stop watching. Don’t worry, your boss will understand. The whole city understands. The outcome will shape the mood of the office for the rest of the week.

Hockey enthusiasts hope it’s this game. The game and its fans deserve it. History is what we want—expect nothing less.

The lore of Game 7 will undoubtedly leave us in awe.

February 1, 2013

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3 Keys for Detroit Red Wings to Make Playoffs

By: Tyler Vespa

For the first time in a while, the Detroit Red Wings have some significant questions to answer. With the retirement of 7- time Norris Trophy winner and former captain Nicklas Lidstrom, and the trade of Brad Stuart, the biggest void is definitely on defense. The screens and deflections of Tomas Holmstrom will also be missed. The other major problem is that the Wings have a lot of streaky players on their roster, and with a shortened season that can’t happen. The impact of those 3 players on the Wings’ special teams is something that can’t be replaced over night.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to make the postseason, but it’s far from a long shot. Here are 3 keys for the Wings that will help them overcome all of these obstacles:

  1. Depth on the offensive side of the puck: With young guns like Damien Brunner, Gustav Nyquist, and Jan Mursak, the Wings youth movement has begun. Brunner is already playing on the Wings’ top line. Nyquist and Mursak have been solid in relief of injuries. Both have been called up numerous times to fill holes. Not to mention the fact that the Wings are loaded with talent at the forward position in the minors with names like Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson, who have yet see major ice time with the Wings.
  2. Darren Helm and Johan Franzen for Special Teams: Helm’s speed is a killer. The Wings need that on both ends of the ice. Johan Franzen needs to keep scoring goals; He had 27 and 28 the past two seasons. He can’t be streaky this season.
  3. Backup Goaltending: Jimmy Howard can’t play the remaining 42 games and still have some left in the tank for the postseason. We need “The Monster” Jonas Gustavsson to be solid in relief.

Bottom line, the Wings will make the playoffs again if these 3 things happen. By committee, the Wings have a great offense with some young, fresh legs. It’s extremely important we use them to help Datsyuk, Zetterberg and veteran Todd Bertuzzi. With the amount of parity in the NHL today, we can’t win without a penalty kill and a power play. Jimmy Howard needs help. Our defense is very fragile, and not nearly as talented as past seasons. If Gustavsson fails, Joey MacDonald or Thomas McCollum must be ready.

July 20, 2012

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Why Re-signing Quincey Makes Sense For Red Wings

By: Tyler Vespa

The Detroit Red Wings and defensemen Kyle Quicey agreed to a new two-year,  $7.55 million contract on Wednesday.

The Detroit Red Wings will have a youth movement on defense next season.

This move by the Wings was essential. After Nick Lidstrom retired and Brad Stuart took a pay cut to move closer to home in San Jose, the Wings’ talk on defense was mostly about breeding the younger players in the system.

However, after also missing the opportunity to sign top free agent defensemen Ryan Suter, the Wings’ front office knew something had to be done immediately. This signing was one of the many baby steps the Wings needed to complete to remain a strong contender in the NHL’s Central Division and the Western Conference.

Now, the Wings are working on a deal with restricted free- agent Justin Abdelkader. Although Abdelkader does not provide a lot of scoring, he brings more youth to the roster, and plays solid two-way hockey on every shift.

With the possible retirement of Tomas Holmstrom and lack of scoring depth, the Wings pursuit of Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan remains significant. If they strike out on Doan, expect a pursuit of Washington’s Alexander Semin or Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan.

The rest of this offseason is important, as the Wings still need to find the right mixture of youth and experience.

July 6, 2012

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Free Agent Frenzy: Red Wings Search For Answers

By: Tyler Vespa

Coming into this offseason, the Detroit Red Wings were all smiles with enough cap room to make some significant changes. However, with both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signing with Minnesota, the Wings were left with more difficult decisions than the franchise anticipated.

Could this be a rebuilding year for the Red Wings?

The team needs haven’t changed even with the additions made in the past few weeks. They still need a top-pair defensemen and some scoring depth. As a result, the Wings may have to wait their turn to win the free agency lottery. Meaning, Ken Holland is more confident in being patient and inserting some young guys from the minor league system to give them some added time to develop.

So, does this officially mean rebuilding the franchise for a season, after not being able to reload with tremendous talent? I believe for once, Holland would agree.

The Wings will still be a playoff team and possible Cup contender, but we may not see the same consistency we’ve seen in the past 5 years. The Wings will need a lot more things to go there way on a night-to-night basis.

Now, this doesn’t guarantee the Wings are done making changes this offseason. The problem is, the deal has to make sense with the team’s chemistry. Some talented names still available are ColumbusRick Nash, Washington’s Alexander Semin, Phoenix’s Shane Doan, Nashville’s Shea Weber, and Washington’s Mike Green. Another great option is Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan. He is not on the free-agent market, but desperately wants out of Anaheim.

To me, aside from Shane Doan and Bobby Ryan, none of the other marquee names really fit the style the Wings like to play. The only thing that gives Ryan a small edge is his youth, being just 25, while Doan is already 35. Other than that, I’m more intrigued with some other solid names that will better fit the Wings’ style of play. I think players like Sam Gagner from Edmonton, and Evander Kane from Winnipeg are some good two-way forwards that would really answer the Wings’ issue of scoring depth.

Defensively, the Wings should concentrate on re-signing Kyle Quincey, and maybe seeking a return of a former Red Wing in Brett Lebda.

Defensively, I believe Ken Holland’s theory of breeding some younger players now is fine. However, the Wings may have a harder time filling all of their offensive roster spots with players already in the system. So, I’m expecting the Wings to go hard after Shane Doan and Bobby Ryan.

April 11, 2012

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NHL Playoffs – Western Conference First Round Predictions

By: Junior

The NHL playoffs begin tonight, considered by many to be the best playoff atmosphere of any sport. Each first round series has a compelling storyline and even the 8th seeds have a shot at advancing. So who will win each series? That is exactly what I will tell you in the following predictions. We start with the Western Conference.

Which teams will advance past the first round on their quest for the Stanley Cup?

Western Conference

 

(1)Canucks vs. (8)Kings

These two teams split their season series, which is about how easy this pick is to make. The Kings have been one of the best defensive teams in hockey this season, and I am not a big fan of Roberto Luongo in the Playoffs. There are big injuries on both sides: Daniel Sedin may not be ready for the Canucks, while Jeff Carter might not go for the Kings. Both are key players for their teams and will impact this series greatly. The Canucks are the deeper team, and with injuries a big factor, I like them to advance.

Prediction: Canucks in 5.

 

(2)Blues vs. (7)Sharks

The Sharks have been one of the bets playoff teams in the NHL the past few seasons, and will look to continue that streak as an underdog this series. They might find that hard against the Blues, who swept the regular season series. The Blues allowed the fewest goals in the regular season and have two solid goalies ready to take the net. The Sharks were brutal on the penalty kill and will need Annti Niemi to step up big if they want to pull the upset.

Prediction: Blues in 6.

 

(3)Coyotes vs. (6)Blackhawks

Another weird 3vs.6 matchup where the 6 seed scored more points than the 3 seed. Regardless, the Coyotes have home-ice and a goalie who has been playing lights out lately in Mike Smith. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are waiting to see if captain Jonathan Toews will be able to return to the ice for this series. The Blackhawks are the deeper team, yet Smith and the Coyotes have more of a chance than many people will give them credit for.

Prediction:  Blackhawks in 6.

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(4)Predators vs. (5)Red Wings

Jimmy Howard vs. Pekka Rinne. This series will test both these solid goaltenders and will rest heavily on their shoulders. The Predators have a lot of pressure to succeed after the moves they made this season. They can’t be excited to have to advance against the Red Wings, who are finally back healthy. A lot of people are picking the Predators to win, but while they have home ice, I think the Red Wings have a chip on their shoulders because of this sudden underdog role they are being cast in.

Prediction: Red Wings in 7.

(To read our Eastern Conference First Round predictions, click here.)