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March 20, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Yeah, I'm not happy about this at all.
The Detroit Red Wings are one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals. Those filthy Wings beat the Dallas Stars 5-2 Monday night, seizing a 3-0 series lead in the Campbell Conference Finals.
Heading into the series, I really thought Dallas could beat Detroit. The Stars are a gritty, disciplined bunch. I was hoping they could keep games close and physically punish the Wings, scratching out four tight wins. Didn't happen. Nevertheless, I still say imaginations are fun. Much better than reality.
Dallas dictated tempo early, generating a few close calls and earning the game's first power play just 1:33 into the opening frame. Detroit got the kill and dodged a bullet a little later when a harmless point shot ticked off Nicklas Lidstrom and rang the crossbar.
Dallas drew even at 15:13 of the first when Nicklas Grossman one-timed a sweet Mike Modano pass behind Chris Osgood. Modano feathered a backhander from low along the left wing boards all the way across to Grossman in the right circle. And that's the key to beating Osgood. He goes side to side with all the grace of Herman Munster. He's slower than a tax refund.
But just 37 seconds later, Datsyuk struck again to put Detroit in front 2-1. And this goal was a perfect example of Dallas' defensive incompetence and complete lack of effort on the night.
Datsyuk busted out of the Detroit zone with Tomas Holmstrom up ahead on his right. Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley were back for the Stars, and Brad Richards was step for step with Datsyuk. No problem, right?
Well, Holmstrom made a brilliant play to loop to the left side and cut behind Robidas. Datsyuk chipped a gorgeous little lead pass to Holmstrom, sending him into the Dallas zone with speed. It may not have looked like much, but there are maybe five other players in the league capable of making that pass, and that's a generous estimate. Few players would even be able to read that play and recognize the opportunity, let alone have the skill to thread the needle.
Once he saw Holmstrom get behind Robidas, Daley vacated his side in an attempt to support his partner, leaving the slot and right wing exposed. Robidas didn't know Daley had his back, so he turned to chase Holmstrom as soon as Datsyuk moved the puck behind him.
Dallas still would have been okay if Richards would have moved his feet and picked up Datsyuk, but instead, he simply coasted back into the zone on a lovely Sunday stroll. He never took another stride after hitting the center stripe. He was a minus-27 this year for a reason, folks. Datsyuk, being the great player he is, bolted to the net untouched and shoveled Holmstrom's centering pass behind Turco.
Richards got some revenge in the second period, tying the game 2-2 at 3:47. Thankfully, it didn't involve backchecking. His centering attempt from the left wing corner hit Brad Stuart and skipped into the twine. Yippie.
Detroit recaptured the lead at 11:54 of the middle frame, cashing in on a terrible Dallas line change. The Stars mangled a defensive switch, allowing Jiri Hudler to sneak all the way out to the Dallas line. Niklas Kronwall grabbed a puck in the Detroit slot and fired it ahead to send Hudler in free. The crafty Czech winger, who only played 10 minutes on the night, didn't exactly make a graceful journey to the cage, stumbling and bumbling at the start, but he had enough speed to stay ahead of Robidas and whip a real wizard backhander over Turco's glove.
Hudler's goal was a back-breaker. If a team is going to score, at least make them earn it. Giving up free breakaways isn't exactly a recipe for postseason success. The Stars were able to recover and keep the score 3-2 heading to the third. And they've made many a third-period comeback in these here playoffs, so all hope wasn't lost. Things were even looking pretty good when Holmstrom took a goaltender interference penalty just 18 seconds into the final frame. But that's when more stupidity and laziness doomed Dallas.
Richards was manning the right point on the power play and fired a puck wide of the right post. Brenden Morrow got to the puck first behind the net and made a desperate centering attempt as he was falling to the ice. Just as Morrow was on his way down, Robidas was cheating in from the left point, and the puck went right past him, giving Zetterberg an easy exit.
Zetterberg swung wide along the right wing boards at center and sized up the situation. The only man back was Richards. Green light. Zetterberg waited until he got to the top of the circle and made a subtle move to the outside to get Richards to turn his hips. It was over. It was all over.
Zetterberg danced to the inside and made Richards look like, well, Brad Richards trying to play defense. Zetterberg held the puck all the way across the slot to pull Turco to the ice, and then he buried the Stars.
It was a truly disgusting display. Robidas and Mike Ribeiro should both be publicly flogged. They didn't backcheck at all. It was ridiculous. They knew Richards was the only man back, and they did nothing to help him. I couldn't believe it. They just coasted through center and watched as Zetterberg undressed Richards. Shameful.
"They've been out there for a while, and I came pretty fresh from the bench," said Zetterberg. "And so I looked up. I saw it was a forward. And I knew he'd been out there for a while. I guess I had a little bit more energy. They weren't backchecking, so it made it easy for me to cut in the middle."
Datsyuk finished his hat trick at 17:19 to toss more dirt on the grave. Again, Zetterberg completely outworked the Stars, manhandling Matt Niskanen and Mattias Norstrom along the right wing boards to swipe the puck, and then he waltzed around the perpetually uninterested Ribeiro to feed Datsyuk in the slot. Bang. Series over.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg: It's impossible to think of one without the other. They're incredible hockey players. Two of the top five in the world. They do it all. And when Dallas picked up the physical play early, Datsyuk and Zetterberg never blinked. They just went about their business.
Datsyuk and Zetterberg are true superstars. Guys like Richards and Ribeiro are frauds. Datsyuk and Zetterberg backcheck, compete, and do all the little things to be successful. Guys like Richards and Ribeiro do not.
"We didn't have much answer for them tonight," said Dave Tippett when asked about Detroit's dynamic duo. "Those two are a rare breed, because they're a line that you look at that you should be checking, but in actual fact they're a checking line. So those players are a rare couple players."
"He was our best goalie all year," said Mike Babcock. "He won the most games. He played really, really well. And he played well last year. Ever since he's worked on his butterfly, he's been back to being a real good goalie.
"And you gotta give the guy a lot of credit for reinventing himself. And he's now back at the top of his game. He's a great teammate. That's what he is. He's a great guy. He's funny. He's good to be around. The guys play hard for him. They really like him. But he's given them an opportunity right now. As you know, at playoff time goaltending is everything."
Brenden Morrow: He's the only one worth mentioning. Unlike most of his teammates, Morrow actually gave a damn. He worked hard all night and led the hit parade, ringing up seven more checks to bring his playoff total to a league-best 82. He also fell awkwardly in the third period and somehow managed not to break his left arm. Or maybe it did break, and Morrow simply didn't care. He's cool like that.
Not Mike Ribeiro: If there's one good thing about Detroit's dominance, it's that it proves my original opinion of Ribeiro to be correct. This guy is a big bag of douche.
A weasel can only hide its true nature for so long. Yeah, he played great in the first two rounds, but now what's up? He's two-handing people in the chest, he's making more turnovers than Aunt Bea at the Mayberry church picnic, and he's playing less defense than the Washington Generals.
Ribeiro had four giveaways in Game Three, raising his playoff total to 22. That's only two behind Brian Campbell for the postseason lead. Campbell is very good. But in way of comparison, Datsyuk and Zetterberg have 12 giveaways combined.
Dallas outhit Detroit 47-20 in Game Three. It did little to intimidate the Wings. And those numbers are skewed somewhat by Detroit always having the puck.
And once the Wings get the biscuit, they don't relinquish it without a fight. Detroit had 13 giveaways. Dallas had 26. Call it the Ribeiro Effect.
And the Wings have won these past two games without Johan Franzen, who continues to recover from a concussion. Game Three was a pivotal win for Detroit's Cup run. The Wings can now rest Franzen for Game Four and let him enjoy the big break before the Finals start.
Kid Crosby, you're our only hope.