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March 24, 2019
Not So Fast, My Friend
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
A funny thing happened on the way to that Detroit-Pittsburgh matchup in the Stanley Cup Finals.
While I was shocked at their lack of effort in Game Three, the Stars still had the potential to scratch out a win or two against those filthy Wings, so their 3-1 victory in Game Four was hardly surprising. But I thought the Flyers had dimes on their eyes. Their 4-2 win over the Penguins in Game Four was some wild, wild stuff.
Of course, both the Stars and Flyers received more than a little help from the stripes. Detroit should have had a 1-0 lead in Game Four when Pavel Datsyuk fired a puck behind a screened Marty Turco, but the zebras ruled Tomas Holmstrom interfered with the Dallas netminder.
"[The refs] are doing their very best, just like us," said Mike Babcock following the game. "They want to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. Kelly [Sutherland] is a good referee. He just blew the call. That's life."
I'd have to agree with him. I didn't think it was interference either, but what can you do? Holmstrom got away with blatant interference on a goal in Game One, and I didn't hear any Detroit players offering to decline the tally. Deal with it.
The Stars took full advantage of the break, and I wouldn't be stunned to see them steal another win in Game Five. Sure, it's doubtful, but the Wings will still be without Johan Franzen.
"I think the hardest thing for the Mule situation is it's day to day all the time," said Babcock on Friday. "Doesn't sound like it was day to day, sounds like it was week to week. That's what we're dealing with. He's not available for the next game."
Oh, and Chris Osgood is still Chris Osgood. That screw will turn. Of course, it will require Turco winning his first game ever at Joe Louis Arena, but stranger things have happened.
"Everybody talks about how much he lost here," said Dave Tippett. "I just look at that as he's due. That's what we're going to bank on."
But I think Brenden Morrow put things in the proper perspective.
"Well, if he's 0-9-2, my record can't be that great here either," cracked Morrow. "There's a lot of us that play in front of Marty. I'm sure he'd like to get the monkey off his back. But the rest of us have to compete hard, play well in front of him, and give him as much a chance for the win as he's been giving us."
That's why the Church of Morrow is spreading by the day. I heard he turned water into Gatorade on the bench during Game Four. He fed everyone at the American Airlines Center with three hot dogs and five soft pretzels. Now go forth to love and to serve the Morrow.
Tippett intends to use Mike Modano on right wing with Brad Richards and Niklas Hagman again in Game Five, leaving the line of Toby Petersen, Joel Lundqvist, and Loui Eriksson to once again check Detroit's top unit of Datsyuk, Holmstrom, and Henrik Zetterberg.
"Petersen is a smart player that plays the game with a great deal of pace," explained Tippett. "He's really quick. Zetterberg and Datsyuk, Zetterberg in particular, he's so tenacious, plays the game so fast, you need somebody that can keep up with that. We felt Petersen could give us a heck of a game in that regard."
Like Tippett, Philadelphia's John Stevens also juggled his lines in Game Four and enjoyed similar success. Stevens moved Daniel Briere to wing alongside Mike Richards and Scott Hartnell. Briere bagged his first goal of the series, and Hartnell notched three assists.
With Briere out of the middle, Vinnie Prospal centered a line with Joffrey Lupul and R.J. Umberger. Jeff Carter skated between Scottie Upshall and Mike Knuble.
"I like the way the lines have changed, and I thought Carter's line looked good all year," said Stevens. "That's something we're going to stay with. I thought Danny had his best game of the series. I know it's only one game, but I like what those guys bring to the line, and I like how they play together."
The Philly cause got some serious help from the stripes in the first period, as the Penguins were whistled for one bogus call after another. But hey, that's what penalty killers are for. Deal with it.
Still, the difference in officiating from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia was rather startling. The Penguins had nine power-play chances in the first two games at the Igloo. They had just four in the two games in Philly, while the Flyers enjoyed eight. The disparity didn't go unnoticed.
"The one thing I know, since the Flyers complained after Game 2 that they spent time in the penalty box, and it seems that since then they're really disciplined," said Michel Therrien. "We only had two power plays a game. And that's all I could say."
Generous calls or not, the Flyers took it to the Pens in Game Four, physically punishing the Birds and starting scrums o' plenty. It was the kind of gritty intensity they've lacked all series. A repeat performance in Game Five could spell trouble for the Black and Gold.
"We've wanted to play physical, but I don't think it's us that is creating all the scrums after the whistle," said Mike Richards. "We know when we go into scrums that we're not going to get the power play coming out of there, so we want to stay away from those as much as possible. But being physical is a huge part of our game."
In the final minute of regulation, the pesky Scottie Upshall ran Jordan Staal behind the net, sparking a major hubbub. Incredibly, even though there were only 23 seconds left in a 4-2 game, Therrien elected to employ Sidney Crosby, Petr Sykora, and Marian Hossa on the ensuing faceoff. Richards proceeded to repeatedly slash Crosby until another near-brawl broke out.
Was it bad coaching to put Crosby out in that situation? Or was it the worst coaching ever?
"When they got the scrum," explained Therrien, "the referee came to the bench and told us they're going to be fiveonthree. They got two minors. So on a fiveonthree, you pull your goalie with 30 seconds left, and you could have a chance to go sixonthree. And we're still feeling with a good rush and in ten seconds we could have scored a goal, and you're still hoping.
"When all the players were on the ice, he came to the bench and told us they don't have two minors. They've got one minor. All players were there already. So that was a bad communication from the referee to the bench. They changed their mind. They changed their call, and the call was there."
It was idiotic at best. But I'll give Therrien credit for one thing, he moved Max Talbot up with Staal and Tyler Kennedy in the third period, and the trio combined for two goals to nearly pull off a miraculous comeback. Staal was the best player on the ice all night. He was a beast. I've never seen him skate faster. But Therrien intends to put Talbot back to the fourth line at the start of Game Five, only shifting him to Staal's wing if the team needs a spark.
Everyone will have two days off between Games Four and Five. In the Campbell Conference, I think the extra day helps Dallas. It gives the weary Stars, who are still recovering from their battle with San Jose, more time to recover. And their momentum should only swell.
In the Wales, I think the extra day of rest will actually help the Penguins. The Flyer win was based on emotion, and that will wane before Sunday. While Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn are both expected to play in Game Five, don't overestimate their value. Neither one will be at full strength. And the Flyers had just gotten used to playing without them, so having them back will be an adjustment. It won't be automatic.
I just think the extra day will help Pittsburgh forget Game Four. The Pens should be fresh and ready to go on Sunday. They're simply the better team. And they'll prove it.