Red Wings 1-3 Stars
I thought it was a joke. Pavel Datsyuk had scored a goal to once again put the Wings up 1-0 against the Stars, getting on the board first for the fourth straight game of this series. TDHQ erupted in a jubilant manner that can be accurately described as childlike and offensively loud to anybody within earshot. Because as we all know, a 1-0 lead against the Dallas Stars might as well be a 3 goal cushion. They started this game a whole lot better than the others, but even they admit to "needing" that first goal just to gain any measure of confidence. The collective buzz started to die down amongst my comrades and I as we brought our attention back to the television for the center ice faceoff. But the scoreboard read "0-0" as they were dropping the puck.
"What the fuck happened??"
First off, we could barely wait for this game to start. In Game 3 the Wings played one of the 10 best games I've ever seen them play -- it was a complete clinic from the opening faceoff to the final buzzer. Offensively they were overpowering: scoring on charges to the net, pouncing on Dallas mistakes with assassin-level precision, and exhibiting supreme individual efforts while playing like a 5-man machine at all times. Dallas couldn't get anything consistently going....they'd dump the puck in, and in 3 seconds the puck was send right back out. It was like watching a toddler reach for the cookie jar and having his hand smacked away by his mother, only it was happening about once a minute for the better part of 3 hours. As Gordon Bombay over to your right would tell you, it was reminiscent to the first time that Team USA played Iceland in Mighty Ducks 2 (Without the unfathomable amount of no-calls from the Junior Goodwill Games referees. Seriously, watch that movie again. I know it's a stupid kids flick, but seemingly every fucking scene contains a glaring infraction that goes by unnoticed. People were literally being tackled to the ice in that movie. And then there's the preposterous case where an Iceland player took an unprovoked, two handed, wood-splitting ax chop over the wrist of Adam Banks and got called for a fucking 2 minute minor. D2 contained every unrealistic scenario possible aside from having Wolf "The Dentist" Stansson hit Bombay across the face with a flaming 2x4 wrapped in barb wire.)
Yesterday, being in the hockey season spirit, I dusted off the Red Wings "Celebration of Champions" DVD box set, took out the 2002 season review disk, and we all watched as the Wings denied Vancouver, embarrassed the Avs, and put away the 'Canes for their 3rd Stanley Cup in 6 years. Good memories. So good in fact that we wanted Game 4 to start right then. We were anxious to see Detroit win the Western Conference and solidify a spot in the Cup finals, likely to be against Sydney Crosby and the Penguins. After the horrible feeling that was left in every Wings fans' stomach after last year's playoff exit, winning the West would be feel pretty damn good. I'm sure that it will be an epic showdown, no doubt, but we'd still like to make it official and end the Stars season as early as possible. There was a maximum level of excitement to say the least.
I think this was the first instance in my career of watching hockey where this much time had passed before I realized there was no goal. After Datsyuk beat Turco, my head was spinning...it was probably the first time where a 1-0 lead felt as huge (and safe), considering Dallas' troubles with responding and the security of having a stable Chris Osgood manning our net. I was numb to anything going on on the TV until after the next faceoff. It had to have been at least 2 minutes before I saw that the score was still 0-0. So, "What the fuck happened?" was the natural reaction.
What happened was a very good player did what he was doing better than anybody else in the NHL in front of the net -- legally -- and the referees decided that if he was within FedEx-overnight delivery-proximity of Marty Turco, they were going to call off the goal. In the Western Conference Finals. With the Campbell Bowl in attendance. Incredible.
"That's a reputation call, totally," Mike Babcock said afterward. Agreed, coach, agreed. I know refs get calls wrong all the time, and dammit do they ever in the NHL, but come on now. This is a regularly seen play in hockey. A player stands at the top of the crease and restricts the goalie's sight. And because you know this, you should be able to see (perhaps even with peripheral vision) that Holmstrom was not in the crease; that he's doing what he always does when we score goals legally in this fashion. It's not a difficult call...or "no-call" in this case. Marty Turco, on the other hand, acted like a complete tool after the game:
"I couldn't move freely to make that save on the shot. I really don't think it's a bad call. I don't think it's black-and-white like it used to be. It's the referee's discretion."
Oh shut the fuck up. You couldn't move freely because you couldn't see the puck, went out to cut off the angle, and came out of the crease with your blocker to make contact with the screener. That's the only interference that occurred on that play: your arm not being able to move through a solid object.
So instead of stepping on Dallas' heart and getting the jump on them, the game remained tight until the last minute of the 2nd period. Then, a less controversial but still notable goal was scored, this time by the Stars' Loui Eriksson. Eriksson entered the crease before the puck got there, and as Chris Osgood described, "he was right on top of me." Not only that it seems weird to me that a preeminent NHL goaltender isn't even sure of one of the biggest rules concerning his domain on the ice.
"I don't know if there's a force field around the crease or how it works...I'm not quite sure about the logic or interpretation." Awesome.
Look, Dallas played really hard, perhaps with a greater desperation than Detroit played with killer instinct, but not by much. Everybody is saying that one goal doesn't determine the outcome, but if the Dallas players themselves site that they need that first goal to get a confidence boost, it's a big fucking deal. In any event, I think the Wings will annihilate the Stars Saturday night. Annihilate them.