Game 74: Red Wings-Toronto Enotes

There is more than a subtle bittersweet feeling whenever you see Darren Helm excel on the ice.

You can’t help but wonder might have been.

What might have been, if Helm, the speedy Red Wings center, wasn’t so gosh darn injury-prone.

What might have been, if the Red Wings could insert Helm into the lineup with impunity, with any semblance of regularity.

Unfortunately, Helm has been injury-prone and he has missed a wealth of games over the past two seasons-plus.

There’s no use crying over spilled milk, but when Helm does what he did tonight in Toronto—score his first career hat trick, and in the manner that he did it—it’s hard not to wonder if the Red Wings’ place in the standings would be higher than it is now.

But for now, they are high enough.

Helm’s three goals led the Red Wings past Toronto, 4-2, as the Maple Leafs have picked a lousy time to go on an eight-game losing streak—all in regulation, by the way.

Helm scored in just about every way imaginable as he used his many tools.

First, he used his speed on the penalty kill to bust loose on a breakaway, then when that attempt failed, Helm stuck around in front of the Leafs net, batted down a pass in midair from Joakim Andersson, and flipped a backhand past Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier to tie the game, 1-1, about three minutes into the second period.

For his next trick, Helm camped in front of Bernier and in a rare play, broke his stick deflecting Jakub Kindl’s slapshot past the Leafs netminder for a 3-1 Detroit lead as the Red Wings scored three times in a space of less than five minutes.

Finally, Helm showed his soft hands as he squirted free for another breakaway, using a nifty backhand-to-forehand move to deposit his third puck past Bernier to give the Red Wings a 4-2 lead at 8:38 of the third period.

The Air Canada Centre crowd booed the Leafs lustily as the final seconds ticked off the clock.

Toronto actually led 1-0 but the Leafs have scored the first goal of the game just twice in their past 10 contests, and neither time did they win. The Leafs are two points behind the Red Wings (34-26-14) for a wild card berth, but Detroit has two games in hand.

Jimmy Howard made 25 saves for Detroit, which snapped a three-game losing streak.

And while every victory these days is to be savored, it’s also OK to admire Helm and be wistful and imagine him healthy all year. Chances are, the Red Wings wouldn’t be scrambling for a playoff spot with eight games to play.

BOX SCORE

BOTTOM LINE: The Leafs are playing with hardly any confidence these days, and it showed tonight.

THE WINGED WHEELER SAYS: With eight games to play, it stands to reason that the Red Wings need at least 10 points to feel safe as far as the playoff race goes. That would give them 92 points, and it’s hard to imagine that not being enough to qualify.

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Game 69: Red Wings-Pittsburgh Enotes

If the Red Wings manage to extend their playoff-making streak to 23 straight years at the end of this season, it will be easy to point to tonight’s dramatics against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Joe Louis Arena and call it the biggest win of the year.

In a game fraught with playoff pressure and wackiness, the Red Wings (32-24-13) picked up two huge points by beating the Pens, 5-4 in overtime—by scoring the winning goal with 0.4 seconds remaining.

The Red Wings’ ageless warrior, Daniel Alfredsson, got credit for the winner—his second goal of the night—when his wrist shot rebounded off Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s had much luckier nights, and bounced off even more unlucky defenseman Rob Scuderi and trickled over the goal line as time ran out.

After a brief confirmation with the folks in Toronto, the goal was affirmed and the Red Wings, with 77 points, are just one point out of the no. 8 seed.

BOX SCORE

It was far from easy, even after Detroit staked itself to a 2-0 lead.

Three Penguin goals within three minutes late in the second period put Pittsburgh ahead, 3-2, after 40 minutes.

The puck was bouncing off Penguins defenders into the net all night, to the tune of three goals.

The second of those three times gave Detroit a 4-3 lead with about seven minutes left in the third period. The goal was credited to Todd Bertuzzi, but it may be changed to Luke Glendening—it would be Glendening’s first career NHL goal—because replays seemed to indicate that Bertuzzi’s wrist shot deflected off Glendening before it bounced off a Pittsburgh defenseman and past Fleury.

Craig Adams tied the game with 5:34 left.

The game winner happened when a Pittsburgh rush with 12 seconds left suddenly turned the other way, with Alfredsson leading a 3-on-1 break. Alfie skated down the right wing and fired the puck with three seconds left, triggering the pinball effect, sending JLA into a frenzy.

It was a big win, and maybe will be considered the biggest, coming against a powerful Penguins team with the Red Wings decimated by injuries.

 

 

 

 

 

And I Quote……

 

“Anything in life can be a grind if you let it, if you’re soft between the ears. You get to play in the NHL and you get to play every day, I don’t know how bad that can be. I don’t know where the grind is.

“Let’s just get ready to go. We got Toronto in our building (on Tuesday) and we need something positive. I think it’s real important as a group, you got to stay together and each guy’s got to bring his personal best each and every night.”

—Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, to MLive.com.

Red Wings’ Playoff Hopes Seem Destined for the “Jim Mora Treatment”

If you saw the jersey retirement ceremony for Nick Lidstrom a couple weeks ago, maybe you were as struck as I was by a sobering visual.

Two of the Red Wings’ big guns, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, presented Lidstrom with Nick’s official gift from the team—an African Safari.

Both were in street clothes. And Zetterberg, with his bad back, looked like he was a hundred years old, the way he was moving about.

That visual of Z and Pavs presenting Lidstrom with his gift spoke volumes.

Here were the stars of the present, hobbled and wearing Armani instead of Koho, commiserating with an icon of glory days past.

That moment pretty much tells the story of the state of the Red Wings today.

Another reminder occurred in Chicago last night.

The Red Wings, decimated by injuries and playing with a roster liberally dotted with Grand Rapids Griffins and Red Wings of the future, gave the Blackhawks a game for 40 minutes. The Red Wings, outgunned, outshot and outplayed, nonetheless were trailing by a single goal, 2-1.

Then Marian Hossa struck about eight minutes into the third period, using speed and skill to score an insurance goal. The Blackhawks added a shorthanded tally with a few minutes left. Final score: Chicago 4, Detroit 1.

The Red Wings simply can’t match the skill of many NHL teams right now. Their wobbly playoff hopes are based on hard work, luck and winning games 2-1 or even 1-0.

The future is bright, as written on this blog before. But the present’s reality was underscored by what happened in Chicago on Sunday night.

The Red Wings can’t rely on skill right now. Their post-season hopes ride on the age-old playoff mentality of taking each game one shift at a time. They will have to score power play goals at a brisk rate. The penalty kill will have to be drum tight.

There isn’t much of a margin for error for the goaltending, as if you needed reminding.

The Red Wings are just three points out of the playoffs but it sometimes feels like 10. It’s so difficult for them now.

Sadly, I believe the nights they will be outclassed will override the nights they manage a point or two. The 22-year playoff streak will come to an end. My opinion.

NHL STANDINGS

RED WINGS STATS

Playoffs Or Not This Year, Red Wings Set Up Nicely For the Future

The applause was thunderous. Big Bob Probert was back.

The date was March 22, 1990. And Probert was making his season debut for the Red Wings after yet another battle in the courts—the one type of fight that no. 24 could rarely seem to win.

Probert, the bruising forward with fists of granite, had been suspended by the NHL, concurrent with his incarceration after being found in possession of cocaine in the summer of 1989 at the Detroit-Windsor border. When Probert’s time in prison and a halfway house was over, the league granted him permission to play again.

Probert’s return in March of 1990 coincided with the Red Wings’ desperate attempt to qualify for the playoffs. His presence was hoped to provide some sort of boost to the team’s post-season chances. Only six games remained in the season when Probie came back, and the Red Wings were a handful of points out of a playoff berth.

The Red Wings were in fifth place in the five-team Norris Division at a time when the top four clubs in each division made the playoffs. The team directly above the Red Wings in the standings, the Minnesota North Stars, were in town when Probert stepped onto the ice for the Red Wings for the first time in nearly a year.

Despite the cheers, despite the electricity in Joe Louis Arena, Probert’s return couldn’t help the Red Wings, who lost that night to the North Stars, 5-1.

The Red Wings went 1-4-1 in their supposed playoff push, and missed the tournament by six points. Probert played in four of those games, registering three points and, naturally, 21 penalty minutes.

Those final six games, with the Red Wings welcoming Probert back for a push, represent the last time the regular season drained away without a team from Detroit making the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The playoff streak almost ended last year during the lockout-shortened 48-game season, but a four-game winning string to close the schedule lifted the Red Wings into the post-season.

It appears that another frantic, late-season push is going to be needed for the Red Wings to extend their playoff-making streak to 23 years.

But whether the Red Wings squeeze in or not, the future looks much brighter now than it did before Thanksgiving.

The infusion of youth, mostly necessary due to injuries, should give Red Wings fans reason for optimism. The water bottle is half-full, not half-empty.

The playoffs would be terrific, of course, and not just because of The Streak.

It would be wonderful to give the likes of Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan a taste of Stanley Cup playoff hockey, for example.

Not that Tatar, especially, is foreign to post-season hockey as a professional. He scored 16 goals in 24 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins last spring, en route to the Calder Cup as American Hockey League champion. Sheahan played in 24 playoff games for the Griffins last year as well.

But with all due respect to the AHL, which has been a fine minor league for the NHL for decades, those playoffs can’t truly compare to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Red Wings may not be able to give their kids, who have done so much for the team this season, a dose of playoffs, NHL-style, this spring. In fact, given the team’s youth and thinness because of injuries to key players, the playoffs are unlikely.

It would be an upset if the Red Wings qualified. Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss in Columbus, which featured a third period collapse, is more representative of who the Red Wings are at this point.

Playoffs or no playoffs, it doesn’t matter.

The Red Wings’ future is brighter for all the regular season experience the kids are getting, which should make the team much deeper when everyone gets healthy and reports to Traverse City for training camp in September.

 

 

 

Lidstrom, the Red Wings’ Guardian on Skates, Officially Becomes a Franchise All-Time Great Tonight

He was wearing a smart leather jacket, hair still damp from a post-practice shower. It was one of the last team workouts before the playoffs began. Spring hockey, the best kind of hockey, was on the horizon.

But first, there was the matter of a nod to history.

Nicklas Lidstrom and I stood as spectators in the Joe Louis Arena concourse, as the Red Wings were about to unveil the new sculpture of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. The date was April 10, 2007.

We were scrunched together, players and media alike, awaiting the drapery to be pulled from the white bronze piece of artwork that depicted Howe in follow through after a shot.

Lidstrom, unassuming in his version of street clothes, kept his eye on me, even though I was slightly behind him and to his right. He appeared to not want to lose sight of me.

Moments earlier, in the Red Wings’ dressing room, I had asked Lidstrom for a few words. I was writing for a local sports magazine at the time, and my assignment was to get a feel for the team’s mindset as the playoffs beckoned.

Lidstrom, ever the gentleman, apologized, but with a rider.

“I can’t do it now, but right after the ceremony,” he told me.

No problem.

We all were herded upstairs, near the Gordie Howe Entrance. The way Lidstrom kept looking at me, I got the feeling that he was more concerned about our chat than I was.

Not long after the unveiling, Lidstrom approached me and the brief interview began, as he promised.

He didn’t know me from Adam, although I’m sure he’d seen me in the locker room before—and would see me again.

But the point is, Nick Lidstrom made good on his word, even to an ink-stained wretch.

They’re going to have another ceremony tonight at the Joe, and this time Lidstrom won’t be merely a spectator. This time, the nod to history is a nod in his direction.

Number 5 gets hoisted to the rafters tonight, taking its rightful place next to 1, 7, 9, 10, 12 and 19 as retired Red Wings jersey numbers.

1. Terry Sawchuk, the best goalie ever and the most dour. Perhaps, at the same time, the best at what he did and the most unhappy while doing it.

7. Ted Lindsay, who had the most appropriate nickname for his on-ice persona and the most inappropriate for when he was off it—Terrible Ted. Never has the NHL seen someone who so lived up to his moniker as a player and so lived down to it as a person.

9. Gordie Howe, who is still one of the few hockey players any man on the street can actually name. The bumpkin from Saskatchewan who made good.

10. Alex Delvecchio, who played the game with quiet grace. Fats wasn’t spectacular, but somehow he always ended up with 25 goals and a bushel of assists every year.

12. Sid Abel, who centered the Production Line between Howe and Lindsay. Old Bootnose, who served the Wings so well as a coach, GM and TV commentator in addition to his years as a Hall of Fame center.

19. Steve Yzerman, who immediately comes to mind in Detroit when anyone says “The Captain.” Never has the Red Wings franchise employed a player who played with more grit and heart than Stevie Y.

Lidstrom joins these greats tonight, his jersey settling in nicely way up high. It won’t be out of place.

Lidstrom II

If Sawchuk was the brick wall, and Lindsay was the pest, and Howe was the complete player, and Delvecchio was the smooth playmaker, and Abel was the fulcrum, and Yzerman was the heart and soul, then Nick Lidstrom was the Red Wings’ calm.

The plaque of Ty Cobb outside Tiger Stadium called him  “a Genius in Spikes.”

Lidstrom’s should say “a Guardian on Skates.”

Lidstrom, for 20 years, was the Red Wings’ sentry, a hockey beefeater who played the game without expression or emotion. He logged his 25-30 minutes a night, poke checking and  angling opponents into submission. He didn’t lay a body check on anyone in his life. Lidstrom was the game’s Lt. Columbo, who didn’t need a gun to solve crimes.

Tonight it will be official: Nick Lidstrom will take his rightful place among the Red Wings’ all-time greats. No one shall wear no. 5 in the Winged Wheel ever again.

As with the other retired sweaters in the rafters, why bother?

Breaking: Red Wings Acquire David Legwand from Nashville

Minutes ahead of today’s 3pm trade deadline, the Red Wings acquired center David Legwand from the Nashville Predators.

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According to TSN’s Gord Miller via TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, the Red Wings are sending forward Patrick Eaves, a third-round draft pick and a prospect to be named to Nashville for Legwand, a Detroit native who’s played his entire 15-year career as a Predator. In fact, Legwand is technically an original Pred, having joined the team as an 18-year-old in Nashville’s maiden NHL season of 1998-99.

DAVID LEGWAND STATS

The Red Wings were in desperate need of depth at center due to season-ending back surgery for captain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk’s trick left knee.

Legwand, 33, is in the last year of his contract and can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. In 62 games this season with Nashville, Legwand had 10 goals and 30 assists. He shoots left.