Detroit Red Wings Playoff Notes & Antidotes

—The challenge thrown at the Red Wings thus far by Phoenix seems to have shown that Detroit’s secret weapon — “Helmdelkader” — is proving the right antidote to the slash and bang tactics under-talented clubs have long attempted to slow, and intimidate, the normally passive Wings. The two-headed Red Wings response consists, of course, of feisty forwards Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader.

For the first time since the heyday of the old Grind Line, when Darren McCarty and Kirk Maltby went nose to nose with the annoying Colorado Avalanche (remember that nitwit Mike Keane?), the Red Wings two young forwards are aggressively neutralizing opponents’ attempts to intimidate Detroit. Additionally, Helm and Abdelkader are providing offensive spark, adding speed and grit to the team’s third and fourth lines and — in Henrik Zetterberg’s absence — making important contributions on the penalty kill.

But for my money, it’s along the boards and in the corners … where the brave and crazy go … that Helmdelkader is/are providing a much-needed balance to the Red Wings fancy style of play. It appears that if opponents plan on strong-arming Detroit, they’ll continue to find their tactics being met, and stymied, by the Helmdelkader duo.

—I know that Mike Babcock is playing a careful and politically correct game with the bigshots of the NHL by not complaining about the officiating in the Red Wings’ first two games with Phoenix, but his See-Hear-and-Speak No Evil response to the near decapitation of Johan Franzen in Game Two must have left most Detroit fans in amazed confusion.

For his part, The Mule knows a goon when he sees one. His reaction to the matador-like move of destruction expert Shane Doan to accelerate his face into the Joe Louis Arena sideboards in Saturday’s game says it all: “I don’t know why he was still in the game. He shouldn’t be in the game. The D got me with the stick and then he (Doan) hit me on my numbers …. He hit me from behind, and they missed it somehow. (The referee) could have picked charging, boarding, whatever.” With 20-stitches and the face of a guy who walked away from a Friday night car wreck, Franzen — who’s as tough as, well, a mule — had the right to complain. But his coach’s reaction?

“Doan …. kind of bumped into him. In my opinion, no penalty,” said Mike Babcock. And Doan’s coach, who gets paid to lie as a job requirement, had to love Babcock letting his real-life coyote off the hook. It was, the Phoenix coach said, “a hockey hit. That’s an area where I think players have to protect themselves better.” Right. Especially when somebody’s trying to … say … kill them.

Normally you have to like Babcock, and recognize the cute game he’s playing with the NHL office by keeping his cool over some lousy early-series officiating. But acting disinterested when one of his best players has his series, and his health, hanging in the balance? No one in this area could have been satisfied with Babcock’s response.

The incident with The Mule was oddly, and scarily, reminiscent of the famous playoff accident that almost cost a young Gordie Howe HIS career, and his life, at the Olympia back in 1950. Back then, Leafs’ captain Ted Kennedy also “kind of bumped” into Gordie, with Howe flying face-first at high speed into the boards. That “hockey hit” in the pre-helmet days, put Gordie on a Harper Hospital operating table for brain surgery to save his life that very night.

The Mule’s case might have had the same, or a worse, outcome. Fortunately he survived. Most importantly, however, neither coach felt any pain.

—Interesting to see the Chicago Blackhawks disintegrate before our eyes from one playoff season to the next. The star-packed Chicago team that was assembled for their successful 2010 Cup run was subjected to disassembly by the NHL’s move towards socialism via the salary cap rules that saw an enforced equality imposed around the league. To face the high player salaries due in 2010-2011, the Blackhawks were pushed into an absurd trade that saw the most intimidating and valuable player of the 2010 playoffs — forward/defenseman Dustin Byfuglien — moved to Atlanta along with Brent Sopel and Ben Eager for a bunch of prospects and two skate sharpening machines. Byfuglien — modestly sized at a mere 6 feet 5 inches and 265 pounds, no joke — scored 11 goals in last year’s playoffs and out-muscled opponents all spring. His absence, particularly, has made this year’s Chicago team look like a faint shadow of last year’s triumphant club. I’m not familiar with Vancouver’s salary situation, but you’d have to figure that the club that has cornered the most talent for their so-far effective playoff run this spring will suffer a similar “Break Up the Canucks” player shuffle to meet future salary cap restrictions.

—The team I don’t want to see at the JLA until next fall: The Nashville Predators. There’s something about those guys that, well, scares me. They seem ‘due’ to me. Overdue. They can muck it up with Anaheim; they can skate with the Wings. Somebody put the brakes to that club, please.

—Bonus Note: When Howe was nearly killed by that similar “hockey hit” when the Maple Leaf “kind of bumped into him,” the incident was followed by wild fights all over the Olympia ice that night, and then again in the playoff game that followed. The Red Wings, led by an incensed Ted Lindsay, mauled the Leafs in the battles and on the scoreboard, eliminating the defending-champion Toronto club in Gordie’s name, on their way to that year’s Stanley Cup. Hockey sure has changed in NHL circles since 1950…

Gordie Howe skating against the Maple Leafs at the Olympia the night he was severely injured, and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital for surgery to reduce pressure on his brain. The year was 1950, and the photo was likely shot early in the first period that evening. The photo is dated March 29 on the back, which would be one day after Howe's 22nd birthday.

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