Annoying enough for you? Or maybe you think the Hawks ain’t a cinch for the Cup. Okay, perhaps (a real long-shot in my book) the Philadelpia Flyers, currently up a convincing 2-0 on cinderella contender Montreal, are to your liking. Well, that Finnish winger who led the Flyers to a 3-0 victory Tuesday with a goal and assist looks an awful lot like … wait, check that, he IS … the same Ville Leino that came to the Wings with a hot reputation only to be booted off the team at mid-season by a clearly disappointed coach Mike Babcock. In fact, Leino … a young and promising Euro-playing forward … at present look a lot like the kind of player the Red Wings have nurtured over the years, the scoring kind they needed but lacked in this year’s playoffs. How’s that for galling?
This looks to be a fairly excruciating windup to the NHL playoffs for Red Wings fans.
Having become accustomed in recent years to having our guys hanging around into June in the exhausting competition for the Stanley Cup, Wings supporters are finding it a little galling to seeing ‘outsiders’ competing this year in the National Hockey League’s final four. What’s most annoying is that a familiar franchise, a longtime rival that the Red Wings have manhandled for almost 15 years, looks to be the best bet to skate off with the Cup.
The Detroiters may have done themselves a favor getting eliminated in a controversial series with the San Jose Sharks. That 4-1 series defeat — owing to a magical mixture of defensive breakdowns, lack of timely scoring, and suspicious calls and non-calls by stupid or crooked (take your pick) game officials — likely saved the Wings an embarrassing thumping at the hands of a team they kept at bay for years, the Chicago Black Hawks. As of this writing, the Hawks are skating circles … big fast ones … around the Sharks, who are back to sporting their Biggest Disappointments in the League uniforms after two convincing defeats.
Those Sharks are the guys who have another “gear” they can go to at Playoff time. That’s the one where they attempt — as they did in Game Four against the Wings here in Detroit — to dominate a smaller team that is embarrassing them on the scoreboard via angry and clumsy fistfights on the ice. Thus their reputation, and the look, of perennial losers.
It’s bad enough that Chicago, our city’s natural geographic and historic rival, looks to have risen to the top of the NHL after years of ineptitude. But they’re doing it with Scotty Bowman — long the Red Wings key rent-a-legend Stanley Cup magnet — hanging around their front office. And — two more galling factors — the Black Hawks feature two Red Wings escapees from last season, free agent signings Marian Hossa and his buddy Tomas Kopecky. It’s beginning to look like the third time’s the charm for Hossa, who bit the dust in the Finals in ’08 against the Wings with the Pittsburgh Penguins, then lost to the Pens as a Red Wing in ’09. That he was mostly a no-show in last year’s Finals (owing likely to the ugly physical punishment dealt him by Anaheim and, yes, Chicago in earlier Red Wings series) will surely make his potential deliverance this season even harder to take for Detroit hockey fans. And can you imagine those insufferable fans in Chicago if the Hawks win it all? Gawd.
What’s a Red Wings fan to do? Especially since — despite what their clueless cheerleaders in the local press keep saying, using the same reasoning, even the same language in doing so — the suspicion that the Wings are about to begin a downward slide persists in most hockey circles? We can go off into our summer thinking of, and clinging to, two fond memories: One, the Red Wings glory days of four Cups from ’97 to ’08 in the pre-salary cap NHL. That, and of course, the shocked look on Sidney Crosby’s face when the little twerp and his Penguins got surprisingly eliminated in round two by Montreal.
Amid the ashes of this post-season, at least THAT … was sweet.