Sunday, May 09, 2010

Not much to LOL about...

Game 5: Sharks 2, Red Wings 1.

This is why I didn't create LOLs for Game 4, in spite of the fact that it was a delightful 7-1 blowout. It was such a slender hope. If you read sports blogs at all and Red Wing blogs in particular, you've probably seen a lot of contradictory statements over the last little while. We've all been a bit torn between hope and odds the last few days. Jamie Samuelsen of the Detroit Free Press had a representative sample on Friday:

Everyone knows that only two teams in NHL history have come back from 3-0 deficits. That doesn’t mean that the losing teams haven’t won a game or two or three along the way. That means that it’s nearly impossible to win four.

But give the Wings credit. It’s human nature to calculate the odds and respond accordingly. It’s not quitting. It’s simply realizing -- perhaps subconsciously -- that you’re just not going to come back. The Wings didn’t succumb to that in Game 4, and now things are a little more interesting. If they can somehow win Game 5, and doubt starts creeping into the Sharks' dressing room, things will get awfully interesting.

The talk at work-- with the few other hockey fans I've managed to find in my Toledo exile-- was much the same. "It's going to be so hard... but maybe..."

In the end, the hope was just a lovely dream we all shared for a few days. The San Jose Sharks are not the choky team we've seen in the past. They may not have completely made the transition from regular season success to postseason success, but they're well on their way. (Long-term followers of hockey might be reminded of the Red Wings circa 1995 or so.)

So, not much to LOL about in Hockeytown this morning.

That said, I do see a lot to be hopeful about going into next season.

Aside from having experienced elite players like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula, and Johan Franzen, and aside from Jiri Hudler coming back from the Russian KHL with his ability to score timely goals, the Red Wings have acquired a small cluster of gritty young checking forwards who stepped up to help cover for the season-long injury bug and keep Detroit in the playoff hunt. Darren Helm, Patrick Eaves, and Drew Miller will be all the stronger for the experience they got this year. Over the course of the season, their penalty-killing became visibly better. Justin Abdelkader is the sort of guy who provides instant energy whenever he's on the ice, and I look for him to prove himself invaluable next season.

And then there's Jimmy Howard. I can't say enough about how wrong I was about the guy at the beginning of the season. I thought there was no way he was ready for the NHL, and ranted about how we needed to trade him immediately if not sooner, and then he goes and proves me wrong with a Calder-quality season and a not-bad showing in his first playoff run.

There are still some lingering questions for the team, the biggest one being whether or not Nick Lidstrom will retire. His contract is up, and he's said he wants to take a few weeks to make his decision. His teammates are planning to work on keeping him around for another year. "I’m going to work him tonight, talk some sense into him," said Johan Franzen. And who can out-stubborn The Mule?

My gut feeling is that Lidstrom won't retire this year. I think he would have for sure if they had won the Cup, but since they didn't I can't imagine he wouldn't want one more go at it, with a healthy team and the rookies settled into their roles. Besides which, the way he's played, particularly in the Sharks series, shows he still has a fire and still has the ability to play at a high level. Maybe this is actually wishful thinking on my part, but I think Nick will know when it is time to hang up the skates, and this is not his time.

One question about next year has been answered already. Team owner Mike Illitch has said that they are in negotiations with the city of Detroit to lease Joe Louis Arena for one more season. I'm really glad about this. The location is ideally centered for the greatest number of fans, it's easy to get to from all the freeways, and it's so nice by the river on a mild day. I know it's a hole and it's crumbling and the floors are permanently sticky and the bathrooms are permanently kind of gross, but it's our hole!

So, like I said, not much to LOL about today, but plenty of hope for the future.

October, after all, is not that far away.