Jim Kelley
Thursday May 7th, 2009

The Detroit Red Wings are a veteran team and, by and large, they don't get overly excited about things that are out of their control. But the blown goal call in Tuesday night's 2-1 to Anaheim has the potential to change all that.

The Wings go into tonight's game down 2-1 in the series, having lost a marathon triple overtime game in Detroit before coming out on the short end of a controversial loss where it was clear that they had scored what would have been the game-tying goal with 1:04 left in regulation. That apparent tally was washed out by referee Brad Watson, who blew the whistle just prior to the puck crossing the goal line.

The official explanation was that Watson lost sight of the puck, and that referees are trained to stop play in those instances. The problem was that the puck was never in the control of Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, and it was clear to all who watched on replay that it was always visible to the players, so play should have been allowed to continue. Alas, for the Wings, such a call is not reviewable.

Had Detroit won the OT marathon, maybe the blown call wouldn't be such a big issue, but having to fly all the way to California with a physically draining loss sapping some of their mental energy and then getting the short straw on a clearly wrong call can be troublesome. The Wings are saying all the right things, but in a series where every shot seems to matter, Watson's call is likely to weigh on them.

The Ducks have exposed some of Detroit's weaknesses that were evident but not exploited in their first round series with Columbus. Anaheim's very mobile defense has been able to get in and be an offensive threat in the Wings' zone. Injuries, especially to defenseman Brian Rafalski, have made it difficult for the Wings to clear their own zone, a problem that plays into the hands of Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle, who likes to use an aggressive forecheck. The Wings also have had season-long confidence problems regarding goaltender Chris Osgood. H's played well enough in the series, but hasn't been as good as Hiller at the other end of the rink.

Also troublesome is that Anaheim has disrupted Detroit's vaunted puck-possession game where it starts, in Wings' zone. That's a credit to the Ducks' size and forechecking ability, but it also highlights Detroit's problems on their backend (as does the long-lead pass, a play that was in evidence when 47-year-old Chris Chelios was caught flatfooted on a play that led to a breakaway goal). In addition, the Ducks have been exiting their own end with relative ease, a tribute to their mobile defensemen that Detroit's forecheckers can't bottle up.

None of this is anything that the Red Wings can't correct, but to do it they'll need to solve Hiller, control the puck better -- especially out of their own end -- and get past a call that put them in a place they've seldom been before: down in games and wondering exactly how they got there.

To its credit, the NHL didn't try to deny that Watson goofed. The league simply acknowledged, carefully, that mistakes happen, explained how this one occurred, and stated that the ref did was he was trained to do. Replays show the puck was always in play, but don't show that Watson might not have been in the best position to see it, hence he blew the whistle.

But going forward, the league shouldn't leave it at that. The purpose of video replay is to get the call right -- specifically as to whether the puck crosses the goal line. While it would be difficult to synchronize the sound of a whistle with the puck crossing the line, that's not really the issue. The issue is whether the play should have been stopped and, in this instance, it was clear that a mistake was made. If the idea is to verify that every goal is legitimate, then the league should expand its review policy to include cases such as this.

The Vancouver Canucks, or more accurately their legion of fans, are giddy about their first-round sweep of St. Louis and having a 2-1 edge on Chicago in their series. But if the Canucks are to go deep in these playoffs, and be true Stanley Cup contenders, they need to find a way to get their focus and all their hopes off goalie Roberto Luongo and take on more of the performance load themselves.

That was the essential bright spot of their win on Chicago's ice in Game 3. In the two previous games at Vancouver, they got themselves a lead, blew it, and needed Luongo to save them from themselves. It happened in Game 1, but he couldn't do it alone in Game 2 where Chicago's comeback was so one-sided that the Blackhawks had to figure they'd gotten inside Luongo's head. If that was the case, his teammates didn't lose faith. On a night set up to celebrate the Hawks taking command of the series in the United Center, the young Canucks answered the challenge by winning the game for Luongo rather than because of him.

The question now is: can they do it again tonight?

These Hawks are a resilient bunch and will likely come back with the kind of effort that Pittsburgh put forth in beating Washington on Wednesday evening. They need a home-ice win before heading back to Vancouver. As a result, they'll be coming at Luongo hard, but for the Canucks to be successful, they must keep the play out of their end as much as possible and sustain pressure on Chicago goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. They have to play smart, control the puck and the tempo of the game, and reduce their penchant for needless penalties.

The Blackhawks did a lot of that in Game 2, an indication that they've broken through as a more balanced team that does more than sit back and let their goaltender save them. Getting Chicago forward Dustin Byfuglien out of their goalie's face would also help.

These are two teams that are attempting to grow into legitimate Cup contenders in this series. The Canucks took a big stride in Game 3. Game 4 will be won by the team that makes a similar big move.

There's a tendency to believe that the Boston-Carolina series is turning on the play of the goaltenders; that Carolina's Cam Ward has been great and Boston's Tim Thomas a tad less so, but that's hardly the case. The Bruins aren't being outplayed in goal anywhere near the way they are being beaten at almost every other point on the ice.

Case in point was Wednesday's OT triumph in which Carolina outshot them, 38-19, in regulation time. Thomas was the better goalie in part because Ward had virtually no work and the game likely wouldn't have even gone to OT had the 'Canes converted any of 10 great chances in which they shot wide.

One other thing the Bruins can't seem to muster is clutch scoring. The 'Canes raised that to an art-form in their first-round win vs. New Jersey, and Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen are keeping it alive in this round.

In terms of heady center-ice play, the 'Canes are getting a lot more out of former Bruin Sergei Samsonov than the Bruins seem to be getting from Marc Savard. More importantly, the 'Canes are playing better in their own end than the highly-touted Boston defense, and for the Bruins to win, that has to change.

The predominant view in Canada is that everyone wants billionaire Jim Balsillie to be successful in his attempt to gain control of a financially challenged U.S. based team and move it to Southern Ontario, but challenging the NHL by tweaking its corporate nose is the wrong way to go about it.

The dichotomy seems to be driving them crazy, but who's to say Balsillie can't win? Lawyers with a background in bankruptcy tell me that the law would appear to be on Balsillie's side in his latest quest, to win the Phoenix Coyotes in a proceeding and have the judge accept his purchase conditions: $212.5 million and a court order that allows him to relocate the team to Southern Ontario.

The league views this, and rightly so, as a challenge to its authority to pick its partners and decide where its teams are located. It's a valid desire, but one that doesn't have a history of success when the courts are involved. Al Davis proved that point with the NFL, successfully challenging that league's rules on franchise relocation.

Balsillie, the lawyers say, has a better-than-even chance because in addition to having a case via anti-trust regulations, the bankruptcy judge has an obligation to accept the deal that is in the best interests of legitimate creditors. Balsillie, by providing Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes with debtor-in-possession financing -- a legal term that means Balsillie is paying the Coyotes' bills -- has moved himself ahead of the NHL as a controlling interest in the club. Unless the league can nullify Moyes' ability to put the club into bankruptcy, it will have a tough legal row to hoe.

Is that enough to declare the upstart billionaire a winner in this thing? Hardly, but he's got some legal advantages that the NHL will be hard pressed to reverse.

Money is a big issue for everyone these days and, as a result, one can't help but wonder if it hasn't played a role in the dismissal of Doug Risebrough as general manager of the Minnesota Wild as well as in the search for his successor.

Team owner Craig Leipold ran a tight ship when he was owner of the Nashville Predators, but that was thought to be a condition of the small marketplace. Minnesota is larger and the team has done well at the gate since Risebrough refloated the franchise after the Stars left for Dallas.

There were reports that Risebrough's annual compensation was in excess of $1 million. Four out of five men on the reported short list of candidates to replace him -- broadcaster Pierre McGuire, Penguins assistant GM Chuck Fletcher, Predators assistant GM Paul Fenton, and holdover Risebrough assistant Tom Lynn -- are all looking to be first-time GMs and likely to accept considerably less.

Veteran coach/GM Pat Quinn might be expected to demand a good deal more, but he's had difficulty getting back into the game since being dismissed by the Maple Leafs over three seasons ago and is likely to lower his asking price as well.

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