By Stu Hackel
The Red Wings and Sharks battle again tonight as Detroit tries to climb the highest of playoff mountains, from down three games to none in the series.
It's been a thrilling matchup in many ways, every game of the five so far being a one-goal decision . When one team scores, the other often seems to answer right back. In Game 5, the Sharks couldn't pull away, and the Wings quickly responded both times San Jose established a two-goal cushion. Even in Game 4, when the Wings jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, the Sharks clawed their way back to tie early in the third period before Darren Helm's late goal with 87 seconds left in regulation won it for Detroit. As we've all learned this spring, almost no margin is safe (and Justin Bourne on Yahoo's Puck Daddy blog has a very good post on how close games are supposed to be played).
"If you look at the whole series, it's like frantic hockey," Mike Babcock said after Game 5 (video). "You know, you're pros and you're supposed to be composed and under control and that's not what I see both ways. I see frantic hockey. It's racing up and down a hundred miles an hour and things are going on and no one seems to lose the other team."
Injuries are stating to take their toll on these teams and two top playoff performers won't dress. The Red Wings didn't have Johan Franzen for half of Game 5 and Mike Modano will be in his spot tonight. For the Sharks, Ryane Clowe, who leads San Jose in playoff scoring, didn't make the trip back to Detroit, out with what is called an upper body injury.
Injured or not, no one has thrived more -- or, maybe, no one has been more composed in this frantic hockey -- than Pavel Datsyuk, who, as we noted yesterday, has been among the players elevating their games to a higher plane. Babcock wasn't happy with the way Datsyuk started Game 5, but after all, Datsyuk is playing with a bum paw and he still contributed three marvelous assists in the game's last 27 mninutes. And it didn't inhibit him from doing his stickhandling-in-a-phonebooth routine to keep possession and set up the game-winning goal.
Datsyuk victimized Patrick Marleau twice on that play, first winning the battle for the puck along the boards and then dodging Marleau's check from behind before he passed it to Nick Lidstrom. That set off Versus studio commentator Jeremy Roenick, who did this verbal Seal Team Six routine on Marleau right after the game.
Here's was Marleau's response yesterday...
...and here are more comments from his teammates and coach Todd McLellan. It is all what you'd generally hear from an NHL team in the playoffs, sealing off as many outside distractions as possible and defending its members.
This prattle is what we've come to expect from Roenick, and for a comparison, watch TSN's Mike Peca in his critique of Marleau's effort level; he's far less overheated but still gets the message across that more is needed.
It hardly the first time that Roenick has used a microphone to bombastically bludgeon a player -- and in this case, a former teammate. He was, shall we say, outspoken as a player -- not that what he said always made sense -- and colorful if not always correct. Many in the hockey world took Roenick's frequent pronouncements to be little more than self-promotional (and they rechristened him by transforming his nickname to "P.R." instead of "J.R."). But for some who work in TV, loquaciousness is highly prized regardless of the quality of what is said, and it has resulted in a second career that had until recently been more sideshow (for example here and here) than substance.
Since the playoffs started, however, Roenick has a new role analyzing plays using video and a telestrator. Either through some very good coaching from his NBC -TV bosses or late-blossoming talent that he's never previously displayed, Roenick has become fluent in hockey's X's and O's (and we believed he only thought they would be good for playing tic-tac-toe). His intermission segments have truly been illuminating on why goals were scored and how defenders' missed assignments or puck-watching has led to the goals in question. It's been solid, reasoned analysis, devoid of hyperbole and quite perceptive -- none of which are qualities usually associated with Roenick.
So it was dismaying to see Roenick revert to his old form and go so over-the-top in his criticism of Marleau, especially because Datsyuk can do almost anything to anyone in the NHL. Even Roenick himself called the Red Wing "the ever-explosive Datsyuk, who belongs in his own league" (video), so how does that become "gutless" and how does that indicate that Marleau played with no heart? Had Marleau just stood along the boards and watched after Datsyuk won that battle and not made the second effort to stop him, that would have been gutless and heartless. The fact was, Marleau did make the second effort and tried to knock Datsyuk over. But Datsyuk somehow escaped that flattening. Marleau just got beat by an otherwordly play from an otherworldly player.
No, Marleau's offensive contributions in his series have not been what San Jose needs. But teams win or lose in the playoffs as a team. Scapegoating him for the Sharks' inability to close out the Red Wings is just too simple an explanation for Detroit still being alive in this round. We thought Roenick had gotten past that sort of thing and was now making more intricate and sophisticated judgments. But apparently not.