Though slowed by a nagging knee injury, Steve Yzerman has the Red
Wings in tune
Ten minutes into Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal
series last Thursday, Blues captain Chris Pronger, a 6'6",
230-pound Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, lined up Red Wings
captain Steve Yzerman, a perennial All-Star who stands 5'11",
185. Yzerman, protecting his chronically sore right knee, quickly
dumped the puck off the boards into the St. Louis zone and turned
around, sticking out his rear end and catching Pronger in the
midsection. Pronger flew into the air and fell hard, tearing the
ACL in his right knee. Shortly afterward Detroit erased a 1-0
deficit and went on to a 4-3 victory that gave the Red Wings a
three-games-to-one series lead. Two days later they whipped St.
Louis 4-0 and advanced to the conference finals for the third
time in six seasons.
Yzerman, 37, missed 21 of the Wings' 22 regular-season games
after the Olympic break because of his knee, but he has shown why
he still wears the C. Playing more than 20 minutes per playoff
game, Yzerman had five goals and 13 points to tie for the team
lead in each category and also had won 62.6% of his postseason
face-offs. He did all that despite an injury that forces him to
skip most practices and morning skates and almost comically
limits his mobility. After falling down he often uses his stick
blade as a crutch to push himself up off the ice. "The way he has
been playing, you wouldn't know there's something wrong with
him," says winger Darren McCarty.
Yzerman has been especially effective at critical times. After
the Red Wings fell behind the Canucks two games to none with
their first-round series moving to Vancouver, the usually
reticent Yzerman made a brief dressing-room speech to encourage
his team and then scored a wraparound goal to open the scoring in
a game Detroit won 3-1. Despite his slight build and nagging
injury, Yzerman doesn't hesitate to initiate contact (ask 6'4",
235-pound Vancouver winger Todd Bertuzzi, whom Yzerman nailed
several times in the first round) or sacrifice his body (ask
Blues defenseman Al MacInnis, whose power-play slap shot Yzerman
blocked in Game 2). "He's an amazing defensive player as well,"
says Red Wings associate coach Barry Smith. "In his zone he's
absolutely solid. If the winger's down low, he takes the point.
He goes down to block shots. He battles as hard as anybody I've
seen. He's played like a lion."
When asked how his knee was holding up after Detroit had
eliminated St. Louis last Saturday, Yzerman smiled and said, "I
get hit a bunch, but that's the way it's going to be. It's fine."
Behind him, in his dressing stall, was evidence to the contrary:
his thick black knee brace and a garbage pail that held several
feet of discarded athletic tape.
Montreal's Error-Prone Coach
Poor Choices Behind the Bench
Michel Therrien has his Canadiens playing a tight,
defense-oriented system with little margin for error, which made
his miscues late in Game 4 against the Hurricanes costly. With
Montreal up 3-0 and 17:20 from taking a three-games-to-one
series lead last Thursday, Therrien was assessed a bench minor
for berating refs Kerry Fraser and Dave Jackson after Stephane
Quintal had been whistled for a cross-check penalty. The ensuing
5-on-3 goal by Sean Hill ignited Carolina's offense, and the
Hurricanes rallied to force overtime.
Three minutes into the extra period Therrien made an even
costlier flub, using fourth-line forward Bill Lindsay to handle a
defensive-zone face-off against Jeff O'Neill, who had won 56.7%
of his draws during the regular season. Therrien could have
tabbed Yanic Perreault (he had won 11 of 17 face-offs in Game 4
and had the league's best winning percentage in the regular
season, 61.3%) or Doug Gilmour (13 of 20 in Game 4), but instead
he used Lindsay, who won just 46.0% of his face-offs during the
regular season and had not controlled a defensive-zone drop in
four tries in the postseason.
The outcome was predictable: O'Neill shoveled the puck back to
defenseman Niclas Wallin at the point, and Wallin wired the
game-winner past Jose Theodore. "When you go into overtime, you
have to use your backups more," Therrien rationalized afterward.
"I'm not afraid to put them in."
Officiating Suggestion I
A Way to Improve The Playoffs
Rather than join the Greek chorus of complaints about the
unevenly refereed postseason, we offer a proposal: The NHL should
assign two referees to work each series in its entirety, as Major
League Baseball does in its postseason. Currently the same NHL
crew rarely works more than two games in a series. In fact, the
same pair of referees has yet to call consecutive games in a
series this postseason.
Keeping the same crew on a series would allow officials to better
monitor trends within a matchup, plus teams would know whether to
expect a tightly or loosely whistled game. What's more, it would
help curtail dirty play because referees would be aware of
grudges. Game 5 of the ugly Maple Leafs-Islanders first-round
series, in which New York's Kenny Jonsson and Michael Peca were
injured by Toronto cheap shots (the lowbridge hit on Peca, by
Darcy Tucker, was not even penalized), was called by Paul
Devorski and Kevin Pollock, neither of whom had worked in the
series previously. Two nights later Devorski, who by then was
well aware of the bad blood between the teams, and Kerry Fraser
called a tight Game 6, and fisticuffs didn't erupt until it was
Officiating Suggestion II
Put An End to The Facewash
If the league seriously wants to curb scrums, it should take a
stand on facewashes--the nasty practice of using a sweaty, smelly
glove to mop an opponent's mug with the sole intention of
provoking him. If on-ice officials slapped offenders with
unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties, postwhistle melees would most
likely drop dramatically. The league proved that it could enforce
the unsportsmanlike-conduct rules by cracking down on diving this
season. Why not make the facewash the next casualty?
Whom should Glen Sather choose as the Rangers' coach?
Since firing Ron Low on April 15, Sather, the New York general
manager, has interviewed or expressed interest in speaking with
the following candidates:
THE VERDICT: Like Sather, Brooks prefers an up-tempo game, and in
guiding the U.S. to a silver medal in Salt Lake City, he proved
he's a player's coach. He's our pick for a return engagement on