Game one is over, and now that it is 1:04 AM in Atlantastan, I am now caught up with the rest of the world. By now, everyone knows that the Avalanche lost game one to Detroit, in Detroit, 4-3. But even with a loss, I was smiling like a cat afterwards. I’ll get to why in a moment, but first, my notes on the game.
For the first thirty minutes, the Avs didn’t look like they were playing hockey, they were surviving. And they were barely surviving at that. The Red Wings were keeping the pressure on the Avs, getting them to chase the puck, and the play, around. The Wings played their game to perfection, making short passes, finding open ice, and making the forwards chase the puck around, and ultimately take them off their game.
That’s certainly what happened to Cody McLeod, which allowed Zetterburg to skate right around him, get in position, and score the tying goal, less than a minute after Paul Stastny put the Avs up one nothing. To call it a broken play would be an insult to broken plays. McLeod simply forgot that he had a guy to cover. That goal would never have happened, had Cody skated with his man, rather than turn away from the play. It was one of those plays that you saw happening as soon as he stopped skating, and looks so obvious to the television viewer, but from a few feet away, looks completely different.
Goal two by the Wings was a fluke. Simple as that. That may make the Wings, or their fans, feel like destiny is one their side, but I would beg to differ, with the proof coming up in a few minutes.
Goal three. What can I say. It was a great redirect. I can’t take anything away from the Wings on this one. Really, it was a great play. And the march to the penalty box by the Avs made it possible. From this point, the Avs were their own worst enemy.
Goal four. This one is squarely on Jose Theodore. And the proof is in the replay, literally. If you recorded the game, and it was broadcast on Versus, go back to that goal, look at the slow-mo replay, and watch Theo in the upper right of the screen. While the play is shifting to his right against the boards, Theo is standing up, lazily, not set for a play to happen. He remains this way for a while, knocking his glove and blocker around for a but. The puck gets passed to his left across the ice, with plenty of time to get set. Plenty of time if you are set already. Which he was not. This should have been a shot that Theodore stops. Yes, he is moving side to side, which you want a goalie to do. But he is also out of the play, mentally. He isn’t ready for anything to happen, and has taken himself out of the play. He might as well not have been in goal. Not being square to the play is death to any goalie that plays butterfly. Ask J-S Giguere.
Shortly, he wasn’t. Peter Budaj stepped into goal, and put on a clinic. Actually, he put on a full blown hospital. Budaj stopped 20 shots (all 20, that is), and did what any goalie should do, which was keep his team in it. I would even say that he stole a few, but that could be pushing it. Still, he stopped more than Theodore saw, and the look of the Avs from last season was complete: Budaj in net, Theo wearing a baseball cap, and the Avs not playing for an entire period. Add a half period, and you have this one wrapped up.
It takes John-Michael Liles to get the Avs back on the board, and back on their game. Liles ties it up with a goal that has eyes, a goal that took the wind out of the Wings, and that made Chelios, the tireless old man, look like he was exhausted. It was what the announcers in NHL 2004 would call a “laser beam, that found the back of the net.”
At this point, the Avs must have felt they had a chance, and started to skate. Not skate like they had the first period, not skate like they were playing with Forsberg in the lineup, but really skate. They started to skate like they could. And it made all the difference in the world.
If I really had an issue beyond the loss, and beyond the play of the first period, my issue was that it took the second Avs goal to make the Avs play hockey. Before that goal, the Avs were hanging on, and only by a thread. But put the possibility that they are still in this game in their head, and the world suddenly becomes their oyster. After the Liles goal, winning the game, skating with the Red Wings rather than behind them, suddenly became a real possibility. The fact that it took a goal to make that happen is a little disconcerting.
But the proof was all they needed, and the Avs tied it up, with Hejduk putting it in on a pass from Stastny, that would have never happened if not for the play of Ryan Smyth. I thought he was going to dump the puck in, and apparently, the Wings players did too. It was a needle threading pass from Stastny, and the patience that Hejduk showed, settling down the puck, then taking the shot, made me jump out of my seat. It was one of those plays that fans would have vilified if it hadn’t worked out. But it did.
And the next one, the game tying goal, didn’t happen. While there were a few post shots for the Wings, a post going the other way was the difference maker. Sometimes, you see a play develop, and you know there is going to be a goal. And this was one of those, with the play pressing the Wings back. And as soon as I heard the post hit, I started smiling. It wasn’t a goal, but it was something else.
It was the sound of fear.
As soon as that post was hit, as soon as that sound was heard around the nation, there was an understanding. There was a reality that set in. If not for an inch, this game would have been still up in the air. If not for a few dimensions, if not for an angle, anything could have happened. That sound was as loud as the goal horn. It rang out across Avs nation, and through all of Hockeytown, and it had a message.
The war is not over.
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