I'm sure every reader's first reaction to seeing this will be skepticism, and I understand 100%. All I ask is you reserve judgment until after you've read the post, and watched the imperative highlight package I linked at the bottom of this fanpost.
As a long-standing Wings fan, I am going to try and post this everywhere I can think of before game 7 tomorrow, in the hopes that it will reach the Wings coaching staff and players by the time the game starts. I hope all of you do the same. The more reposts of this, the more people will read it, and the greater chance of someone with access to the team or the staff reads this and brings the thesis to their attention.
The secret to winning game 7 lies with Antti Niemi. I will explain. Niemi has the reputation of a butterfly goalie who covers absolutely everything down low, but sometimes struggles with shots up high. As a result, teams barely ever shoot low on him. They always shoot high. Now, I watched every single Sharks game this season, as I watch a ton of hockey all around our conference, and after watching Niemi play with his new team for a few months, I noticed something suspect happening. His supposed weakness, up top, he was rarely getting beat up there. I mean he got beat in top corners every once in awhile like all goalies, but he was actually covering the top of the net very well. This seemed very suspect to me, given that it used to be a weakness of his. There was just something about it that looked a little weird. It was almost too easy for him to stop some of the good scoring chances I watched him face. Not being an absolute expert on goalies (but having a decent eye), I wasn't sure exactly what it was, but I started to formulate a hunch as I kept seeing five-hole goals go in here and there.
Then, towards the end of the season, one game showed anyone watching everything they needed to know. Unfortunately, our scouts didn't seem to be watching. But this is what happened. It was a game on March 14th between the Sharks and Niemi's former team, the Chicago Blackhawks. This is a team full of players who know Niemi inside out, and who know how to exploit him better than any other team. Want to know where they shot the puck? Five-hole, every time, to the surprise of most everyone. And they scored 3 goals five-hole before Niemi got pulled. I hadn't seen anything like it all year long, and I don't believe it's a coincidence that this happened against his former team.
You're probably wondering how exactly this happened. Well, Niemi, a netminder with the reputation of being great down low, and suspect on high shots, thought he had found a way to close off his weakness up high. If other teams heard he was impossible to beat down low, and they rarely ever shot low on him, he could cheat just a little bit on high shots, just enough to make all the difference in the world. Sometimes this meant he wouldn't go down at all, sometimes it meant he would go down, but late, so he'd still be high enough to catch the high shots. He'd half close the five-hole, but not completely. It was like he knew where the shooter would shoot every time, and really, he did, at least he knew it would be high, because almost no one shot low on him, at least not on medium to close in, high quality scoring chances. And no team seemed to realize this until his former team faced him. And they absolutely made him look like an AHL goalie for that one game. But, once the Sharks left Chicago and went on to face other teams, none of those other teams seemed to follow Chicago's shooters' strategy, amazingly enough.
So I've looked for it this series, and the Wings have not shot five-hole at all, basically. Barely. And Niemi is cheating high as a result, same as he's done all year. His five-hole is there for the taking. And guess what, if the Wings shoot five-hole on him a few times early, even if they don't score, he won't be able to cheat high anymore, which will open up the top shelf, and completely take him off the game he's been playing all year. He hasn't had to cover that five-hole regularly all season long, so the Wings could completely mess him up if they start shooting there, not to mention he'll just spit even more rebounds out off his pads than he does off his chest, glove, and blocker.
Also, as a side note, this is a little bit of a different phenomenon as his normal cheating high on good scoring chances phenomenon, so I don't want people to confuse the two, but on the point shots where Niemi is screened, his stretches his legs to each side. He ignores the five-hole to an extent, and kind of shoots both legs to his sides, along with outstretching his glove. This isn't so much that he's cheating for high shots, like he does in other circumstances that I just touched on. But it is the same in that the five-hole appears vulnerable to point shots as well, when there is traffic.
In conclusion, I believe if the Wings keep playing like they have been, and keep aiming to shoot high in the net almost every time like they have been, it will be another close game, and it could go either way. But you know what? I don't like the odds of a close, maybe 1 goal game against the Sharks. I think they're 50/50 or so. And why take 50/50 when you can have 90/10? I want some breathing room, and I believe we can get it if the Wings are just made aware of this information (which would include watching the goals scored against Niemi in the March 14th game vs Chicago). Maybe a call to Marian Hossa, who beat Niemi twice five-hole in that game, would be helpful as well.
I believe that if the Wings, for the first time in the series, all of a sudden start shooting five-hole, an unsuspecting Niemi, cheating high, will not only let in an extra goal or two through his five-hole, but he will be thrown off his game in all facets. Not to mention, Detroit has missed the net entirely about half the time they've aimed for corners. Can you imagine what could happen with many more rebounds? (Given that it's difficult to miss the net when you shoot five-hole)
Now, seeing is believing. If you don't just trust my take on this, I absolutely understand. I wouldn't believe it either without seeing it first. So, if you would like to see for yourself, here is the proof.
Watch goals 2 through 4. You can see he is cheating high, particularly on goals 3 and 4, and that he really gets fooled badly by those five-hole shots, particularly goal 3.
Now, I'm not saying the Wings should shoot high every time, far from it. But the first couple good scoring chances, when Niemi isn't expecting it, you can sneak in a goal for sure, maybe two, and immediately take Niemi further off his game than he's been all season long. It will completely mess him up, I'm sure of it, because he really has been cheating high like this all season. He knows no other way! Take away that ability to just expect high shots every time, and you're putting him in an entirely new position all of a sudden, one he's not used to, and it's happening in game 7.
Most important of all guys, if any of you know of a way to get this information to the Wings before game 7 starts, man, that would be amazing. That could win us the series. This is just huge, in my opinion. i hope someone (please???) can get this information to the Wings. I care not for credit of finding it (since I'm sure plenty others saw it who watched Niemi all year, and that game specifically, too). All I care about is that this info gets to the Wings, so they can use it to whatever extent they feel is helpful. I want them to have every tool available at their disposal for winning this series, and I do believe this is significant. So if any of you know of a way, please, please, please, for all of us RW fans who want this so bad, bring it to our attention, or better yet, bring it to the Wings attention. And remember, there is no downside to reposting it, putting it on twitter, putting it on HF Boards (I have no account and was unable to make one tonight), posting it on your facebook, and all of that. Even if you think this is stupid, there is no downside. It will either help, or do nothing. Now our boys men have battled like crazy to force this game 7, and, at least in my opinion, I believe we owe it to them to at least try to do everything in our power to help them win this baby. I wrote this up and posted the link. I've sent it to a lot of the big hockey name writers, hoping maybe they'll bring it to the attention of the Wings staff. I know some cynics will laugh at me, it's unavoidable, but who cares? If it means the Wings even have a 1% better chance of winning this tough road game, than it's worth it for me, and I hope you all agree, because I don't think I'm going to be able to get this info the Wings in time all by myself. We need to a create a storm of reposts, and tweets that say Niemi's weakness has been found out, and all of that. It needs to basically be everywhere, so that by the time game 7 starts tomorrow, if Babcock and the Wings aren't talking about this, the versus announcers and Pierre Mcguirre and all of those guys will be saying how it's "all over twitter" that the Red Wings have discovered Niemi's weakness, and all that sort of thing. We need to create a whirlwind here. Many of us helped our Wings to victory by yelling our asses off at the Joe in game 6. Now they need us one more time in a different capacity. All year long, we cheer them, we give them energy sometimes, but mostly we are just rooting for them, and watching them, hoping they perform for us, and win for us. I really believe that right here, right now, this is that one chance for fans to actually make the difference between winning and potentially losing. This is that one time in a decade where we the fans have stumbled across some very pertinent, helpful information about the opponent that the Wings scouts have not. And I know they have not because the Wings have barely shot five-hole all series. So this is our chance. I'm doing everything I can to bring us home that victory. I hope you all join me, even the cynics. And you know what, I know you all will. Even the cynics believe now baby! We're going win this one with everyone's help, everyone doing their role to perfection! I can feel it. Let's get this fricken whirlwind going and LGRW BABY!!!!!!