This was the hardest punch Jimmy took all night.
We've long maintained around here that the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues do not have a rivalry. Sure, they've been division rivals long before a lot of us were fans, back to the old Norris Division days when every game was a knock 'em down, drag 'em out slugfest and only the strongest survived.
Those days are gone, and over time the Blues have dealt with under-achieving players and injuries. This has led to a plummet in the standings, and the Wings began to find new teams to hate (the Penguins, Ducks, etc).
This season is a different story. The Blues went and got themselves a new coach who has been able to get the most out of the talent that exists on the roster, and they are healthier than they have been in quite some time, even with the absences of Alex Steen and Andy MacDonald. So when they rolled into Detroit just one point behind the Wings for first in the NHL, the game took on a very playoff-like intensity that made this game very entertaining to watch. By the end, I think we can safely say that the rivalry has been re-ignited, both among the players and fans.
So what happened tonight? Bullets after the jump.
- Whatever it is the Wings are doing in the first period of these games, they need to reverse that shit and fast. For the 4th straight game, the Wings came out of the gates very slow and allowed the Blues to assert their gameplan by outskating the Wings in every zone. Once again, the term I'd use to describe their play through the first 20 minutes would be "sloppy", but I'm going to chalk this up to being at the tail end of a brutal stretch of schedule that ends on Wednesday night.
- The flip side of that is tonight marked the 11th time the Wings have won after giving up the first goal. They currently own the NHL's best record in winning percentage when scored on first at .579%. Moral? Giving up the first goal doesn't mean shit.
- Fighting after clean hits is the stupidest fucking thing. Brad Stuart landed a clean hit on Alex Pietrangelo. Chris Stewart comes out and immediately gets in Stuart's face and the two throw down. Stewart got the better of Stuart in the fight and also got a 2, 5, and 10. That's the kind of crap that doesn't need to be in hockey. If it was a dirty hit, I have no issue with going to fight Stuart. It was CLEAN. Puck was there. Shoulder to body. Deal with it and keep your head up. Wings got a PP and capitalized on it, and I believe that was the turning point of the game. That's twice that Stewart has put his team in a big hole with a dumb play, and this time the Wings made the most of it.
- The second period was probably the best physical period by the Wings I've seen all season. That Stuart fight got them going and they were doing what Babcock instructed and taking the body and throwing some checks out there. Stuart, Ericsson, and Helm seemed like they were hitting everything they could.
- Babcock for President...Czar...Dictator...everything. Shut up Pierre and let me do my job now.
- Speaking of Helm...kid is a rock out there. Might be his best game of the season. His line was buzzing all third period. Miller, Cleary, and Danger were forechecking like madmen and getting some great pressure.
- I take very perverse pleasure in watching the Blues implode when they don't get their way. It's like watching my 3 year old whenever I tell her she's not supposed to do something; she tries to hit everything in site and just ends up sitting on the "time out" step, crying because she got caught. The Blues have a long way to go before they can be considered true Stanley Cup threats, because losing their cool the way they did in the third period won't help them in the playoffs. And David Backes can do something better than anyone on the Wings, and that's lose his composure and take unnecessary cross-checks to the backs of Wing players. What a leader!
- Pressure down low would lead to an Ericsson one-time from the blue line, Franzen, doing his best Homer impression down low, shakes the defender, grabs the rebound, and sneaks the backhand past Halak's pad to give the Wings the lead. If I had to sum up the second period for the Wings I would choose three words: Physical, Forecheck, and Pressure, 3 things which bode well headed towards the playoffs.
- Tonight was a goaltending clinic by both teams. Jaroslav Halak got the start for the Blues after Brian Elliott faced Detroit in the first four meetings, and he was great. Jimmy Howard? He was better, and he made some spectacular saves when the game was still in doubt. The save on Stewart with about 7 and a half minutes left in the third was absolutely huge, and the kind of "big save" that can win playoff series. He easily earns Player of the Game honours for last night's performance. Oh, and the Blues would be wise to stay out of his crease in the future:
I will admit that I am legitimately disappointed that these two teams don't play again until April. Each game has gotten more and more intense, and if there is a playoff series between these two teams I think it's safe to say we can expect an all-out war. For those keeping score, tonight marks the Wings' 17th straight win at home, but it's going to be a few weeks before they can add to that streak, as they hit the road for a date with the Canadiens on Wednesday before earning a few days off at the All-Star Break. The Wings will hit the break with at worst a 1-point lead in the Western Conference, and have guaranteed themselves the drivers seat as we get ready for the stretch drive.