It's very late on Sunday night and I'm waiting for a cheesecake to cool down enough to put in the refrigerator. It's a delicious cheesecake that I've made before, kind of similar to a Rocky Road with marshmallows on the outside. I'm really looking forward to eating it tomorrow.
I'm also looking forward to Tuesday night when the Wings will open their 22nd straight playoffs, this time on the road against the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks are a very familiar opponent, but for the first time ever Anaheim is the higher seed and will enjoy home ice advantage.
I'll admit I'm still a little in shock that the Wings are even here. This season has been such a roller-coaster that at times I could envision this moment and at others I was certain they wouldn't play a game in May.
Reading the internet, it seems as if the Wings are a trendy pick to upset the Ducks. Every year one of the lower-seeds gets the label of "upset-maker" or something like that, and usually that turns out to be stupid and wrong because people can't predict shit. It frightens me when so many people pick the Wings because they are not the favorite in this series.
Can it be possible for both teams to be underdogs? Because I guarantee that the Ducks are going to play up that angle. They'll say they've been unappreciated all season and the Wings have the history and the talent and they're playing well and blah blah blah. All I know is the Ducks finished 2nd in the West and 3rd in the NHL, 10 points ahead of the Wings. They scored 16 more goals and only allowed 3 more than Detroit. They have a 50-goal scorer, a hulking captain who can score, and one of the game's best players looking for one more run before ending his remarkable career.
The Ducks are big, fast, can score, and can keep the puck out of their own net. They have home ice advantage. They're the 2 seed. They're the favorites.
Does it really matter? Probably not. The Wings are the type of team that can go 2-1 against Anaheim, 2-0-1 against Vancouver, and then turn around and go 0-3 against fucking Calgary. Seriously, winning one of their games against the Flames means the Wings are playing Vancouver instead of Anaheim.
That's how the Wings made us all insane this year. They could look like world-beaters one minute and Egg Beaters the next. There was no consistency, no flow, no way to know which team was going to show up.
The only constants were Jimmy Howard, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. In the last week of the season, those 3 stepped up to levels that I haven't seen since 2008/09 to get this team in the playoffs. How much do they have left?
Because the team is going to need more than just production from those guys. The players that we've been ripping all year have to step up. Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Kyle Quincey; these are players that have to do something beyond just taking a regular shift.
The Ducks are going to be a tough team to beat. I believe the Wings have the personnel and coaching to do it, and I also believe the Ducks may not be as good as their record indicates, but in a 7 game series none of that matters. A hot goalie, a streaky scorer, a lucky bounce; all of these things can conspire to turn a series on its head and create an outcome that no one saw coming.
Personally I'm just excited for the opportunity to watch more Red Wings hockey. This year has been a difficult one to witness, because for the first time in a very long time the Wings were just another hockey team, lost in a sea of mediocrity with 10-15 other teams. They were not a Cup contender when they started the season, and they still aren't today, no matter how well they've played in the last 4 games. They have the ability to make a little noise in the playoffs, but I'm not holding my breath that they're going to go on some sort of Cinderella-type run.
What they did in the last week of the season was incredible. Backs to the wall, they displayed the kind of desperation that we've been waiting for all year. They played with controlled emotion and within themselves, and the stars led the team.
Now they're in playing a team they're familiar with and one that many believe they can beat. It's a weird feeling heading into a series where I don't "know" that the Wings will or even should win, but it's a liberating feeling. I don't feel the anxiety or gut-wrenching nerves associated with being a "favorite" who should advance past the first round. Instead I'm left with pride that the team was able to get here despite all the obstacles that have been placed in their path, some external and some of their own creation.
Regardless of what happens against the Ducks or beyond, I'm proud of this team and what they've accomplished. A loss in the first round won't change that. But a win would make it even sweeter.
Kind of like my cheesecake, which is now ready to go.