4/26 WCSF (Round 2) Game 1: sharks 2, DETROIT 0
The old adage goes something like "Defense wins championships". Well, last night's defensive effort brought no championship, but it put the Sharks one step (still 11 steps to go) closer to said championship. Two goals 24 seconds apart in the middle of the 1st period proved to be enough, as the Sharks D (with goalie Evgeni Nabokov, of course) shut down and shut out the Red Wings. Clogging the neutral zone and the defensive zone, the Sharks forced 27 Wing giveaways, and blocked 18 shots (the Wings had 1 blocked shot).
Game 1 began pretty evenly, with each team having opportunities to set up their offense, and get some shots on net, but it was a Nicklas Lidstrom hook that gave the Sharks the first powerplay of the game. A minute went by before the Sharks got their signature play set up, but once they accomplished the set up, the followthrough was perfect. Craig Rivet stood at the top of the zone (right inside the offensive zone blueline), and dished a pass to the right wing, where a waiting Ryane Clowe was standing. Clowe flipped the puck to Joe Thornton, who was standing in Joe Thornton Country (behind the net, for those of you watching Joe for the first time). Thornton then, looking at Clowe, threw a timed, blind pass through the crease to a net-crashing Matt Carle , who firmly deposited it past Wing goalie Dominik Hasek (Thornton, Clowe). Just as I was settling back into my extremely cramped seat (quite tiny), the Mike Grier show made an appearance at the Joe (Louis Arena).
Just 24 seconds after Carle gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead, hard forechecking by the Patrick Rissmiller-Curtis Brown-Mike Grier line lead to a second one. After chasing the puck behind the net, Grier pressured Detroit defenseman Mathieu Schneider, resulting in a poor clearing attempt by Schneider, intercepted by Brown. Brown tossed it to Rissmiller, who backhanded a pass towards the net and slapped by a spinning Grier , and tucked it low just past the right pad of Hasek (Rissmiller, Brown).
The rest of the game featured the Red Wing offense and the Shark defense. Up 2-0 at the Joe, the Sharks seemed content with their lead, and spent the remainder of the game playing defense, and playing it well. Despite allowing 34 shots, the solid play in the middle of the zone forced the Wings to take nothing but outside shots. The Wings missed their front-of-the-net staple Tomas Holmstrom, who recorded 30 goals this year by standing in front of the opposing net, screening the goaltender, collecting rebounds, and deflecting shots past the netminder. His return is unknown, a good thing for Sharks fans, as he is never one you want to see on the ice, because of his great skill.
Playoff time brings added energy to the rink, and added emotion as well. The night began on a high note for Wing fans, as the purple Octopus (named Al) was lowered from the ceiling, specially fitted eight armed red Red Wing jersey and all. It was then that a "Round 1" pendant was placed on the line hanging from Al's underside, complete with six scratched tally marks (because of the 6 games it took to dispatch Calgary in the 1st round). I even got a chill when the traditional octopus was thrown onto the ice prior to the singing of the US National Anthem. (The octopus is a tradition started in the 1950's when it took 8 wins to win the Stanley Cup, same number of arms on an octopus. It was such a symbol that it sticks with the team today, and is a great piece of hockey tradition). Throughout the game I got the normal dirty looks that one receives when wearing an opposing jersey, and I was very happy to not receive beer or soda or peanuts or popcorn or any other sort of anything as a result of a projectile (despite hearing a Wing fan say after the game "he should be happy I don't have a beer, otherwise I'd throw it at his head"). I got a few people's respect by making the trip out, the mark of a loyal fan in their eyes (even though I had to prove to some that I wasn't a Michigander, just out to cause trouble).
It's nice to win Game 1, even nicer when it's a shutout, even nicer still when it's on the road, and impossibly nice when it's at the very intimidating (and very cramped) Joe Louis Arena, but it is just one game, out of the four necessary to advance. Thankfully, more hockey is on the way, and Game 2 is just around the corner. Puck drops from JLA on Saturday at 12 PM Pacific, and can be seen on NBC. With home ice already wrested away from the Wings, the Sharks look to come home with a good sized 2 games to none lead over Detroit, which would force them to win 4 out of 5, but, as good as the Wings are, this series can only be taken one game, one period, one shift at a time.
On a side note, how bout them Giants? The Orange and Black were swept at home by the Dodgers a couple weeks ago, but graciously returned the favor last night, taking 3 at Dodger Stadium, and extending their win streak to 8. They head to the desert to take on the Diamondbacks for a three game series beginning tonight. The San Jose Stealth of the NLL (indoor lacrosse played in the National Lacrosse League) head to Phoenix as well to play the Arizona Sting on Saturday night (7:30 pm) for the Western Division Championship (the winner will advance to the Champions Cup game to be played in two weeks). And the Warriors play Game 3 against the Dallas Mavericks tonight at 7:30 Pacific time, the first playoff game in Oakland since 1994. Not sure what the A's are doing, but then again, I'm a Giants fan, so I care not (would you expect any different? Because I bet A's fans feel the same way towards the Giants, and well they should, it's a rivalry, not a friendship). It's a good time to be a Bay Area sports fan.
GO SHARKS (and Giants and Stealth and Warriors)
Rally Al the Octopus.
Rally Al again, this time in the pregame ceremony.
The round 1 pendant hung from Rally Al.
One last shot of Al.