Through three games of the 2011 NHL conference semifinals, the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings find themselves in exactly the same position against exactly the same opponents as 2010. The only difference from last year is that tonight Philadelphia will be looking to start another 0-3 series comeback on the road.
Both the Flyers and Red Wings won their Game 4s last year to prolong their series, but it was the Flyers who cashed in on the opportunity and took the following three games to move on. Detroit, on the other hand, dominated San Jose 6-1 in Game 4, before falling by one goal yet again in Game 5. As far as coming back this year goes, I don’t think either team will pull it off, but there’s certainly no reason to think that either team with its backs against the wall can’t win tonight.
The two things to watch for tonight are, 1) Will the Flyers come together again, or was Game 3 an indication of their mental state, and 2) Are these the last 60 minutes to see Nicklas Lidstrom play at Joe Louis Arena?
I’ve liked the Flyers mental makeup for a few years now, but without Pronger they don’t seem to have the same belief in themselves that they played with last season. Additionally, they’ve been blown off the ice in two of the three games, and that hasn’t left room for much optimism at this point. But the puck will be dropped tonight, and as long as you’re playing hockey, you’ve got a chance to do something. It would be nice for the Flyers if Jeff Carter and Mike Richards got involved early. Too often lately the entire offense has been left for Claude Giroux to create, and Carter has been far less than good in these three games. Boston will look to jump out early on Philadelphia’s shaky goaltending, and try to break the Flyers’ spirit early. The Bruins know what can happen if they don’t go for Philly’s jugular.
As far as the Sharks / Red Wings game goes, I would tend to believe the Wings should win tonight for a couple of reasons. First, San Jose has never swept anybody. Ever. Second, this almost certainly is the last game in Lidstrom’s NHL career if it’s a loss, and I think the team will rally around the first European captain to hoist the Stanley Cup. Last year Detroit won this game 6-1, but I think what happened after that has somewhat dampened the hope this time around. The Red Wings know that even if they kill San Jose tonight, they still went on to get eliminated on the road in the same situation last year, so there’s no groundwork that can be laid tonight. But, there is a game that can be won, and while I’ve been writing that San Jose is a better team than Detroit, I don’t think they are four games to zero better. And despite last year’s result curbing this year’s enthusiasm, it would be nice to see JLA rocking one more time, since after Lidstrom retires, there’s no guaranteeing that relevant games will be played there for some time.
One thing to watch for is whether coach Mike Babcock adheres to center Mike Modano’s wishes, and reinserts Modano into tonight’s lineup. Modano has been less than amazing since returning from injury this spring, and has openly admitted that if he had it to do over again he would not have played hockey this season. But Modano sounds genuinely concerned and exited to give it one more go, and his talent and savvy clearly make him a better option than some of the lower lined Red Wings for these games that matter. In fact, playing Modano tonight would give the Red Wings the option of moving Valtteri Filppula down a line, which would certainly be a merit-based demotion. Count me as one observer hoping that Modano gets the opportunity to write his own ending, and that it doesn’t come tonight at home.
*** UPDATE ***
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun is reporting that there are no lineup changes for Detroit in Game 4 tonight. This means no Modano. So much for that idea.
Games start tonight with Sharks @ Red Wings at 7 p.m., “simultaneously followed by” Flyers @ Bruins at 8 p.m.