I really didn't think that the Wings could take out the Sharks. What I underestimated was the heart of a veteran team. And the whole we've-got-the-best-goalie-in-the-world thing....
It's amazing how fast things can change. With a minute to go in Game Four, I was so bummed out. The game was over, the season was essentially over. Then Big Shot Robert Lang woke up long enough to not turn the puck over and put one in the net. And suddenly everything was different. Instead of being down 3 games to 1, as they probably should have been, it was heading back to Detroit tied 2-2. Then Nabokov has a horrifically bad giveaway and it was the Sharks on the verge of elimination. And Hasek is just automatic when a series is on the line.
You want clutch? In our last 3 game sixes--all on the road, mind you--Hasek has allowed 1 goal. That's one goal in eleven periods of playoff hockey, in series that are contested enough to have made it to a game six. In elimination games (either us or the opponent) as a Red Wing, Hasek has allowed: 0, 1, 1, 0, 0, 0, and 4 goals. That six goals in seven games, six games of which he allowed one or less. He gives this team the swagger that they've been missing since he retired the first time. He gives them the confidence to play loose, because they know that if they make a mistake, he'll be there to bail them out.
So now we bring on the Anaheim Ducks. Better defense than San Jose (though the Sharks defense impressed me, especially early on in the series...they were better than I thought they'd be). They've got more offense from their blueline than the Sharks. They have a better goalie than the Sharks. But they don't have the depth or the high-end talent up front that the Sharks have. They have some good players, don't get me wrong. But they're more of a 2-line-plus-their-checkers team, rather than 4 lines of big, skilled forwards that SJ could throw out there.
They also haven't played anyone that can put the puck in the net in these playoffs. The Wings are battle-tested. They've played, and beat, two very good hockey teams. They've beaten a better goalie than Giguere in Kiprusoff, which should give them confidence to keep at it if Giguere starts standing on his head.
The one thing that scares me is Giguere's record in playoff overtime games. He's 10-1 in his career. Nothing you can say about that record other than it's absolutely stellar.
This will be a great series, but I think the Wings just beat a superior team in the Sharks. There's no reason this team can't be headed back to the Finals, especially if Hasek keeps up his play. I wish we had Schneider though.
I'd also like to give a call to the Sharks for playing a hard-fought, but extremely clean series, and not gooning it up like those assholes in Calgary. That's a team that I really respect. They're going to get a Cup in the very near future. I can't believe how good they are, even as the youngest team in the NHL.