I'll say it: I want a Sharks-Wings matchup in the West finals

February, 26, 2009

I'll say it: I'm hoping we get to see a Sharks-Red Wings Western Conference finals series. Hey, I don't mean to irritate the other 13 Western teams. I wish them all the best. Still, I want to see a best-of-seven series between the defending champs and their top challenger. I think that would be something special.

On Wednesday night, the Wings stopped the Sharks, 4-1, in their last regular-season meeting. The clubs split their four regular-season tilts, each winning a pair of games on home ice.

If the clubs meet in the playoffs, I think we'd be treated to some wildly exciting hockey. Early in the first period Wednesday, Wings forward Dan Cleary sent a late Valentine's Day message to Sharks stud center Joe Thornton, running the oversized pivot into the boards from behind. Cleary, who hammered Thornton's back right between the numbers, got a two-minute boarding penalty on the play. I would've given him a five-minute major. But, hey, that's just me.

Sharks defenseman Doug Murray and forward Ryane Clowe responded later in the game by roughing up Wings sniper Marian Hossa, who was forced the leave the game in the second period for precautionary reasons. If you want to win a Stanley Cup, you have to respond when someone tries to take liberties with your top players. In another era, I think Cleary's hit on Thornton would have set off a monster brawl. I can't tell you that I didn't enjoy watching games in that era.

If these two teams meet in the playoffs, I see that series producing some hardcore hockey. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Did you notice ...

• There was an odd coincidence in the second period of the Sharks-Wings game. On the power play, with the puck in the Wings' zone, Sharks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff fired a shot from the right point. It was deflected high into the air. The players and refs seemed to lose sight of it.

What happened? The puck hit the protective netting above the glass and eventually fell back onto the ice. By rule, the puck was out of play and there should have been a stoppage. But, in this case, the refs didn't blow the whistle and play continued. Soon thereafter, Wings winger Henrik Zetterberg made a brilliant play to score a shorthanded goal.

The odd coincidence is this: the same type of play happened nearly a year ago in a game between the Sharks and Wings in Detroit. On that occasion -- Feb. 29, 2008 -- the Sharks took advantage of the lucky bounce and sniper Devin Setoguchi scored the decisive goal in a 3-2 win.

• In the first period of Wednesday's win, Wings rookie forward Ville Leino showed off his hand-eye coordination, batting a loose puck out of the air and into the net to give his team a 2-0 lead. It was a pretty play. The 25-year-old Finn looks like another late bloomer uncovered by Detroit. In 11 games, he has four goals, seven points and is a plus-6. The Wings signed Leino last May as an undrafted free agent after he finished second in the Finnish Elite League with 77 points for Jokerit during the 2007-08 season. We should keep an eye on the lanky Leino, who seems to have the skill to fit in nicely in Hockeytown.

• The offensively challenged Rangers didn't look much different under new coach John Tortorella in Wednesday's 2-1 shootout loss in Toronto. Torts is a terrific coach, but he has his hands full with this poorly constructed team. There is some good news, though. Despite their flaws, the Rangers still have a great chance to earn a playoff spot in the East, where five teams already have fallen off the postseason radar.

Speaking of the Rangers, Sean Avery netted his first goal as a member of the Hartford Wolf Pack on Wednesday night. While nothing is certain, I do expect Avery to return to New York via re-call waivers sometime before the March 4 trade deadline.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.



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