Of course to keep
the puck, you have to get it first. The Red Wings' NHL-best 53.3% success rate
on face-offs during the regular season jumped to 55.7% in the first three
playoff rounds. And although they held a slim 35--31 advantage in Game 1 draws,
quality sometimes trumps quantity. With Pittsburgh trying to carve into
Detroit's 2--0 lead on a late power play, Draper, on his backhand in a
neutral-zone draw, cleanly whipped Staal. Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart
gathered the puck and flung it 175 feet up ice, where a streaking Cleary
backhanded the carom off the end boards past Fleury. Game over. "That's our
thing," Cleary said. "When we win the draw, I don't even look back. In
fact as soon as the puck's dropped, I know Drapes will win it; he's so good on
his backhand. I'm gone."
FOR THE NHL, the
best thing that might come out of this series is a Game 7. Even a casual sports
fan might be disposed to watch a storied franchise such as Detroit play a
winner-takes-all game against Sid the Kid. The second-best thing—and a near
certainty no matter the progression or outcome of the series—is the return of
skill and speed as the NHL's gold standard, the hegemony of talent. As Shanahan
says, "Everyone tries to copy the Stanley Cup champion."
Much like the
effect of the new rules, this won't happen overnight. It takes time, and luck,
to assemble and calibrate a team to do what the Red Wings and the Penguins do,
even at more modest levels. Still, Detroit's virtuosity against Pittsburgh's
embryonic dynasty-in-waiting may be a preview of hockey's happy future.