INSIDE HOCKEY » Detroit Red Wings http://insidehockey.com Get Inside! Sat, 20 Sep 2014 02:40:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 B’s Close Out Wings With Convincing Game 5 Victory http://insidehockey.com/bs-close-out-wings-with-convincing-game-5-victory http://insidehockey.com/bs-close-out-wings-with-convincing-game-5-victory#comments Sun, 27 Apr 2014 20:55:08 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58433

A lingering concern regarding the Boston Bruins is their ability to close, to control a series and down their opponent without letting it go the full seven. On Friday, looking to clinch their spot in a heated second round matchup with the Montreal Canadiens, they momentarily silenced the critics.

After a troubling start to their first round series against the Detroit Red Wings, the Bruins seized momentum and ran with it. First it was a 4-1 win at home. Then a 3-0 shutout in Detroit, followed by a dagger of a 3-2 overtime victory at the hands of a Jarome Iginla deflection.

Still, many in Boston had their doubts. Would this be like the Leafs series? If they lose then have to go back to Detroit and then what? The thoughts settled in, the worries of paranoid Bostonians; but on Friday, the Bruins relinquished fans of those fears.

“We just knew that if anything, you learn from those experiences and you don’t want it to be repeated,” Bruins Coach Claude Julien said postgame. “So you just go out there and just play. But same with the streak we had this year — everybody talked about it. We never talked about it in the room. So we never talked about the last year’s series against Toronto. All we were focused on was doing the job today and preventing us from taking another trip to Detroit.”

With the Garden rocking early, Justin Abdelkader took a forgetful hooking penalty just three minutes in. Then, jumping on the opportunity, Loui Eriksson and the Bruins second power play unit made the Wings pay. Smooth quarterbacking by Dougie Hamilton led to the goal, as the young rookie’s maturation was on full display in the first round series against the Wings.

“I think it’s the same kind of thing in juniors or your first year where things are moving fast and by my third or fourth year it was slowing down,” Hamilton recalled postgame. “Hopefully, I can get to that point again in the NHL but I can definitely see the game a lot easier now compared to last year. Things happen a lot slower.

Hamilton blossomed as both a puck mover and defender; and his frequent end-to-end rushes were wildly impressive. His overall development has clearly gained steam.

“I think it’s just being more comfortable,” he said. “Think this whole year I have gotten better, last summer as well. So I think I’m a better player and just more comfortable. I don’t really know otherwise. Just having fun right now and trying to do my best.”

As the game ensued we continually waited for Detroit’s desperation to break through. On the brink of elimination, it’d only be a matter of time. After generating their first real scoring chance of the night with just under ten to go in the middle frame, they finally found their skating game. A combination of good goaltending and defensive structure, the Bruins limited the Wings as much as possible and weathered their initial rush.

But a Milan Lucic penalty changed everything. Detroit gained possession in Boston’s end, and it was Pavel Datsyuk (yet again) batting home the rebound off a blast from the point. The game was tied at one with momentum shifting drastically. This Bruins team is different though and they keep trying to show us that. They’ve responded time and time again this season, and perhaps their biggest response in the biggest of forms (both literally and figuratively) came on Saturday afternoon.

After Detroit netted arguably the biggest goal of the series, the Bruins got it right back. With a crucial four-on-three advantage in hand, it was the almighty captain Zdeno Chara with the enormous response in the form of a one-timed missile; Patrice Bergeron set up the captain with the perfect feed from the corner.

“It was getting tight. A lot of penalties, and again, when you’re killing a lot of penalties, you’re losing some momentum, and they picked up a lot of momentum there at a certain stage of the game,” Julien said. “And when you score those kind of goals — obviously Zdeno [Chara]’s kind of gave us the life back, or the momentum back, that we needed because they had just gotten it from us. By that time in the game, you could see that they had a sense of believing, so we had to right away get that next goal and get ourselves back on top of that game.”

At that point there was no looking back for the Bruins.

Milan Lucic extended the lead to 3-1 after a terrible Detroit turnover found the stick of Torey Krug, who centered the puck to the big winger. After a late scare, the Bruins added an empty-netter and won the first round series 4-1. Their date with the Canadiens was set, but it wasn’t time to think of that just yet.

“We knew they’re through and that’s who we would be playing. But no, guys were just focused on today and trying to end it today,” said Iginla postgame when asked about their next opponent. “There’s really no discussions about Montreal. So the next couple days we’ll be thinking about it, and we’ll get back at it, and work and those matchups will start. But today was just about the Red Wings and trying to advance.”

 

 

 

 

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B’s Even Series With 4-1 Thumping of Wings http://insidehockey.com/bs-even-series-with-4-1-thumping-of-wings http://insidehockey.com/bs-even-series-with-4-1-thumping-of-wings#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 12:52:45 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58324

A team that won 54 game. Led the league in points. Was top three in team defense and scoring. The Bruins encapsulate all that is a first place Stanley Cup contender. A “well-oiled machine” that coasted through the end of the regular season with victory after victory. They won so many games they even had time rest their best players at season’s end. They’re a given in the east, right?

There’s still something there though. Something missing. And it isn’t good. Deeply rooted in the makeup of the group, this inability to play the way they want too unless pushed to the limit, almost forced too. If they win the Cup, there are no complaints- doesn’t matter how they got there or how they did it. But this ongoing theme could come back to bite them at some point.

The excuses were there for Game one. Corey Potter, Justin Florek and Jordan Caron all forced into game action. The lingering “flu bug.” Whatever it may be. But it was the Bruins top players who really struggled. They couldn’t breakout, couldn’t get through Detroit’s “wall”, failed to establish a forecheck and generate any sustained offensive attack. Given their regular season success, it was tough to watch.

And the Bruins now found themselves in that similar situation- playing poorly at the start of a playoff series. Its been way worse, yeah, but Game two was as “must-win” as it got to this point of the season- and just like the previous postseason runs, with their backs against the wall- it brought out the best of their play.

Not wanting to head to Detroit down 0-2, the team responded.

“Yeah I think we played more of our game, and kind of took the hesitation out of our game I think that was there in that first game,” Milan Lucic said of his team’s effort. “I know we talked about how important this game was ever since the loss, and it was good to have a response here to get the series back to 1-1.”

The Bruins started the game exactly as expected. They were physical, broke out their zone well, sustained an attack and thumped the Red Wings with that awfully imposing style of play we’ve grown accustomed to watching here in Boston.

Florek capitalized on a god-awful turnover by Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard, who chose to play the puck and make an errant pass rather than clearing it or covering up for a whistle. Later, Reilly Smith scored on the power play extending the lead to 2-0. Loui Eriksson’s phenomenal net-front presence and screen of Howard allowed to puck to sneak through, with Smith eventually slamming home the rebound.

“Getting pucks to the net was obviously a big factor, especially last game not scoring a goal,” Smith said postgame. “So I think power plays definitely helped us in the start and changed the tide. You know we’re not getting too many pucks to the net at the start, and then you get the 5 on 3 and you’re able to fire as many as you want. So that does definitely change the pace of the game and we benefited off of it.

It was as big of a turnaround as it could get for the Bruins, who headed to intermission with a two-goal lead.

The second period felt more like Friday’s game. The Wings maintained puck-possession, whizzing around the Bruins zone and reeking havoc in front of Tuukka Rask’s net. After yet another failed power play, they finally cashed in on their first goal of the game. Darren Helm beat Jarome Iginla off the half-wall with a nifty shimmy and shot the puck past Rask, off teammate Luke Glendening and into the net. Bruins defenseman Torey Krug still has work to do in his own end, which was apparent on the goal after failing to step up once Helm beat Iginla.

But it’s a 200-foot game, and he quickly redeemed himself.

Shortly after the Detroit goal, Krug went on impressive rush and sprung Milan Lucic with a tape-to-tape neutral zone feed. Lucic and Iginla then worked the perfect give-and-go, resulting in Lucic’s first tally of the playoffs and third Bruins goal of the game. After a lifeless start to the middle frame, the Detroit goal was that needed fix to revive the sleeping bear, and get the home team rolling again.

“it’s not really an each line thing or whatever. But it definitely feels good if you can get things going in the right direction as a line and feel like you’re contributing,” Iginla said postgame. “But also we’re trying to be physical and each line is trying to be physical and other things, but it definitely felt good to see Looch [Milan Lucic] put that one in at the end of the second, that was a big goal for us.”

It was all Bruins from that point forward. While Detroit’s urgency showed in the shot column, their chances were limited to the outside and the Bruins netted the only third period goal, cruising to a 4-1 victory and evening up the series.

“I think last game, we mentioned that they were winning more races, their battles, their will to get to the puck first and hang on to it was better than ours in Game 1,” Julien said postgame. “But tonight, I think we were a little bit better in all areas, from our breakouts with their pressure to the neutral zone, where we were able to get through that with a little bit more speed today than we did the last game, and able to get our forecheck going like we talked about doing after Game 1.”

With the series now tied, can the Bruins take care of business in Detroit and get out of this first round fairly easily for once?

This being their best club in years, paired with the maturation of the core, they should be able too. But as previously stated, Game One was the needed “butt-kicking” to bring out the real Bruins club, what’s it gonna be next? Hopefully nothing. Just go out and do it. You’re better than them.

FROM THE ROOM:

Jarome Iginla

Click here to view the embedded video.

 

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Datsyuk Stuns Lackluster Bruins in Game One http://insidehockey.com/datsyuk-stuns-lackluster-bruins-in-game-one http://insidehockey.com/datsyuk-stuns-lackluster-bruins-in-game-one#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 03:56:17 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58279

One versus Eight. David versus Goliath. Any way you want to frame it the Boston Bruins are heavy favorites over the Detroit Red Wings. But it’s tough to call the Red Wings- a team who’s now made the playoffs 23 consecutive seasons, with proven veterans- a true underdog, and Coach Claude Julien agrees.

“Not with parity, I don’t think that exists anymore,” he said at Friday’s morning skate. “I’ve been mentioning that for the last couple of days, about the percentage of upsets in the first round over the last couple of years. So it just goes to prove to you that anything can happen in the playoffs. We’ve seen it many times before and I don’t expect that to change this year also.”

One thing the Wings had for them heading into Friday’s game was a couple hits to the Bruins overall depth.

With Chris Kelly out, no longer centering one of the league’s best third lines and providing a reliable penalty kill presence, Justin Florek got thrown into the fire. Daniel Paille was knocked out the second-to-last regular season game after a hit to the head, forcing him to miss Friday’s contest as he tries to recover. Jordan Caron took his spot.

Kevan Miller and Matt Bartkowski- who had both vehemently proved their top-sixth worth for Game 1 play- both sat out due to injury. Corey Potter and deadline acquisition Andrej Meszaros filled in.

Most of the talk surrounding the Bruins has been about their top two lines, but the team’s typically been at it’s best when their depth supports their defensive system and provides an offensive punch.

With Kelly, Paille, Bartkowski and Miller all out- they were tested from the get-go.

The replacements faired well in the first period of play. Caron ignited the crowd with an early hit, and created a chance with a centering pass later in the first. Potter also had a noticeably successful period, logging the fourth most ice-time on the Bruins back end, including effective penalty kill time. Florek was also effective on the penalty kill.

“It’s a great feeling, just knowing that he [Coach Julien] trusts me and everything,” Florek said postgame. “I’ve just got to keep working on both ends of the ice, move forward, and build that trust along the way. So, I’ve just got to keep presenting myself, getting opportunities, and doing my best out there.”

Although the Wings outshot the Bruins 11-9 and had the only man-advantage, the game was scoreless after 20.

The second period told a different tale. The Wings were all over the Bruins. It’s not confirmed that this “flu bug” is still taking its toll on some players, but the Bruins certainly played like it in the second. Legless, lifeless, the team was down 21-9 in shots attempted and playing with fire. It was as a great start for the Wings, but the Bruins still had time to find their game. We thought.

While the team showed signs of life early in the third period, and even garnered some momentum with a power play opportunity, this sustained attack just wasn’t there. Detroit was getting to pucks first, eliminating any chance Boston had at their cycle game, halting any offensive momentum the thought they had.

“Well as I said, it was a tight, checking game, but nonetheless, I think everybody’s got to find a way to create more and that’s going to be the challenge in this series with two teams playing really tight,” Julien said postgame. “So it’s about everybody working a little harder and then gaining your space and doing what you have to do here. But it’s, you know, it’s a long series. We predict if you look at tonight, it’s probably a good indication of that.”

The game was over just moments after the Bruins best opportunity. After Jarome Iginla fed Milan Lucic with the perfect deflection-oriented pass, it looked like the Bruins would go up 1-0; but the puck trickled through the crease, and it was Pavel Datsyuk with this magician-like hands, corralling the puck at the other end of the rink and ripping a wrist shot past Rask giving the Wings a 1-0 lead and ultimately, the first game of the series.

While the gut-punch will be tough for most for most Bruins fans to swallow- the team’s been here before; and quite often at their best in these exact situations as well.

It’s unfortunate, and you would think with lessons learned paired with veteran leadership the team has gotten past the point of needing that adversity, that extra emotion to bring out their will to win and the best of their play, but that remains to be seen.

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Can the Wings Topple the Bruins? http://insidehockey.com/can-the-wings-topple-the-bruins http://insidehockey.com/can-the-wings-topple-the-bruins#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:45:42 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58199

Going into the 2014 Playoffs the Detroit Red Wings face the Boston Bruins, who they haven’t faced in a playoff series since 1957. The Bruins are this season’s President’s Trophy winners, meaning they have a target on their backs, something the Red Wings are all too familiar with from past seasons. It is an unusual situation with the Red Wings being the eighth seed against the top-seeded Bruins.

The Bruins are loaded from top to bottom. They also had the best goal differential in the NHL with a plus 84. The Red Wings in comparison had a negative goal differential of minus 8.
Starting with Boston’s forward lines there is Selke Trophy Candidate Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla who both scored 30 goals this season. Other dangerous forwards for Boston are Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Carl Soderberg, and Reilly Smith, the brother of Detroit’s Brendan Smith. This is a formidable group who has size and knows how to put the puck in the net.

The Boston defense is one of the best in the NHL led by Zdeno Chara the tallest player in the NHL at 6’ 9” who probably has one of the hardest shots. He should be in the running for the Norris Trophy. The rest of Boston’s defense is top notch, with Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, Johnny Boychuk, and Matt Bartkowski. Tuukka Rask, who also should be a Vezina candidate, leads the goaltending.

The Red Wings are obviously a team in transition, but they still qualified for the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive year. Enduring another injury riddled season the Red Wings were forced to add young players to patch the holes as a result. Players who benefited from injuries are Gustav Nyquist (who should have been in the lineup at the start of the season), Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, and Luke Glendening. Young players added to the lineup last season were Brendan Smith, Brian Lashoff, and Danny DeKeyser. There are other young players in the lineup, but the ones mentioned here have barley played a full season, but have added much needed speed and grit.

Like many young players they make mistakes, and this is usually crucial during the playoffs. As a result the younger players have left Detroit goaltenders in some difficult situations where they are forced to make great saves if possible. In the first round the Red Wings will be without Henrik Zetterberg and Jonathan Ericsson. Zetterberg is recovering from back surgery and, Ericsson is recovering from finger surgery. Pavel Datsyuk is back after sitting out a month with an inflamed knee.

Comparing lineups it would appear the Red Wings are in over their heads playing the Bruins, and it could be true. The Red Wings do have an equalizer, which is speed, they acquired with the addition of younger players. Speed is a factor, which can prove to be a problem for Boston. Again because of their youth the younger players tend to make mistakes (turnovers) meaning the puck winds up in their net. Mike Babcock preaches structure to his team, and for the most part the Red Wings are quite competitive when they play to the structure.

Comparing the teams it looks like the usual Goliath vs. David scenario, with a slow Goliath facing a speedy David. As mentioned for the Red Wings to win they must adhere to team structure, and Jimmy Howard needs to pick up the pace from the up and down season he has had to date. It is possible. Do you believe in upsets? The Detroit Red Wings do, as it will be the Red Wings winning in six games.

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B’s Draw Red Wings In First-Round Matchup http://insidehockey.com/bs-draw-red-wings-in-first-round-matchup http://insidehockey.com/bs-draw-red-wings-in-first-round-matchup#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 19:04:54 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58194

Well, there you have it. The Boston Bruins will enter the Stanley Cup playoffs as the number one overall seed by clinching the Presidents’ Trophy this past weekend. They finished with 117 points (54-19-9), and this marked the first time that the Bruins won this award since the 1989-90 season.

Fans remember all too well just how that season ended-a shellacking in the Stanley Cup finals against the Edmonton Oilers. We are all looking to the heavens to make sure that history does not repeat itself as far as a disappointing ending to a season goes.

In the first round of this year’s tournament, the B’s drew the Detroit Red Wings, a team that finished with the second wild card spot and fourth in the Atlantic Division. If you want to find the last time these two “Original Six” franchises met in the playoffs, then you have to go all the way back to 1957.

The Wings will be in the playoffs for the 23rd-straight season. They play with pace, skill, and structure. They emphasize getting the puck out of their zone quickly and putting it on the sticks of their in-stride forwards. In turn, the forwards prefer to carry the puck over the offensive blue line instead of playing dump-and-chase hockey.

How does that match up with the defensive-minded style of the Bruins? One would think that it would play into their hands. The B’s finished with a league best plus-84 rating on the year, and that stems from excellent play in the neutral zone. If there is a single team out there that could slow down that style of hockey, it is the Black and Gold of Boston.

However, it was apparent that they could not figure out how to reduce the production of the Red Wings. For what it is worth, Detroit is the only team this season to defeat the Bruins three times in regulation, as the B’s went 1-3-0 against the Red Wings this season.

The last time that these two teams played each other (a 3-2 victory for Detroit on April 2), the Red Wings were without Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson. Once the series kicks off, both of these players will be in the lineup against the Bruins. These two savvy veterans will present a whole new challenge for Boston in the offensive zone.

While Alfredsson was tied for the team lead in points with Niklas Kronwall (49) during the regular season, David Krejci led the Bruins with 69 points. You can see that Detroit is a team that likes to roll all of its players and preaches solid depth. Also, Jarome Iginla and Patrice Bergeron recorded 30 goals for the Bruins while Gustav Nyquist led Detroit in goals with 28.

Is anyone noticing a pattern here?

Offensively, it could be considered a wash. Even though the Bruins lost Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid for the year most likely, you have to give them the edge on the blue line. The Red Wings do not have the big-name player in the defensive zone that can present a problem for the Bruins.

When it comes to the goaltending matchup, it is not even close.

Tuukka Rask, arguably the leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy, is fourth in the NHL with a 2.04 goals against average and second with a .930 save percentage. He also leads all goaltenders with seven shutouts. Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard, who has played well this year, ranks in the bottom half in both categories. This matchup speaks for itself.

With all of that being said, that is why we play the games. This series will be interesting, and the Red Wings are prepared to give the Bruins all that they can handle.

The series will start Friday night at the TD Garden with game two to be played Sunday before the series shifts to Detroit for games three and four.

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Wings Have Tough Row to Hoe Post-Olympics http://insidehockey.com/wings-have-tough-row-to-hoe-post-olympics http://insidehockey.com/wings-have-tough-row-to-hoe-post-olympics#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 15:10:12 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=56682

The Red Wings renter the NHL season after the Olympic break with 24 games remaining. 13 of these games are on the road against tough opponents. For starters the Red Wings will be without Henrik Zetterberg for the rest of the regular season who underwent successful back surgery recently. Add in Pavel Datsyuk having knee problems before and after the Olympics makes it tougher for the Red Wings to contend. The team has been forced to go with their younger players since last season due to injuries, and as a result they seem to be accepting the challenge of playing in the NHL very well.

When the season began, the newly-acquired Stephen Weiss was going to be the replacement for second line center Valteri Filppula who signed with Tampa Bay. It seemed Weiss struggled adapting to the Red Wings system at first, and then suffering a groin problem that eventually required surgery. Weiss is expected back in the lineup soon. Johan Franzen has been out of the lineup with off and on concussion type symptoms. He also is expected back. Darren Helm was out a chunk of games and is getting back into game shape. Daniel Alfredsson has been sidelined with back problems, but has played trying to cope with them. We can go on with the injuries, but the above summarizes most of them.

Adding to the problem had been the demotions of Mikael Samuelsson, Jordin Tootoo, and Patrick Eaves to the Grand Rapids Griffins. The demotions are worth a large amount to the team’s Salary Cap. Eaves is currently on the Red Wings roster due to injuries, and had played well even though he has been a healthy scratch a few games. Also Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi have been healthy scratches recently since coach Mike Babcock has chosen to play the younger and faster players instead. Younger players such as Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Brian Lashoff, Tomas Jurco, Luke Glendening, Danny DeKeyser, Cory Emmerton, Joakim Andersson and others have caught the eye of Mike Babcock.

This situation creates an interesting dilemma for General Manger Ken Holland. The trade deadline is March 5, 2014, and what does he do if anything? A lot depends on the Red Wings next 3 games that are on the road (Montreal, Ottawa, & New Jersey). Even if the Red Wings are on the outside looking in playoff wise after these 3 games, it is doubtful the Red Wings will be sellers. They more than likely will be buyers or do nothing. There are different reasons for this possible scenario.

The team needs to determine which of their younger players they want to hold onto going into next season. There are many good young players on the parent team and in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with some of them not being waiver exempt next season. Since this is the situation Ken Holland and Mike Babcock need to figure which ones to keep, and which ones to package in a possible trade deadline deal. With Henrik Zetterberg on LTIR (Long term Injured Reserve), there is now Cap space available for possible trades. It is no secret the Red Wings could use a top 4-defense man to stabilize a young defense corps. The opportunity is available to package some prospects and/or players for one. The Red Wings could also use help at forward, but at what price for a rental? For example Thomas Vanek from the New York Islanders may be available, but he will be an UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent) this summer. Why should the Red Wings give up players and/or prospects for a rental? If the Red Wings want him they can pursue him next summer. If they trade for Vanek it has to come with he stipulation he resigns with the Red Wings before becoming an UFA.

The Red Wings are very determined to continue their playoff steak, and why not as they proved last year anything can happen during the playoffs. They eliminated the second seed Anaheim Ducks in 7 games, and took eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks to 7 games. They also have 7 UFA’s coming off the books at the end of the season, and the Salary Cap is going up. It is expected the Red Wings may resign one or two of the UFA’s, but that will probably be it. Jordin Tootoo who is currently in Grand Rapids will more than likely bought out as the Red Wings can use one more buyout, and he is the likely candidate. This should provide the Red Wings the opportunity to keep some of their younger players on the team, and pursue free agents this summer.

Do the Red Wings continue extending their playoff run this season? Flip a coin for the answer. It will probably be that close.

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Road to the Olympics: Damien Brunner http://insidehockey.com/road-to-the-olympics-damien-brunner http://insidehockey.com/road-to-the-olympics-damien-brunner#comments Wed, 19 Feb 2014 22:36:12 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=56567

New Jersey Devils forward Damien Brunner is in his sophomore year in the NHL.  He’s gone from playing in Switzerland to the Detroit Red Wings to the New Jersey Devils to Sochi.

Before the 27-year old right winger made it in the NHL, he played for EV Zug in Zug, Switzerland.  This small town just half an hour outside of Zurich is bustling with avid and dedicated hockey fans.  While soccer is the main favorite sport in Switzerland, hockey is a close second.

Zug’s streets are lined with luxury car dealerships, yet hardly anyone drives around town, even though gas is so much cheaper there than in the United States.  Hundreds of bikes are piled up at the train station as residents commute to the city to work.  Of course, thanks to the limited pollution in Switzerland, you’ll find some of the best air quality you’ll ever find in the world.  In other words, take a lot of big, deep breaths.  The oxygen here is the best around.

BMW sponsors EV Zug.  Their banners fly all around the arena.

Players can be seen before the game playing soccer outside.  They’re surrounded by a fence, but fans can watch the pre-game warm-up through the glass inside the arena.

EV Zug is where I discovered some of the most amazing (and loudest) fans in hockeydom.  If you can imagine the intensity of the fans during a European soccer game, you can picture hockey at EV Zug’s arena.

The arena is much smaller than a NHL arena, so their cheers are amplified to deafening levels.  Fans pay just to stand in a ‘standing only’ section behind the goalies.  There are no seats behind the goalies.  There’s only standing room and it is jam packed with fans.

This place…this is where I first encountered Damien Brunner.  In 2011, the year before Brunner signed with the Detroit Red Wings, I was asked to cover the New York Rangers alongside the team and the NHL as the team made their way across Europe.  One of the many stops in Europe was Zug…and Zug did the unexpected.  They annihilated the Rangers 8-4.

“Ah…we beat them!” Brunner said laughing as we went down memory lane.  “We killed them.”

“It’s fun.  The fans love it,” he said of hockey.  “Right after soccer, it’s the second biggest sport.  It’s nice to play there.  It’s a small country.  You have short travels.  It’s a great league, a fast league.  Probably after the NHL/KHL, we are right up there.  There are a lot of good players coming out of there.”

“In Zug, where you saw us play, we probably had like a thousand people too much in the arena and they were all excited the Rangers were there.  We have some arenas that on a nightly basis they are really loud.  Zug is actually not known for the loudest crowd.”

But the intensity of the fans is just as energy filled as that night against the Rangers.

“They’re singing throughout the whole game.  The volume was more up there with the Rangers.”

Brunner scored the seventh goal for Zug at 4:01 in the third period of that game.  That season he went on to record 24 goals and 36 assists for 60 points along with a +17 in 45 games.

Going across the pond to the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings wasn’t as easy for him in production as it was in Switzerland.  Regardless, post-lockout, this rookie recorded 26 points (12g, 14a) in 44 regular season games followed by (5g, 4a) in the post-season.  He finished fifth in scoring on the Red Wings, just three spots behind his former (lockout) Zug teammate, Henrik Zetterberg

Now, he’s signed with the New Jersey Devils after successfully completing a tryout with the team back in September.  His numbers are not like his rookie year.  He’s only tallied 17 points (9g, 8a) in 41 games.  He’s the only Swiss player on the team, just like he was in Detroit.  The only difference was that he had an old Zug teammate on the Red Wings.

He’s come a long way since dominating in Zug.  He made it into the NHL after that season where he helped his team pulverize the Rangers.  Now, he’s on the Swiss National team in his NHL sophomore year.  He is one of 11 active NHL players from Switzerland, nine of which were selected for the Olympic team.

“It’s exciting,” Brunner said when he was selected to the Olympic squad.  “It’s going to be my first Olympics.  I was pretty close to last time in 2010.  I progressed for the last four years, [and now] I got the opportunity to play.”

Going into the Olympics, what countries did he see as the top threat to Switzerland?

“Top favorite is Canada,” he said.  “For us, they put us in a good spot for the group.  We have Latvia our first game, a must win for us.  We come in as a second place team from last world championship, so that’s a must win for us.  Then we play Sweden, probably the best team in our group.  Then the Czechs…I’m going to be playing three of my teammates here.”

Was he looking forward to playing against his Devils Czech teammates Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias and Marek Zidlicky?

“Yeah, I’m really excited about it,” he responded laughing.  “We were joking about it a little bit.  It’s going to be a big game.  Like I said, there are a lot we have to win and the other two we want to steal points, play our best games.  [The Czechs] know we’re a team they have to take serious and we’re going to see how we can do that.”

Going into the Olympics, many players have been known in the past to take national pride over the fact that they have to return to the NHL to play alongside many of their opponents.  Some players have purposely injured other NHLers, even if it is their own teammate back in North America.  Is this something they worry about?

“Of course,” he responded.  “The guys take a lot of pride in it.  If Canada doesn’t win gold, it’s a big disappointment and then you’ve got the Americans here in the final and they want to win too.  And then you have Russia going to try and strike back.  I mean, everyone is excited about the hockey tournament over there.  Then it’s just Sweden/Finland.  That’s going to be a big tournament.  Everyone wants to win.  I don’t think they hold back.”

Before going to Sochi, the news was flooded with ongoing problems in Sochi.  Was this something he worried about?

“It’s in the media everyday,” he said.  “I don’t think there’s any concern.”

Brunner’s parents made the trip to Sochi despite the security issues the media raised prior to the games that had many Olympians decide to keep their families at home.

As Brunner predicted, Canada and America would make it to the semi-finals, along with Sweden and Finland.  Finland beat Russia in the quarterfinals 3-1.

As far as those important games Brunner discussed prior to the Olympics, Switzerland scored with 7.9 seconds left in the opener against Latvia in the 1-0 win.  In the next game, Sweden beat them 1-0.  The next day, the Swiss beat
the Czech Republic 1-0, taking second place in Group C.  After two days of rest, Switzerland faced Latvia again and were eliminated 3-1, advancing the Latvians to the quarterfinals where they lost 2-1 to Canada.  Canada, USA, Sweden and Finland have all advanced to the semi-finals.

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Super Sunday for the Capitals; Win 6 to 5 in Overtime http://insidehockey.com/super-sunday-for-the-capitals-win-6-to-5-in-overtime http://insidehockey.com/super-sunday-for-the-capitals-win-6-to-5-in-overtime#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 16:17:56 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=56233

The Washington Capitals won the second half of a home and home series versus the Detroit Red Wings when Alex Ovechkin scored 2:37 into overtime. The game was one of the Capitals’ most entertaining games of the season, much to the delight of the loud, sold-out crowd.

For most of the game prior to overtime, Ovechkin was a non-factor as he was shadowed by Detroit defensemen, allowing the Capitals to play four on four and four on three hockey for two plus periods.

The coach and players didn’t care how the Red Wings choose to defend them.

“No difference,” according to Joel Ward. “Regardless of the power play match-ups, you got to put them in.”

Jason Chimera agreed. He talked of other guys stepping up. “You got to think of different ways to score.”

Ward and Chimera certainly backed up what they said. Ward had two goals and an assist. Chimera had one goal and two assists.

Michal Neuvirth started in goal for the Capitals. Even though he let up 5 goals, he was “pretty happy with his performance.”

“Mentally pretty strong.” Coach Adam Oates said that of the five goals, one he would like back. The other four were breakdowns in front of him.

The Capitals seemed aggressive from the start. After ten minutes, they led 2 to 0, and outshot Detroit 6 to 1.

After the game, players talked about how good the Capitals can be.

“We can play with the best,” according to Chimera.

Neuvirth said “wins like that will definitely help us going forward.”

The Capitals moved one point behind Detroit for the final wild card spot in the East, but also behind Philadelphia and Carolina. The Capitals have four games left before Sochi to build on this win.

NOTES

Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist had a hatrick.

Mike Green did not play due to injury.

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Photo Gallery: Red Wings vs. Flyers (01/28/14) http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-red-wings-vs-flyers-012814 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-red-wings-vs-flyers-012814#comments Wed, 29 Jan 2014 17:39:14 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=56069

The Philadelphia Flyers shut out the visiting Detroit Red Wings by a score of 5-0.

THREE STAR SELECTIONS
1st Scott Hartnell (#19 PHI)
2nd Steve Mason (#35 PHI)
3rd Claude Giroux (#28 PHI)

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Zuccarello sends Rangers past Wings with Goal http://insidehockey.com/luckily-or-skillfully-zuccarello-sends-rangers-past-wings http://insidehockey.com/luckily-or-skillfully-zuccarello-sends-rangers-past-wings#comments Fri, 17 Jan 2014 04:26:48 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=55569

NEW YORK – Mats Zuccarello called it a lucky goal. His teammates called it a skill goal. Ranger fans were just happy it was a goal.

In a game that saw just one puck cross the goal line, the Rangers (25-21-3) rode Zuccarello’s third-period tally to a 1-0 win Thursday in an Original Six matchup against the Red Wings (20-17-10) at Madison Square Garden.

“All players make their good fortune by the right work ethic, the right attitude, and the right commitment,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “He’s just found a way to make some of those skill plays and play on the inside. He’s been a very big part of our offensive game, and again tonight he found a way to get a big goal for us.”

Jimmy Howard (47 saves) had stopped the first 44 Rangers shots. But this time, with the Rangers moving well in transition as they had all game, Zuccarello tried passing the puck cross-crease to Benoit Pouliot.

Instead, it deflected off Red Wings defenseman Brian Lashoff’s stick, and the bouncing puck hopped over Howard’s pad and into the mesh, sending the sell-out crowd of 18,006 into delirium with 5:58 remaining in the third.

“Some games are going to be like that when you struggle to score,” Zuccarello said. “We had a good stretch where we scored a lot of goals, but today one was enough. We’ll take that.”

“You can’t just stop and get frustrated,” said Ryan McDonagh, who had a career-high seven shots and continues to excel with under a month remaining until he takes part in the Sochi Olympics as part of Team USA. “It’s tough to score goals against that team. They play pretty well in their structure, and they don’t give you [many] odd-man looks because they stay a lot above the puck. It was throwing pucks at the net, second and third opportunities, and we get a fortunate bounce.”

Zuccarello started the season slowly. So slowly, in fact, he was a healthy scratch on October 24 after going without a point in the team’s first seven games. The chance to sit in the press box and watch seems to have been just the elixir to his early-season struggles. Since then, he’s scored 12 goals and added 22 helpers.

“I’ve said this before, when I benched him, he wasn’t blaming me or anybody else,” Vigneault said. “He knew that he wasn’t performing and producing the way he wanted to. Ever since we got him back, he’s been producing for us.”

After Zuccarello’s goal, the Rangers still had some defending to do – and needed a little bit more luck on their way to Henrik Lundqvist’s 48th career shutout.

With under 45 seconds left, Gustav Nyquist wristed one that went off the post before deflecting off Lundqvist’s back. He looked behind him, and with the puck skittering ever so tantalizingly towards the goal line and a tie game, he reached his gloved-hand back, smothered the puck, and helped ensure the game was won.

“You wait for [the Red Wings to give] a reaction when you hear it hit the post,” Lundqvist said after his third shutout of the season moved him one away from Eddie Giacomin for the franchise record. “Then, they don’t give a reaction so you know it’s behind you somewhere and you don’t want to make too big of a move. I turned around, and it was right there. We got some puck-luck.”

“What you saw tonight was, without a doubt, two goaltenders on top of their game,” Vigneault said. “Both Hank and Howard had their “A” game out there and were seeing the puck and controlling the rebounds. We were fortunate to put one past him.”

NOTES:

The Rangers shut-out the Red Wings for the first time since Nov. 27, 1976, and for the first time at the Garden since Nov. 16, 1975. The last time the Rangers won a 1-0 game against Detroit was on Feb. 4, 1971.

The Rangers’ 48 shots were just shy of their season-high of 50, set earlier this month against Toronto. They’ve taken at least 40 shots eight times through their first 49 games this season, after doing so just five times in the 48-game lockout-shortened season last year.

New York is 9-3-1 in its last 13 games. They’ve allowed two goals or fewer in five straight games, seven of their last nine, and in 14 of their 25 games at Madison Square Garden this season.

INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM:

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