April 15, 2016
Have fun while you can, Wings and
Pistons not long for playoff world.
By KEITH GAVE
For the first time in seven years, we get to enjoy playoff hockey and basketball with the Pistons joining the Red Wings in the post-season at the same time after a long hiatus.
But we’ll have to enjoy it fast, because it’ll be over soon for both teams.
Rather than debate the odds of either team advancing beyond the first round, the more appropriate question is which might extend its series longer. In other words, who has the chance of winning more games in their best-of-seven series?
The Wings are already down after losing their series opener, 3-2, at Tampa Bay on Wednesday night – in a game theirs for the taking. Game 2 is in Tampa on Friday night.
The No. 8 seeded Pistons start their series Sunday at Cleveland, again a favorite to challenge for an NBA title with LeBron James.
Before we get into that, though, let’s disavow the notion that a No. 8 seed in the NBA has little chance of advancing compared to a No. 8 seed in the NHL. Since 1994 – when the Wings were the NHL’s top-seeded team and managed to lose to San Jose in the first round, the NHL has seen seven No. 8 seeds advance. The Wings lost to No. 8 seed Edmonton in 2006 as well – so maybe it just seems like it happens a lot more in the NHL.
Over the same time period, five No. 8 seeds in the NBA have advanced, including three in the past eight seasons – Golden State over Dallas in 2007, Memphis over San Antonia in 2011 and Philadelphia over Chicago in 2012.
The difference in the two leagues: No. 8 seeds in the NBA don’t get very far after those first-round upsets. The NHL’s Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed in 2012. And that Edmonton team that stunned the Wings in 2006 advanced to the Cup finals.
But let’s get back to our Detroit teams in the playoffs in 2016. Absolutely the Pistons and their coach/President Stan Van Gundy deserve high praise for crashing the playoff party in their second season of SVG’s rebuild of the franchise. And going 2-1 against the Cavs in the regular season was impressive – if you don’t look too closely. In neither Pistons win did Cleveland have its full starting five.
The playoffs are a different animal, however. The Pistons are very young, and this will be great experience for them. The Cavaliers are on a mission, with their window of opportunity narrowing in King James’ twilight years.
The Pistons will treat their fans to a playoff win at home, but that’s it.
Cavs in five.
And frankly, there’s no reason to think the Wings will do any better in their 25th straight trip to the playoffs. They seem to be trending the other direction than the Pistons. In fact, you can easily make the argument that the Wings shouldn’t be in the playoffs at all.
They tied Boston for eighth place in Eastern Conference, though Boston won more games. But the tiebreaker was wins in regulation or overtime (ROW), and Detroit had one more than the Bruins despite having a minus-13 goal differential, worst among the 16 playoff teams this spring.
Nevertheless, heading into the series the Wings were a trendy pick to pull an upset over the banged up Lightning, missing two of its top players in center Steven Stamkos, their leading scorer, and defenseman Anton Stralman, their second-best defenseman.
But the 3-2 loss Wednesday was pretty much a composite of the entire Red Wings’ season. They managed just two goals despite 36 shots, with most of them coming from the perimeter where Wings forwards prefer to play. Their power play, which struggled all season until the final month or so, went 0-5. After they took a 2-1 lead in the second period, two sloppy and costly turnovers led to Tampa Bay’s tying and winning goals.
Sure, the Wings raised their level of play. Led by Justin Abdelkader – their most important player by far – they matched Tampa Bay hit for hit in a surprisingly physical game. Abdelkader is the only Wings forward willing to go to the net with any kind of commitment, and that’s how he scored the go-ahead goal Wednesday.
And when the Lightning appeared to be targeting Dylan Larkin, Henrik Zetterberg and other key Wings, it was Abdelkader who sought retribution. At this pace, the guy will have nothing left in the tank by Game 3.
The Wings are going to have to find a way to win a 2-1 game to extend the series and avoid a sweep after taking the Lightning to seven games in an opening round series they should have won. Can they do it? Maybe.
Tampa Bay in five.
Other Stanley Cup playoff predictions:
Washington vs. Philadelphia: Capitals in five
Pittsburgh vs. New York Rangers: Pittsburgh in seven
Florida vs. New York Islanders: Florida in six
Florida over Tampa Bay in seven
Washington over Pittsburgh in five
Washington over Florida in six
St. Louis vs. Chicago: St. Louis in six
Dallas vs. Minnesota: Dallas in four
Anaheim vs. Nashville: Anaheim in seven
Los Angeles vs. San Jose: Los Angeles in seven
St. Louis over Dallas in seven
Anaheim over Los Angeles in seven
Anaheim over St. Louis in seven
STANLEY CUP FINALS
Washington over Anaheim in six