Sunday, April 13, 2008

McCarty Scores For Wings, Who Take 2-0 Series Lead

Good for Darren McCarty.

The Detroit Red Wings took a 2-0 series lead over the Nashville Predators on Saturday and if one just looked at the box score, it would be easy to confuse this Wings team with the title team in 2002. Dominik Hasek made 25 saves. Your goal scorers? Darren McCarty, Nick Lidstrom, Kris Draper, and Thomas Holmstrom. And why is it not a surprise that McCarty was the first Wing to get on the scoreboard?

McCarty, who put the Red Wings on the road to their long-awaited Stanley Cup victory in 1997 by famously pummeling Wings arch-nemesis Claude Lemieux, always seems to be in the right place at the right time during the playoffs (who could forget his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals or his hat trick against Patrick Roy in the 2002 Western Conference Finals?) and Saturday was no difference, picking up a rebound and easily finding a practically empty-net. And what vindication for McCarty who may have been hurt by the 2004 NHL lockout more than any other player.

The lockout forced the Wings to buy-out McCarty's contract and despite singing with the Calgary Flames, McCarty never regained the magic he had in Detroit. He suffered both professionally and personally (due to a battle with alcoholism) and found himself out of the NHL at the start of this season. But McCarty never gave up, and worked his way back into shape and back on the ice, first with the Flint Generals of the International Hockey League (who are, not coincidentally, owned by former McCarty line-mate Kris Draper) and then, towards the end of the regular season, back with the Wings. And there he was Saturday, putting Detroit on the board early, exciting the Joe Louis Arena crowd just as he used to back in the late 1990s.

And this is not the first time the Wings have found success bringing back an old favorite. During their first cup runs a decade ago, the Wings were aided by another former bruiser who returned to Detroit, Joe Kocur. Kocur was rescued from the "beer leagues" by Steve Yzerman, and he was an important part of both the 1997 and 1998 Cup championship teams. The Wings hope that McCarty will play a similar role this season, and so far, the addition is paying quick dividends.

The Predators aren't out of this series, despite being down 2-0, but the Wings have played good, smart hockey (well, mostly...Anytime Hasek decides to leave the goal crease, it gets a little hairy as we saw yesterday) and if they continue to do so, they shouldn't have any problem wrapping up this series by this time next week (if not sooner). And given the way the Tigers are playing, and their high payroll, owner Mike Ilitch is going to need a long playoff run from the Wings this season.

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