Red Wings look strong heading into second round

Red Wings look strong heading into second round

April 28, 2011

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Kevin Kurz
CSNBayArea.com

Of the eight teams remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, none looked as dominant, poised and balanced in the first round as the Detroit Red Wings.

It took all of four games for the mighty winged wheel to dispatch of the Phoenix Coyotes in what turned out to be an epic first round for the league, as half of the series went the full seven games. Detroit didnt have nearly the difficulty in advancing as its fellow Western Conference clubs, outscoring the Coyotes 18-10 and sending them packing (to Winnipeg?) in business-like fashion.

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Now, theyve earned another playoff date with the Sharks. There arent many secrets between these two rivals, and whoever coined the phrase familiarity breeds contempt was likely watching playoff hockey at the time. This jewel of a matchup will likely reflect that.

Here are a few things to look for from the Sharks second-round opponent, as San Jose attempts to advance to the Western Conference Finals in back-to-back seasons.

Balancing act: The most impressive stat, perhaps of the entire first round itself, is that 13 different Red Wings were able to get on the scoresheet with goals. Thats without access to their leading scorer, Henrik Zetterberg, who should be able to suit up for Game 1 against the Sharks after a knee injury late in the regular season kept him out against the Coyotes. Of the remaining playoff teams, only Tampa Bay has had that many players light the lamp, but it took them seven games to do it.

Leading the way with Zetterberg out was fellow superstar Pavel Datsyuk, who has six points to lead the Wings in playoff scoring. As is always the case with the perennial Selke Trophy candidate, his offense is just half of the story. Datsyuk dominated on both ends of the ice against the Coyotes and was arguably the best player in the league in the first round.

RELATED: Schedule for Sharks vs. Red Wings
Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader are two players that wont necessarily make headlines, but are gobbling up valuable minutes and providing energy on the third and fourth lines.
Killing time: If there was one area of their game which was an issue in the first round, it was the Red Wings penalty-killing. Detroit allowed six power play goals in just 18 opportunities to the Coyotes, who arent exactly an offensive powerhouse. Only Nashville has a worse percentage than the 66.7 percent mark of the Red Wings when it comes to killing penalties.

The Sharks penalty-killing was a point of concern for most of the regular season, but it came through in important situations against the Kings in the first round. With special teams magnified in the postseason, and with both teams featuring such high-powered offenses, whichever club wins this battle will have a huge edge in the series.

Waiting game: The Red Wings havent played since April 20, and while its allowed Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Co. an opportunity to heal from some bumps and bruises, thats a significant amount of time between games.

Detroit should be enough of a veteran team to not let that affect them too adversely, but look no further than the 2008-09 Boston Bruins for an example of a team that wasnt able to recover from that kind of respite. The Bruins, who were the top seed in the East that season, swept the Montreal Canadiens in the first round and had eight days off before falling to the less-talented Carolina Hurricanes in the second round.

Now, were not saying thats going to happen to the Red Wings, but it could be an obstacle they have to overcome.

Top Jimmy: This time last year, Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard was a hot shot rookie who might not have been prepared for the bright lights of playoff hockey after some outstanding regular season numbers. If his first-round performance and demeanor are any indication, hes much more prepared now.

Howard, much like Antti Niemi, doesnt necessarily have to steal any games for his club. After all, the Red Wings and Sharks are two of the most offensively gifted teams in the NHL, and just need a netminder to stop the shots hes supposed to stop. While Niemi struggled with even that in the first round, Howard did not. His 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage were more than enough to help the Red Wings advance.
RATTO: 'New' Sharks need to be different vs. Detroit
What may be even more impressive, though, is that he appears more driven and focused this season. Take, for example, what Howard had to say following the Game 4 clincher: When interviewed on the ice, Howard was asked why he hadnt cracked a smile. Ill smile in June, he simply said.

In order to advance, the Sharks will need better play from their goaltender, they will have to match the scoring balance that Detroit possesses, and get off to better starts. Furthermore, Dan Boyle will have to be more responsible with the puck and play like a No. 1 defenseman, if only because Nicklas Lidstrom is on the other side of the ice.

It wont be easy. Many view the Red Wings as the odds-on favorite to win another Stanley Cup after their first round performance, and for good reason.

But theyre not invincible.

As Samardzija ages, it isn't as easy to lose the weight gained in offseason

As Samardzija ages, it isn't as easy to lose the weight gained in offseason

Jeff Samardzija is entering Year 2 of the five-year contract he signed with the Giants following the 2015 season.

With spring training underway, what is the hardest part about getting his body and mind prepared for the upcoming campaign?

"The pitching aspects of things, the older I get, the more they kind of just fall right in line with feeling my mechanics out," Samardzija explained on KNBR 680 on Wednesday morning. "For me, it's probably the cardio (laughter). The older I get, the more I realize that you put more weight on in the offseason, then it's a little harder to get off.

"You hear about it, right? You hear about it all the time when you're younger ... and my offseasons, I like to have offseasons. I don't watch my calories. I don't watch my intake (I don't really watch any of that anyways). But the offseason -- I have fun, I relax ... then you get working out again and usually those first five or six poles, two-mile runs, camelback hikes -- they're always pretty interesting the first couple times."

The former college wide receiver is listed at 225 pounds.

Samardzija turned 32 years old in January and is entering his 10th big-league season.

He went 12-11 with a 3.81 ERA over 32 starts last year.

Over his final 10 starts, he went 3-3 with a 2.45 ERA.

"The splitter came back for me there toward the end of the year," Samardzija said. "I kind of brought the curveball in to not replace, but kind of take up some of the space of the splitter that wasn't there.

"And then come September, the splitter showed up and then we had the curveball and we ran with it from there."

I don't skate like a man, just a darn good woman

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I don't skate like a man, just a darn good woman

In late December, I was invited to play in a pick-up hockey game with some other members of the local sports media community. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was one of only two women there that day. Even now, female ice hockey players aren’t exactly common.

After the game, a reporter I’ve known a while – a guy I like a lot – said to me: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you skate like a man.” I didn’t take it wrong, of course; he meant it as a compliment. The reporter wanted nothing more than to tell me I’d impressed him.

I thought about this exchange a lot in the days that followed. Had someone told me I played hockey like a boy when I was 15, I would have worn that description like a badge. Hell yeah, 15-year-old Sarah would have thought, I do play like a boy. I’m as tough as a boy. I’m as fierce and competitive as any boy on my team. I would have reveled in it, just as I reveled in a similar label I’d received even earlier in my adolescence: tomboy.

Yeah, I was a tomboy. I hung around with the neighborhood boys, riding bikes between each other’s houses or catching salamanders in the creek that ran through town. I loved sports, and my bedroom walls -- papered with newspaper clippings and photos of Flyers players -- were a far cry from the pink-tinged rooms that belonged to the girls at school. 

As much as I could, I dressed like a boy too, even once cutting the sleeves off of an oversized T-shirt before I went out to rollerblade with our next-door neighbors. My grandmother, who was visiting at the time, pulled me aside to tell me I really ought to dress more appropriately. I rolled my eyes.
I was a tomboy, and I loved the word and everything it stood for. I felt pride in my tomboyishness, believing that the things I liked – the things boys liked – were clearly better than the things stereotypically left to the girls.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit it was a conversation with a 15-year-old that changed my perspective, just a few days after my reporter friend had compared my hockey skills to those of a man. I sat down with Mo’ne Davis, the female Little League pitching phenom, for this very project. I asked her if she identified as a tomboy, and she shrugged. Not really, she said. Maybe other people wanted to define her that way, she suggested, but that wasn’t how she viewed things.

You know that record scratch sound effect they play on TV or in the movies? The one that denotes a sort of “wait … what?!” moment? That’s what happened in my head. Mo’ne Davis, the girl who played on the boys’ team and excelled, didn’t consider herself a tomboy?

Something clicked in my head after that. I’ve long identified as a feminist, and I’ve been a big supporter of girls in sports for as long as I can remember. I coach girls hockey, I’ve spoken at schools and camps about playing and working in sports as a woman. For some reason, though, it took a 15-year-old shrugging her shoulders at the label “tomboy” to take the power out of the word for me. Why does one have to be a tomboy, when one can simply be a girl who kicks ass? How had I never considered this before?

In many ways (and especially in sports) if something is male, it’s considered superior. It goes beyond just the things kids like to do, and it’s all old news. It’s also something I’m ashamed to admit I’ve bought into for practically all of my life. But no longer. How can I help change the narrative if I’m too busy playing along with it?

And if I could do it over, when that reporter approached me after our hockey game to tell me I skated like a man, I would have smiled, shook my head and said: Nah. But I skate like a darn good woman.