I keep watching this and thinking back to what I wrote before the series started. The post was a lot shorter than I wanted it to be, and I ran out of time before I could really explain my feelings on the series and what makes Detroit so much better. After watching the first two games, perhaps I can take another stab at it.
When you watch a game and root for the underdog, there’s this unmistakable feeling of desperation attached to it. If you know which team is superior you sense the control they have over the game. Even if the score doesn’t show it, you can feel these things if you’ve watched long enough. It’s not cerebral or boring, just… calm.
The best example I can give you is the last half-decade of Bills/Patriots games. There isn’t much more you have to say to Bills fans about that feeling, but it’s prevalent throughout sports. Think about the first ten minutes of a 1 vs. 16 seed in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Despite the score, you can feel the confidence and control the higher seed has over the game. It’s something invisible, but completely obvious to almost everyone involved.
In a way, I think that’s what has happened in this series. Despite Chicago’s best efforts, Detroit has remained calm and taken care of business with swagger to spare. Last night was a tough 3-2 overtime game, but what gave Detroit the upper hand is something that very much has to do with that control teams have over underdogs.
When you root for an underdog, the constant fear is that your team will make a mistake. If they do, it’s over. Good teams always capitalize, always; and so every second make you a nervous wreck. Every missed chance is the one that will cost them, and every mistake will be the death blow.
The problem is that young teams fill the underdog role for a reason. They make mistakes, and these mistakes are taken advantage of. So when Dan Cleary reads two faceoffs and turns them into goals in consecutive games, these are just products of the matchup. Defenseman on a young, fast team make mistakes; that’s just the name of the game.
I think in a way the same goes for Brian Campbell and the overtime goal. Is he doing too much with the puck? Absolutely. At the same time, that’s exactly what they brought him in to do. He clearly misread the play and didn’t anticipate that Detroit would overload the point, but no one wants to see him give up on a play and get into defensive position. Those are not the plays that earn $7 million contracts; and those aren’t the plays that create offense.
Sabres fans will look at that play and affirm that he’s not worth the money, but in reality those plays are exactly what makes him worth that money om a way. Campbell made a mistake that dozens of defenseman make night in and night out. The difference is that Campbell has to make that play, and Detroit is the kind of team that doesn’t miss when given that chance.
The obvious thing to say is that Chicago will learn from these mistakes and get better. I can’t say that will happen, but I do know what I’ve felt these first two games. Chicago may only be a bounce away from a split at the Joe, but that feeling of dread has been there all series long. Unless something big happens in Chicago, the underdog will give up the death blow soon enough.