NHL Playoffs: Can Detroit Make History and Come Back From 3-0 Deficit?

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IMay 7, 2010

DETROIT - MAY 06:  Johan Franzen #93 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates with Brian Rafalski #28 and Henrik Zetterberg #40 after his third period and fourth goal of the game while playing the San Jose Sharks in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 6, 2010 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 7-1 but trail in the series 1-3. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Let me begin by saying that, honestly, any talk about a historic mid-series sweep is silly, if not down-right delusional.

There is a reason this has happened only twice in NHL history and has not happened once in the past three decades.

Like a blackjack dealer playing a six-deck chute, a team with a 3-0 lead has the odds overwhelmingly stacked in their favor to the extent that beating them becomes something just shy of a statistical impossibility.

You may step up to the table and think you can win, but really, you lost the second you put your chips on the felt.

Even if you win a hand or two at some point, at the end of the night, you'll be walking away with empty pockets.

However, every now and again, the impossible happens, and you end up beating the house.

Thursday night, when the Red Wings were down to their last chip, the dealer drew them an eleven—they doubled-down, got hit with the King of Hearts (played this time by Johan Franzen), and won a chance to play another hand on Saturday night.

For every fan in Hockeytown, dreams of becoming the third team in over 80 years to rally from a 3-0 series deficit are beginning to percolate in their foil-coiffed heads.

As dreams go, it's a fine one to have.  However, expecting this to happen is something else again.

For my part, I stand behind my assertion penned after Game Three : The Wings are not getting out of this series alive.

Still, a text message from a friend early this morning got me thinking about the possibility of the Red Wings doing the unthinkable and winning four-straight to close out the series.

The exchange went as follows:

"Big win. R Wings going 2 upset?", to which I replied, "Big win, yes, upset, no". To which he replied, "Could they?"

Now, that got me thinking.

Could they?

Though I am regrettably, yet positively sure Detroit will not win this series, the question of whether or not they could is still a valid one.

To my mind, any team that could come back to win from three games-to-none down would need three things to do so: a wealth of experience, rock-solid goal-tending, and offensive depth.

Applying these criteria to the Wings, we find that the first is a no-brainer—there is no team more experienced in the league than the Detroit Red Wings.

However, the other two, well, let's take a look at those.

While I wouldn't call his performance so far this post-season terrible, Jimmy Howard's first trip to the playoffs has left much to be desired, especially after his emergence during the regular season.

Among the eight starters left in these semi-finals, Howard's stats rank dead-last.

A 2.81 goals-against average and .913 save percentage through 11 games is pedestrian at best; however, Howard has proved capable of stepping up when his team needs him most.

In Game Three against Phoenix, the Wings in general and Howard in particular threw up a stinker on home ice.

Down 2-1 in the series, the Wings needed a big effort from everyone in order to even the series, especially Howard.

Boy, did he deliver it.

Howard posted his first shutout of his playoff career and was able to send his team back to the desert to compete in what essentially became a best-of-three series.

Howard faced even more pressure in Game Seven of that series as he was on enemy ice with his team facing elimination.

Again, he was equal to the challenge as he and the Wings dominated the Coyotes from start to finish; Howard was beat only once on 33 attempts.

Thursday night, Howard, just a week removed from his last elimination game, was once again called on to keep his team in the hunt.

Though Howard's performance was, understandably, overshadowed by the history-making, offensive onslaught of Johan Franzen, it was a brilliant one none the less.

Howard looked calm and collected from start to finish, turning away all of the 29 shots he faced, save for the heat-seeking missile delivered into the back of the net by Dany Heatley on a Sharks' 5-on-3 power play.

Three huge games, each larger than the last, and Howard delivered three clutch performances.

I'm not sure if one could look at those games as sufficient evidence that Jimmy Howard is a rock-solid goal-tender, but, if not, he is most certainly one more big win away from resembling concrete.

The third ingredient, offensive depth, is something the Red Wings have all but patented over the last 20 years.

Rolling four lines and getting scoring from each of them is a luxury few teams can afford but one Detroit has built their success around.

This post-season is no exception.

The Wings sport 15 players who have recorded at least one point.

More significantly, they have six skaters in double-digits, which is double that of their current opponent, San Jose, and triple that of other offensive powerhouses such as Chicago and Vancouver.

Fifth seed or no, Detroit is still leading the pack when it comes to the number of guys who can make a difference on the score sheet.

There is perhaps a fourth condition required for a team to climb all the way back from an 0-3 hole.

No matter how prepared a team might be to win, pulling of an upset of that magnitude would also require that the team with the 3-0 lead start developing serious cracks in their armor.

San Jose didn't play very well in Game Four, that's clear.

However, is it reasonable to expect that this was just the beginning of a team-wide collapse that is set to pave the way for the Wings to sweep them out of the series?


Historic playoff chokers though they are, the Sharks are not about to lay down and crawl into a hole, even after their meltdown in Game Four.

The Sharks will have three more chances, two of them at home, to put the Red Wings behind them, and, disappointing as it may be, the fact that they will is all but certain.

Don't let the thrilling and satisfying experience that was Game Four fool you; the Wings are down 3-1 in this series and will face a much more determined Sharks squad on Saturday.

I am of course hopeful the Red Wings will send the series back to the Joe for one last game at home; however, at this point, it is not something I'd count on.

They may have had the cards to win a big hand last night and stay in the game, but hitting "21" three more times in a row is something only a fool would expect to have happen.

Still, if you had to pick one team capable of beating the house, you'd be wise to put your money on the Wings.





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