“We were playing for our lives.”
Coach Jacques Demers, after the Wings’ 6-4 victory Tuesday
What do you call it when the puck is suddenly your enemy, when every bounce seems evil, when the clock says 13 minutes left in your season, kiss it good-bye, see ya later?
Wake-up time. Here were the Red Wings staring at their very souls in the Joe Louis Arena ice. Down, three games to one, in this first-round playoff against Chicago, losing, 4-3, playing poorly, playing unluckily. Hey, if life gets any worse, don’t tell us. Just put on the blindfold and shoot.
Already on this night the Wings had seen the Blackhawks score two shorthanded goals — shorthanded? What’s the point of a power play? — they had seen an early lead disappear, they had seen goalie Alain Chevrier, who must register at hotels as Clark Kent, once again put on a masterful and unexpectedly good show in the net. Hey, wait a minute. This was the first round, wasn’t it? These were the Chicago Blackhawks, weren’t they?
“Jacques told us between the second and third periods that we had better not quit out there,” Steve Yzerman would say later. “If we were gonna quit, he said, don’t even go out there.”
No quit. Instead, somewhere around that magical 13-minute mark, the Wings found what they had been looking for during much of this season: themselves. As the crowd rose to its feet, a standing ovation — if this is good-bye, at least let’s say it loudly — the Wings hit the adrenaline bottle, guts, pride, they came charging at Chicago, and finally, with a power-play advantage, which
had been a curse all game, they scored. Yzerman whipped a pass cross-ice to Adam Oates, who spotted Petr Klima breaking toward the net along the goal line. Were this a basketball game, his pass would have been a perfect alley-oop. Right on the stick. Klima had nothing but space between him and glory.
Tie game, 4-4.
An unlikely hero
It was then that Lady Luck, who must have been in the bathroom up to that point, finally emerged and said, “Oh, all right, if you want it so badly. . .
And 59 seconds later, magic. John Chabot came twisting down center ice, passed off to Shawn Burr, and was left spinning, like a cartoon rabbit. Burr, meanwhile, dug into the boards, flicked the puck desperately at the net, and .
. . ping! It hit the goalpost and ricocheted out to — guess who? — Chabot, who had just come out of his pas de deux. He wound up, slammed a shot past Chevrier, and lookie here! The Wings were ahead. Chabot? Who has contributed next to nothing these playoffs and much of the season, getting the winning goal?
“How often do you come out of a spin and find a puck at your feet, just sitting there like that?” Chabot would be asked.
“For a guy like me?” he would say, laughing. “Maybe once in a lifetime.”
The Wings took it. They took everything they could get. Remember, for much of the game, Tuesday looked like the season finale. Consider these scenes from the first 45 minutes: Gerard Gallant skating off for 14 minutes in penalties, coming back and getting penalized again; Chevrier, the miracle man, making saves even his own body didn’t recognize, catching pucks in the pads, the glove, then looking behind him to see whether he missed. And Paul MacLean, whose ship seems long gone from this Detroit harbor, trying a pass that smacked off Wayne Presley, bounced to the Wings’ net, just short of Greg Stefan’s stick and — slap! Presley looped it in.
“They are tough, Chicago is very tough,” Demers would admit. “But we had 20 guys out there who refused to quit. They simply refused to quit.” The octopus lives
And because of that, they are alive today. There will be those who point at this game and say, look, Detroit had to win it and barely did. Chicago will take this series inevitably.
And there will be those who say, hey, this was the Blackhawks’ best chance. They should have shut the door. The pressure is on them to win in their arena Thursday night, and they know, deep down, that Detroit is the better team.
Think what you will. The Wings for now have at least fought off disaster, at least shown a little of the heart and soul we all believed they had beneath this bad-news season.
Besides, guess who’s back? With 42 seconds left, and the Hawks scrambling for a tying goal, someone — bless his heart — threw an octopus on the ice. Splat! Right in the middle of play! And, as if on cue, Detroit took off, Yzerman to Torrie Robertson . . . breakaway . . . score!
Well. Take what you can get.
“Just remember this,” said Demers, who obviously still can find a way to motivate. “You can win nine rounds in boxing, then come out in the 10th round and knock the guy out. We’re going to Chicago tomorrow.”
One win, one octopus, and a plane trip. Summer will have to wait just a little bit longer.