by | Jun 1, 2002 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Detroit’s first shot was a goal, and Patrick Roy shook his head. Detroit’s second shot was a goal, and Patrick Roy hung his head. Detroit’s fifth shot was a goal, and Patrick Roy kicked the ice, flicked his neck, banged his stick, then skated away as if to leave.

Only one problem for the Colorado goalie and his soon-to-be-dethroned teammates:

There still were 2 1/2 periods to go.

Now that’s an avalanche. It rolled in off the Detroit River, it wore a red-and-white sweater, it skated as if its socks were on fire, and it scored one, two, three, four goals in the time it normally takes fans to find their seats. Then it scored five, six and seven.

It didn’t merely rise to the occasion, it pole-vaulted, getting relentless offense, smothering defense, shutout goaltending and more jump than a 1956 Elvis Presley concert.

It was wild, voracious, a feeding frenzy in which everyone seemed to get to the trough. And at the final horn, for a brief but gloriously indulgent moment, everyone got to celebrate.

The Detroit Red Wings just sent home the defending NHL champions in this city’s most anticipated sporting event in a decade.

And in doing so, they made one of the greatest goalies in hockey history look like just another man in a mask. Patrick Roy, on the bench, too whipped to even smirk correctly?

Now that’s an avalanche.

“To be honest, we thought this would be an overtime game,” captain Steve Yzerman admitted after the Wings blew out the Avalanche, 7-0, to win Game 7 of the Western Conference finals and earn their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals since 1998. “After the first period, we were up, 4-0, and we were still thinking, ‘This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.’ “

In retrospect, Hoover Dam couldn’t have held Detroit back Friday night. Fueled by a knowledge that they had outplayed the Avalanche most of the series — yet still were in danger of losing it — the Wings poured gasoline on their personal fires, then added kerosene for good measure. It is almost easier to tell you who didn’t score than who did:

First was Tomas Holmstrom, less than two minutes into the night, falling down while tangling with a Colorado defender, but still redirecting a slap shot with his stick. Goal No. 1.

Then came Sergei Fedorov, 80 seconds later, flying down the left wing, lining up and firing one under Roy’s arm. Goal No. 2.

Then it was Luc Robitaille, criticized for his recent lack of production, taking a pretty feed from Igor Larionov and flicking it cleanly through Roy’s legs. Goal No. 3.

And here was Robitaille again, less than three minutes later, skating around three Avalanche defenders — Luc Robitaille? Out-skating the Avalanche? — then firing point-blank on Roy. The rebound ricocheted out to a swooping Holmstrom, who put it home for a head-shaking lead.

Four to nothing? After 13 minutes?

“Hey, Roy is one of the greatest goalies to ever play,” said Brett Hull, who scored the Wings’ fifth of the night, “but he’s human, too.”

So human, he ended the period without his stick, and ended the game without his crown. This was more than a victory by Detroit, it was a proclamation, one they can post in big letters at Hockey’s Town Hall:

Reputation is nothing.

Performance is everything.

You want an Avalanche?

That was an avalanche.

The statistics debunked

How sweet this was for so many of the Red Wings. For Holmstrom, the other Swedish star on this team, who had two goals Friday, but earned his glory night after night in this series, getting pounded and poked more than meat on a barbecue spit. Honestly, I don’t know how this guy has any skin left. Holmstrom does the dirtiest work in front of the net, but the most necessary to beat Colorado and Roy.

“Does this win make up for all the punishment?” he was asked afterward.

“No,” he said. “Winning the Cup will make up for it.”

How sweet it was for Robitaille, who had to endure criticism because, on a team full of firepower, he had been firing blanks. Not Friday. Robitaille was all over the place, reminding fans why the Wings pursued him in the first place.

“You don’t worry about how you’re doing personally on this team,” said Luc, who had his goal and two assists Friday night. “All you want to do is win. That’s what makes it a special group.”

Did the Wings relax, he was asked, when they saw Roy skating off for good midway through the second period?

“Well, we had a 6-0 lead,” he answered, laughing. “The odds are in your favor.”

How sweet for Brett Hull, who gets one more shot at the finals. And how especially sweet for Hasek, who left Buffalo precisely for a moment like Friday night, a night when he outshone the biggest netminder in the game. Two shutouts in a row?

Who’s the Big Dog now?

How sweet for Yzerman, Larionov, Chris Chelios, Fredrik Olausson, Steve Duchesne — all the 35-and-older group who never knew if they would get another shot at a Cup finals.

Sweet for all of them. And yes, let’s say it, truly sweet for Detroit hockey fans, who, thank you, thank you, thank you, no longer have to hear about Colorado’s amazing reputation for clutch performances.

Good Lord. Newspapers. TV stations. Radio talk shows. By Friday night, you were reciting these statistics like a bad song that won’t get out of your head.

The Avalanche had won its last four Game 7’s. Big deal. They lost this one.

Roy had stopped all 50 shots he faced in his last two Game 7’s. So what? He couldn’t stop four of his first eight Friday.

The Avalanche had beaten the Red Wings three out of their four playoff series? Yeah? And? Now it’s three of five.

The past means nothing to the future, and the Avalanche, in truth, is now a team quickly fading in the Red Wings’ rearview mirror. In the roaring din of the standing ovation Friday night, the Wings began to utter the sweetest word to come out of a conference final:


Bring on Carolina

And yes, believe it or not, there is more hockey to come. Lots of it. The Wings now will wrestle for the Stanley Cup against a team from the questionable hockey pastures of Tobacco Road, the Carolina Hurricanes, a team owned by another Michigander, Peter Karmanos.

Most experts want to call the season now and hand the Cup to Detroit. Don’t be foolish. And don’t be haughty. Go ask the New England Patriots how it feels to be written off. They’ll show you a Super Bowl trophy.

“Steve and I were watching some tapes of them play,” Hull said of the Hurricanes, “and they’re tough. They’re young. They’re aggressive. They’re well-coached. And they’re very disciplined.”

The Wings will need to be great again, not merely because of their opponent, but because playing in a Stanley Cup finals puts 40 pounds on your back all by itself.

But that starts Tuesday. For today, the city can relish this victory as much as the players. There are few rivalries that equal Colorado-Detroit, and you could hear it in the glee of the fans singing at Joe Louis Arena, from
“Na-Na-Na-Na-Hey-Hey-Good-bye” to “Sweet Caroline.”

They knew what the hockey world now knows. This was a wonderful series, with a lopsided ending — but the right ending. Even Colorado fans should admit that. Had the Wings lost, there would have been enormous second-guessing — a play here, a play there. With the Avalanche losing, the only question is how it didn’t happen sooner. The defending champs are a gamey bunch, but they rode their luck until it was fumes in the gas pipe.

The truth is, the Wings out-skated them. They out-defensed them. And, surprisingly, much of the time, they out-speeded them.

Finally, Friday night, they buried them.

There goes Colorado, off to figure out what happened. There goes Peter Forsberg, who had no shots Friday night, and Joe Sakic, who had only two. There, finally, goes Roy, who skated next to last when the teams met for the postgame handshake.

Near the end of the line, Roy encountered Hasek and held out his hand. The symbolism was obvious. Roy had his helmet off. Hasek had his on — because he still has work to do.

Savor this, Detroit, a night to remember. You just saw an Avalanche defeated by an avalanche.

Now let’s see how they handle Hurricanes.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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