The Red Wings didn’t skate Sunday. They gathered at Joe Louis Arena. They worked out. They talked to the media.
Then they flew to Dallas to play the most important game of their season.
I don’t know how they sat on the plane, but they should have had Nicklas Lidstrom up front, Henrik Zetterberg next to him, Pavel Datsyuk next to him and Chris Osgood filling out the row. And when they landed, those guys should have been first off the plane, running like mad, fists overhead, yelling “Let’s goooooo!”
Not literally, of course. But figuratively, yes. And I am not trying to be funny.
Because for all the talk about team – and there was much of it Sunday afternoon, many catchphrases like “everyone’s got to contribute”- for all that talk, this is still about stars and leaders.
It always is in games like these.
Role players can help you get there. Second-line players can support, pad, cushion and maybe even win you a few games along the way.
But when your very DNA is being tested, like what is happening to the suddenly vulnerable Red Wings, either your big guns step up or you go home.
In a Nick of time?
“As captain, we have to keep the team loose,” Lidstrom said Sunday. He used the word “we” but he really means “I.” And tonight’s Game 6 in Dallas will be the biggest test of Lidstrom’s leadership since he took over the captain’s “C” from Steve Yzerman.
This is Lidstrom’s third attempt at leading the Wings into a Stanley Cup finals – the first two were Game 4 and Game 5 – and each attempt grows a bit more desperate. “We have to talk about it. We can’t allow ourselves to be tight,” he said.
Everyone knows Lidstrom is efficient, disciplined, near-perfect in his own execution. Tonight he must be more.
He must be inspiring.
Same goes for Osgood. His numbers speak for themselves this season, but numbers don’t close out a series. Marty Turco, more than any Dallas player, has inspired his team to rise from the near-dead and make these Western Conference finals a series. The entire Dallas roster knew that Turco hadn’t won at Joe Louis Arena as a professional coming in here Saturday. So when he played “Yes I Can” hockey, what choice did the Stars have but to do the same?
Now it’s Osgood’s turn. His teammates have heard the same talk he has – that numbers can lie, that he is one of the lesser-talented goalies to have won a Cup, that he can’t be counted on to lead this group to another.
Tonight, Osgood can shoot all that down.
To be honest, he may have to.
A call for the Euro Twins
“We all have to step up,” said Osgood’s good friend, Kris Draper. “ We have to take the pressure off of Hank and Pavel. This is not just about those two guys.”
Well, Kris, it kind of is. While Draper is doing what he should, being a team guy, you tell me: With Johan Franzen gone, are you expecting Valtteri Filppula and Dan Cleary to win this game tonight, or do you put your money on Z and P, the NHL’s best 1-2 tandem this side of Pittsburgh?
It is about those two guys. Unfair, perhaps, but it comes with being a star. They have to fly down the middle, again and again, create offense, and look for traffic around the Dallas net. Datsyuk hasn’t scored since Game 3, Zetterberg has one goal in the last two games. They were zooming along in the nine previous wins, and that was a big reason for those W’s.
When asked Sunday what he needed to do, Datsyuk said, “We need more scoring than one or two goals.”
When asked whether the Wings were pressing, he said, “No. We have lots of chances.”
When asked how they could score more, he said, “Do the same way.”
Let’s be honest. Quoting Datsyuk is not going to be illuminating. But his play must be. His, Lidstrom’s, Zetterberg’s and Osgood’s. And it wouldn’t hurt for Tomas Holmstrom to have one of his classics, either.
It’s a simple truth for the Red Wings, because it’s a simple truth of sports. Stars rise.
They must for these Stars to fall.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).