They were chanting his name like some sort of pagan ritual, over and over, louder and louder, until it echoed through the building in this slow dreamy roar: “CHEVVV-VY! CHEVVV-VY!” And finally, when the work was done, when the little miracle was over, Tim Cheveldae skated out from the net, raised his stick over his head, and was mobbed by his hugging teammates, who, like him, had just completed an exhausting journey, a return from the brink of elimination to the horizon of hope.

The Red was back in the black.

“How did you do it? How did you come back like that?” someone asked Cheveldae in the joyous Detroit locker room after the Wings survived a three-games-to-one series deficit to win the first round of the playoffs against Minnesota.

“We just never quit,” he said, shaking his head and adjusting a new cap that read “First Round Champions.” What a tunraround! Just a week ago, Cheveldae had been benched, left out, told to take a seat and see if someone else could do it better. That’s how perilous this first round had become. And yet now he was sitting here, mobbed by TV cameras, having won the last three games, pitching 188 straight minutes of shutout hockey.

Now they were singing his name.

He tried not to smile.

“When I got a second chance, I told myself, ‘Hey, it’s just a game, go out and play it. And play it my style.’ If they were going to beat me, they were going to beat me playing my style of game. That’s what I did.”

Well, isn’t that the perfect philosophy? Isn’t that precisely what the whole Red Wings team did, after dangling over elimination the way Indiana Jones dangles over a pit of snakes? Play your game. Make them beat you. The Wings believed they were the better team. They had the regular-season numbers to prove it. Rather than bicker, point fingers, get depressed, they fought back. They won Game 5. They won Game 6.

They came out hard Thursday night and finally, in a series that seemed to stick around so long it should have paid rent, finally, they took the lead — just in time for it to end.

They won Game 7.

Back in the black.

“It’s gonna feel weird going out there Saturday and playing a team besides the North Stars,” Paul Ysebaert admitted after this was finally over. Indeed. How long has this series been going on? A year? Night after night, it seemed, we were watching Minnesota players shadowing Detroit players, Detroit shots bouncing off goalie Jon Casey, near misses, tight defense, overtime. Night after night.

Which is what made Game 7 the joy that it was. Here, finally, was an offensive burst from an offensive team, goals that came when they should have come. Here was Alan Kerr, getting a loose puck in front of the net and poking it past an out-of-position Casey. Here was Gerard Gallant, who hadn’t scored in the playoffs in three years, doing a wraparound behind the net and mashing the puck inside. Here was Bob Probert, who had been hanging all series in front of the net like a giant crane, finally getting the rebound he had been waiting for — poke, bounce, goal! Here was Shawn Burr, getting a deflection on Steve Chiasson’s slap shot, what seemed to be the first deflection in weeks that got past Casey. By that point, it was academic. They could start the North Stars’ bus.

“Hey, I got the big one, the fifth!” Burr yelled in the locker room.

Back in the black.

And here, more than anyone, was Cheveldae, who was so desperate for success after that midseries benching that he actually wore this grapefruit yellow sports coat to Game 5, something he had worn a few times in his career,

and thought he would never wear again, so bad was the abuse from his teammates. But he tried it — “because nothing else was working” — and he won that night, got a shutout. So he wore it again to Game 6. And he won again. Another shutout.

Naturally, on Thursday, he marched in proud as a yellow- feathered peacock.

“He hasn’t washed that suit in a week, you know,” backup goalie Greg Millen

noted.

Hey. He won, didn’t he? He stopped 29 of 31 shots, and the only two he allowed were meaningless, one very late in the game and one, after a ridiculous penalty called on him for having too little tape on his stick.

Too little tape?

Well. In a series that might have been won by a yellow sports coat, I guess that makes sense.

“I had no idea what that penalty was,” said Cheveldae, who had his stick taken away along with two Red Wings players because of the infraction. “I’ve never even heard of it. It definitely must be in the fine print.”

“What about the jacket?” someone asked. “Will you wear it Saturday against Chicago?”

“Nah, I’m going to put it back in storage and only use it if we get down to the brink of elimination again.”

He sighed. “Hopefully, we won’t. These comebacks are too nerve-racking.”

Back in the black.

A word here about the North Stars. They played well, they played disciplined, and they almost pulled off a hell of an upset. In truth, their series was probably lost on Tuesday night in Minnesota, when the replay judge gave the thumbs up to Sergei Fedorov’s goal in overtime and the Met Center went silent as the Wings did a victory dance. The life began oozing from the Stars at that point. By the time they took the ice for Game 7, they were more body than spirit.

But that takes nothing away from the Wings. After all, if not for a funny rebound goal by Ray Sheppard in Game 3, if not for a gutsy return to form by Cheveldae in Game 5, if not for the justice of that replay official in Game 6, the Wings would have been history. But then, such was the weird balance of this series. The winner was going to be the one that had the most confidence in beating the odds.

“You know, even when we were down 3-1, I was confident we could do this,” Burr said. “I just said we’re in the NCAA tournament, we just have to win every game. And we did.”

He grinned. “And now we’re in another tournament.”

Oh, yeah. That’s right. Round 2 begins against Chicago on Saturday night. It hardly seems fair, does it? It seems like the Wings should have won a little trophy for this Minnesota series, no? Or at least a few days off.

Well, such is life in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But before the uniforms change, before it’s Chicago players skating up and down the Joe Louis ice, a moment for a moment that symbolizes not only the farthest a Red Wings team has gone in the playoffs in four years, but what individuals can do when they believe in themselves. A moment for the chant.

“CHEVV-VYY! CHEVV-VY!”

“You know, I was singing along with that,” Burr admitted, glancing across the room at Cheveldae, who was still mobbed by reporters. “I just felt so good for him that I started singing.

“Besides, you can sing when you win.”

You sure can.

Back in the black.

SEVENTH HEAVEN

The Red Wings are 9-5 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs after Thursday night’s 5-2 victory over Minnesota (home team in capitals):

YR RND RESULT
’42 Finals TORONTO 3, Det. 1
’45 Semis DET. 5, Boston 3
’45 Finals Toronto 2, DET. 1
’49 Semis DET. 3, Montreal 1
’50 Semis DET. 1, Toronto 0 (OT)
’50 Finals DET. 3, Rangers 3 (2OT)
’54 Finals DET. 2, Montreal 1 (OT)
’55 Finals DET. 3, Montreal 1
’64 Semis Det. 4, CHICAGO 2
’64 Finals TORONTO 4, Det. 0
’65 Semis Chicago 4, DET. 2
’87 First DET. 3, Toronto 0
’91 First ST. LOUIS 3, Det. 2
’92 First DETROIT 5, Minn. 2

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