by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

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

The Red was back in the black.

“How did you do it?” someone asked Cheveldae in the joyous Detroit locker room after the Wings capped a breathtaking rebound from a three-games-to-one deficit against Minnesota. “How did you come back like that?”

“It’s a funny game,” said the goalie. His hair was soaked with sweat. His face was unshaven. In his locker hung an electric yellow sports coat that he had started wearing in hopes of a change in fortunes — and which, apparently, did the trick.

Wasn’t it just a week ago that Cheveldae had been benched? Now here he was, everybody’s hero, having won three games in a row and pitched 188 straight minutes of shutout hockey. Now here were the Red Wings, suddenly returned to the Stanley Cup hunt.

Back in the black.

“When I got a second chance,” Cheveldae said, “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 in my style of game.”

Isn’t that pretty much what the whole team did? Most of this series, they were dangling over disaster the way Indiana Jones dangles over a pit of snakes. But they always believed they were the better team — and they had the regular-season numbers to prove it. So rather than bicker, point fingers, get depressed, they fought back, they played their game. They won Game 5. They won Game 6. And on Thursday night, they cashed in their confidence and finally bought the lead in this series — just in time for it to end.

They won Game 7.

Back in the black. He wore a yellow sports coat

“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 month? A year? Night after night, it seemed, we were watching the same Minnesota players shadowing the same Detroit players, the same Detroit shots bouncing off goalie Jon Casey.

Which is what made Game 7 such a joy. Here, finally, was an offensive burst from an offensive team, goals that came when they should have come. Here was Sergei Fedorov starting it off and Alan Kerr getting a loose puck in front of the net and poking it in. Here was Gerard Gallant, who hadn’t scored in the playoffs in three years, mashing a wraparound goal from behind the net. Here was Bob Probert, 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. Score!

“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. He wore it again to Game 6. Another shutout.

Naturally, on Thursday, he marched in like a yellow- feathered peacock. “He hasn’t washed that suit in a week, you know,” backup goalie Greg Millen said.

Hey. He won, didn’t he? He stopped 29 of 31 shots Thursday night, and the 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.

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

“Nah, I’m only going to use it if we get to the brink of elimination again.”

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

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 Tuesday night in Minnesota when the replay judge gave the thumbs up to Fedorov’s overtime goal and the Met Center fell silent. The life began to ooze from the Stars right then. By 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, or a gutsy return by Cheveldae in Game 5 or those replay officials in Game 6, the Wings could have been history.

Such was the balance of this series. The winner would be the one with the most confidence in beating the odds.

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

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

Oh, yeah. Round 2 begins Saturday against Chicago. It hardly seems fair, does it? It seems like the Wings should get a little Stanley Cup trophy for this Minnesota series. Or at least a few days off.

Ah, well. Such is life in the playoffs. But before the uniforms change, 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 that dreamy chant: “CHEVVV-VY! CHEVVV-VY! . . . “

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

He realized what he had admitted, and grinned sheepishly. “Aw, hey, you can sing when you win, right?

You sure can. As loud as you want.


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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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