Get out of town. Change the scenery. Change the view. Go to Canada. Western Canada. Far western Canada. Anywhere but here, Detroit, Joe Louis Arena, where the only thing the Red Wings have is bad karma, two quixotic playoff losses, a memory reel of clanged posts, missed chances, intercepted passes, fluttering pucks and questions, questions, questions. How is this happening? Where is your goalie? Where is your power play? Vancouver again, 5-2? Who are these guys? Who are you guys?
Get out of town. Whatever the Wings came into these playoffs with, they need to push it out of the plane as they fly to Vancouver. Maybe a change, as Sheryl Crow sang, will do them good.
It can’t get much worse.
In 48 hours, the Wings went from top gun to pop gun, home-ice advantage to road-ice disadvantage, a Stanley Cup favorite to down, two games to none, in the first round. They’ve lost their bite. They’ve lost their magic. We can only hope it’s temporary. The home fans were periodically booing Friday night
— when they weren’t screaming “SHOOT THE PUCK!” — and the biggest import of the off-season was looking like a lemon.
Let’s not pull punches. Dominik Hasek, the miracle goalie, is not delivering. The losses are not his fault. But he was supposed to steal games, not fall victim to them. The Canucks had three goals on their first 10 shots Friday night, and five on 20 by the end. Sorry. That’s not why you pay $8 million a year. Two of those pucks should have been stopped, including the crushing fourth goal, which effectively ended the game. It came on a Markus Naslund shot late in the third period, a shot that wasn’t screened, wasn’t tipped, wasn’t anything, a shot Hasek stops in practice.
“I didn’t play well,” Hasek said. “No excuses.”
If the Wings keep this up, there won’t be time to jot the excuses down. Their power play was discombobulated. Their defense allowed too many rushes. They lacked aggression on rebounds, and didn’t come alive until it was too late.
In Game 1, Detroit surrendered three leads. In Game 2, Detroit never had one. At one point in the third period, the beer man yelled, “Last call! This is last call!”
The beer, or the season?
The goalie equation
“I always said the most dangerous teams to play were the ones who battled just to get into the playoffs,” captain Steve Yzerman said, shrugging, surrounded by reporters in the Wings’ otherwise nearly empty locker room. “They’ve been playing playoff hockey for a few weeks. We’re sort of just getting started.”
Or getting finished. Yzerman was one of the few bright spots Friday, scoring one goal, assisting on another, banging the Canucks, and showing typical courage in fighting an obviously still painful knee injury.
But Yzerman has been through this before. He hates it. Explaining bounces, calming fears, insisting that good effort will yield good results. And next thing you know, the Red Wings are gone. Comforting words are all well and good. They don’t score points.
And the Wings need points.
And they need to stop giving up so many.
“It’s hard to win playoff games when you need five goals to do it,” coach Scotty Bowman said. “We need to win a game 1-0 or 2-1. That’s the playoffs.”
Which brings us back to Hasek, the defense, and the sputtering Detroit offense. It is true, Hasek has been victim of some funny deflections in the first two games. But if the “top goalie in the world,” as Hasek has been called, can stop only the ones that come straight at him, what’s the difference between him and all the others?
Hasek’s special value was supposed to be his ability to haunt the opposing team, make it think he’s superhuman. Right now, the Canucks look about as scared of Hasek as they are of the Good Humor man. Three goals in 10 shots? That’s ice cream.
Meanwhile, their goalie, a 25-year-old named Dan Cloutier, who was playing Friday in the fourth playoff game of his career, has been stymieing the Wings’ Hall of Fame scorers with astonishing ease.
“I’m not at all concerned about the goaltending,” Yzerman said. “When this series is done, you’re gonna say, ‘It’s unbelievable that Dominik Hasek, how well he’s playing for Detroit.’ “
That’s either the best prognostication Detroit can hear, or the biggest self-denial since a Dr. Phil day on “Oprah.”
Hope for the future?
Now, if you want something comforting to tide you over until Game 3 Sunday night, consider that the Wings were up, 2-0, last year on the Kings and lost the next four games.
Of course, I’m using an awful memory to try to avert a new one, but, hey, you work with what you got.
Otherwise, you have to face the ugly truth. The Wings are on the brink of the worst disappointment in their recent club history. Winning four of five is not easy for any team. And it’s pretty clear now that finishing first in your conference isn’t worth the effort it takes to get there — not if you draw the hottest team in the NHL since January. There ought to be a law, or at least a first-round bye.
Instead, it’s the same old Red Wings drama.
“You know, they’re throwing pucks at the net and getting lucky,” Yzerman said.
“We had a shot in the second, (Jiri Fischer) took it, and the puck flipped up and landed right by Cloutier, the exact same spot as their first goal, only we didn’t have anyone there to knock it in.”
Right. It’s lousy. It’s a shame. It almost seems unfair. But hockey isn’t a fair game. It’s only two games, that’s true. This is also true: You get to lose only four.
So maybe the best thing for the Wings — as John Belushi once yelled in
“Animal House” — is “Road trip!” Change the scenery. Change the view. Get out of town. Get mad.
Then get even. If not, they’ll be coming back to the longest summer of their careers, and Detroit will be the last place they’ll want to spend it.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).