FOILED AGAINMITCH ALBOM: WINGS FACE ELIMINATION AS FORSBERG BEATS HASEK

He is the wildest of wild cards, the guy with a wand instead of a stick, the one man on the ice who makes the entire arena shudder in anticipation. There is Peter Forsberg with the puck and there is everyone else, it is simply that way in this NHL springtime. And so, on Monday night, with more than six minutes gone in a Game 5 overtime that had been as furious as a warehouse shoot-out, Forsberg found the puck on his stick as he came in toward goalie Dominik Hasek and you suddenly knew the one thing you hadn’t known all night.

How it was going to end.

“You hold your breath when he gets it,” Steve Yzerman admitted when it was all over. “I didn’t see the goal. But I saw his reaction. That was enough.”

Forsbitten. The miracle man of this NHL season, a guy who took the whole regular season off and now seems determined to squeeze a year’s worth of statistics into the playoffs, pushed the knife to within inches of the Detroit heart Monday night, as the Avalanche won another game it might otherwise have lost, by yet another 2-1 score.

Forsberg’s goal may have been fortunate — he took a pass meant for Chris Drury, and some felt the play was offsides — but the night followed the template of this nerve-racking series. The Avs scored first. The Red Wings caught up. The game went to overtime.

The road team won.

And now Detroit’s Stanley Cup hopes are down to one night.

“I was actually a little nervous,” said Forsberg, who also had an assist Monday, giving him 27 points in 18 playoff games. “To be honest, I’m not usually that good on breakaways.”

Sorry, Peter, but at this point, that’s a little like Michael Jordan saying,
“I can’t shoot that well.”

Forsbitten. The season of hope is now down to this: The 2002 Red Wings, perhaps the greatest hockey roster ever assembled, are on the plank of the pirate ship, blindfolded, walking forward.

They can talk about how well they played. They played well.

They can talk about all the good chances they had. They had them.

They can talk about how close they came. They came close.

And one more night like this, and they’ll be talking about what a great series they had all the way to the golf course.

It’s back to Denver

“We did play well,” Yzerman said in the quiet Red Wings locker room, “but either way, we had to win Game 6 in Colorado Wednesday night. It’s not like if we won tonight we were going to go there and say, ‘Oh, well, we can lose this one.’ “

Comforting words. And Yzerman’s calm, upbeat remarks are what a captain should be saying at a moment like this.

Then again, there weren’t many other Red Wings in the locker room. And the fans are having different conversations. Mostly they go like this:

“For crying out loud, when is (fill in the blank) gonna score?” Near misses? Take your pick. Here was Brendan Shanahan with the best chance of the night, all alone, with Patrick Roy dropping, the net coming open. He waited, the bodies cleared, then, finally, the shot — off the post!

Here was Brett Hull digging in to the boards, flipping out a centering pass — no one there!

Here was Luc Robitaille on the doorstep, a slap — too high!

Here was Sergei Fedorov, taking a great feed from Yzerman, right in front, and slapping it — too low, right into Roy!

Any one of those goes in, we’re writing a different story. But once again, for much of the game, the Wings had chances and came agonizingly close.

And the Avs had one great chance, and made it agonizing.

And that has been the difference in this series. It isn’t much, but the series isn’t very far apart, either. Just enough to drive Detroit fans crazy. After five games, no one will argue that the Wings are deeper. No one will argue that the Wings frequently outplay the Avalanche.

But only one player can score at a time. And in a series this defensive, you’re going to get only a few goals. For Colorado, so far, it has been the big stars when needed: Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Drury. For the Red Wings — besides Yzerman’s goal Monday and Fedorov’s breakaway goal in Game 4 — no one who really gets paid to score has put a shot that mattered past Roy.

It’s not much of a difference, that’s true.

Just enough for a 3-2 series lead.

All those chances

“Will you guys be haunted by the missed chances tonight?” someone asked Fedorov, referring not only to Sergei’s missed shots but to a Detroit power play late in the final period that could have salted this thing away.

“We can’t think about all that now,” Fedorov said. “We have to look ahead. We have to look our teammates in the eye and say we have to go out and do our best.”

He paused.

“Better than our best.”

Better than their best? Well. If that’s what it takes. The Wings can certainly win Game 6. They have won on the road before. They won in overtime in Colorado just last week.

But this game comes with extra weight. The season ends if they lose. There is no cushion. There is no backstop. Maybe that makes them play better. Maybe it makes them press.

You pick your poison. The Wings have responded well to every form of adversity until now. This may be a new one. But then, trouble is trouble, right?

Down the hall from the Red Wings’ locker room, Forsberg was smiling. Sakic was smiling. The Avs have a history of coming up big when they have to, but also a history of exhaling when they shouldn’t.

What was that, that Yzerman said? He holds his breath? That becomes the official activity of Hockeytown for the next 36 hours.

You wanted to know how great this Red Wings team can be?

We’re about to find out.

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

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