by | May 18, 1998 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

One shot, by Brendan Shanahan, came so hard into his chest, it lifted him into the air. Another, by Martin Lapointe, was strong enough to leave an indentation in his stomach. Darren McCarty got so close with his stick he could have sliced him like corned beef — chop-chop-chop — but despite his many jabs, McCarty could not put the puck where he wanted. The goalie was all over it.

Grant Fuhr is many things, but he is not forgettable. You cannot come out as if he isn’t there, you cannot play his team and figure “no problem,” not Grant Fuhr, no way, I don’t care how big a series lead you have. The Red Wings learned that the hard way Sunday, a warm, sunny day in which the sellout crowd came to witness victory, not competition. What the fans got was something different. What they got was a legend in the pipes, and a chance down the tubes.

Wish Grant-ed. Remember that the Blues had played below par in St. Louis, and left their arena to the sound of boos. All they wanted Sunday was a different end to their seasonal story. They didn’t want the boos echoing into the summer, haunting their golf bags, staining their beers. The Wings were playing for the series. The Blues were playing for a game.

Wish Grant-ed. You can talk all you want about a Red Wings letdown, but the fact is, if Fuhr isn’t in net, Detroit is already studying Dallas Stars game film. Fuhr was the difference early Sunday — when the Wings came out and peppered him with four fast shots in the first five minutes — and he was the difference late, when Detroit pulled the stops in a desperate attempt to crack his veneer.

He is the reason there are bags being packed and hotel rooms booked this morning.

He cannot be overlooked.

“Being dead and gone doesn’t work for me,” Fuhr said after the Blues’ 3-1 victory on Sunday, in which he stopped 29 of 30 shots, many of them good enough for goals on other goalies. “I have never been good at losing, and I have no interest in learning how to be good at it now.”

Fire up the plane.

No rattling the goalie

This doesn’t mean the Wings are doomed. It doesn’t mean the Blues have even one more victory in them. It simply means that hockey games can be won or lost by goalie performances, and Fuhr was not in a losing mode Sunday. I thought the Wings had plenty of chances. Thirty shots from this group is usually worth more than one goal. And you can’t fault their power-play opportunities. They had nine of those. Didn’t score once. In fact, their only goal came on a shorthanded pass from Steve Yzerman to Lapointe, a wham-bam play that Fuhr had no chance to stop.

Otherwise, he was a barn door. There were slap shots by Nick Lidstrom that Fuhr denied with his stick, the clack of wood so loud you could hear it in the upper rows of Joe Louis Arena. There were several whack-aways of Sergei Fedorov, who has been the hottest shot in the NHL this month. There were a few sure things by Shanahan that Fuhr somehow derailed, as well as the great third-period stop on McCarty when he was within spitting distance on Fuhr’s right.

“Look, we have a lot of proud guys here,” Fuhr said in the locker room afterward. “We didn’t like the way we went out (in Game 4). I wasn’t very good in that game. And I don’t like to have two bad games in a row.”

When Fuhr says that, you must pay attention. This is a goalie with five Stanley Cup rings in his safe. He is seemingly ageless. Sunday was his 86th career playoff victory. That’s right. He has more postseason victories than there are games in a regular-season schedule. His 86th?

“Do you ever get rattled anymore?” someone asked him.

“Rattled,” said Fuhr, 35, smiling, “is not a word I use in playoff time.”

So Dallas gets more rest

Now it is up to the Wings to prove the same thing. In their favor is a recent history of playing well when they have to. That’s not a problem. It’s when they don’t have to that sometimes trips them up.

“We just didn’t have the extra push today,” said Wings goalie Chris Osgood.
“You could see it right from the start. We went out there hoping to win, trying to get a ‘hope’ win. They went out and did it.”

Call it desperation. Call it inevitability (did we really think the Blues would lose four in a row?). I’d call it all of the above, with the goalie to make it happen. Had the Wings scored even once in the early going, the emotion of this game would have been much different.

Instead, thanks to Fuhr — and some strong defense in front of him, led by Chris Pronger — the Wings have another flight, another game and another ledge to walk out on. Even if they win Tuesday night, they will have paid a price for Sunday. At this stage, you don’t want any more wear and tear than you need. One more road trip, one more game’s worth of potential injuries — it all takes its toll down the playoff road. The next-round opponent, Dallas, is already in the clubhouse, resting, watching, waiting.

Nothing you can do about it. The Blues have pride as well. It’s up to the Wings to attack Fuhr now, lay their best game out on the ice, and make sure pride doesn’t turn to punishment.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

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.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!