It was one of those movies where the heroes keep pulling out bigger and bigger guns, spraying bullets, launching missiles, firing rockets, until they finally stop and scratch their heads, because the monster doesn’t have a dent.
The monster in this case is Pekka Rinne, the Nashville goaltender who is so tall, he wears the crossbar as a belt.
And no matter what the Wings threw at him Tuesday night – slap shots, backhanders, rebounds, pokes – he had a stop as automatic as a tollbooth arm. Forty one Detroit shots. After 43 on Sunday.
And three Detroit goals to show for it? Not gonna cut it.
“Once again we created a lot of chances,” Henrik Zetterberg said after the 3-1 defeat in Game 4 that puts the Wings a loss away from summer vacation, “and we can’t really get the puck behind him.”
Mike Babcock was even more frustrated. “I mean, you can’t keep playing like this,” he lamented, holding the stat sheet like an unwanted parking ticket, “having the puck all the time and have the other team beatin’ ya.”
You can worry now – if you weren’t worried before. Hockey season is melting early. Two playoff home games have yielded two playoff home losses, and Tuesday night the Joe emptied quickly and quietly, as if accepting that our beautiful game may have seen its last home hurrah.
It wasn’t a bad start. It wasn’t too many penalties. It wasn’t unfair calls. It wasn’t a lack of spirit.
A reporter suggested to Babcock that the difference was the goaltender. “I agree,” he said.
And he said no more.
The Wings players agree as well. There was not a big name on the roster who didn’t get a clear shot at Rinne in this game. Zetterberg had all kinds of chances. Pavel Datsyuk had a gorgeous backhand try – denied. Jiri Hudler missed a great chance on a power play. Danny Cleary was alone in front when Rinne stopped him. Niklas Kronwall took a perfect Zetterberg pass but pushed it just wide. Johan Franzen came charging in but couldn’t land it.
If near misses were highlights, the Wings would have dominated “SportsCenter.”
“What could you do differently?” Babcock was asked.
“Well, we’d like to score,” he said.
No kidding. And he’s not kidding. It is hard to find a lot of fault with the Wings’ effort. Which leaves no choice but to salute the Predators’ effort. They are pretty disciplined defensively, they push you to the side, they clog the middle, they don’t screw up very often.
And if they do, Babcock said, “you don’t even know who made (the mistake) because their goalie put the pad down.”
Detroit made two mistakes that led to goals, the worst being a silly three-man pursuit of Martin Erat, who wisely whipped the puck to wide-open Kevin Klein for the winner.
“We had three guys back,” Babcock said, “we all end up chasing the puck for no reason – and it went in our net.”
He sighed. I can’t be sure, but I had the feeling Babcock went outside after this one, checked the stat sheet, looked to the heavens and said, “Are you kidding me?”
Too soon for summer
And that’s how many Wings fans may feel this morning. How does a team that set the NHL record for consecutive home wins this year lose two straight home playoff games? How does a team with immeasurable postseason experience seem out-cooled by a team that didn’t even exist when Nick Lidstrom joined the Detroit roster?
How does a team that has seven shots in one period, three in the next, and seven in the last wind up winning 3-1?
The answers: 1) That’s hockey. 2) That’s goaltending.
Right now, the Wings are up against an in-Pekkable opponent. And as long as Rinne is this perfect, a Detroit win is unlikely. Maybe he goes flat next game. Maybe, on the brink of winning the first round, the Preds get a little cocky.
“That’ll be our mindset,” Lidstrom said in the locker room. “Just go down there and steal a game.”
Of course they’ll need to steal two more after that. But one thing at a time. We hope there is more. We hope – like last year – there is a three-game postseason win streak.
But with the Pistons a non-factor, fans left the Joe knowing Detroit could essentially be one game away from baseball season- and only baseball season – for the rest of the spring and a long, lonely summer.