He looks like that guy who played Baretta on TV — Robert Blake, his name was, a squat, muscular punk with a short fuse. And, come to think of it, you half expect Dino Ciccarelli to haul off and coldcock somebody, too. When happy and smiling, Dino is tough-looking. When frustrated, as he is these days, you do not want to stand too close, lest he explode and land pieces of himself all over you.
“The leaders on this team have to do what got them here,” he said Wednesday, his forehead creased as if he were aiming a rifle. “Sergei has to skate and shoot. Stevie has to skate and shoot. And a guy like me . . . “
He set his jaw. He heaved a sigh.
“A guy like me has to hit somebody, be feisty, get something started.”
Get something started. If there is one pirate the Red Wings can rally around this evening, as their Stanley Cup dreams walk the gangplank in the Meadowlands, it is No. 22, Ciccarelli, who, of all the Wings so far in these finals, has one-third of the scoring, two-thirds of the best positioning, and nearly all of the opponent’s attention when he’s on the ice.
Ciccarelli needs to take over shifts the way a bee takes over a picnic. He needs people swatting, making faces, annoyed, but moving away, a little uncertain, a little scared.
Let’s face it. Dino is a pest. But — as Pistons fans once said of Bill Laimbeer — he’s our pest. He does a few things well, like scoring goals and drawing penalties, but what he does best is get you off your game.
And that, in the big fat hole of an 0-2 deficit, is what the Wings need to do most to these sitting-pretty Devils. Get them off their game. It’s a dirty job.
Do it, Dino.
Giving the Devils their due
“I’ve been so consumed by these playoffs, I haven’t enjoyed myself in weeks,” he said. “Last night, after the game, I couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up until 2:30 watching the tape, then I slept a little, then I got up this morning and watched it again. That’s my day. I keep seeing these plays. I can’t get them out of my mind. . . .”
His eyes narrowed, looking far away. With his unshaven face, 1968 sideburns, and a plum-colored scar under his right eye, it was like listening to the confessions of a serial killer.
Ciccarelli is possessed these days. He played that way Tuesday night, Game 2, coming out as wild as a banshee, poking, prodding and elbowing the toughest guy on the Devils, defenseman Scott Stevens, until Stevens finally got so annoyed he retaliated and was whistled for a penalty.
Dino done it.
Later, in the second period, here was Ciccarelli on the power play, in front of the net, getting knocked down, slashed by the goalie, held by the defenseman, whacked, cursed, sticked — and he still managed to poke a puck under Martin Brodeur’s armpit, where it went to Slava Kozlov for the Wings’ first goal.
Dino done it.
During one stretch in the final period, he fought for a puck against the boards, and it looked like he would battle a tank division to get it. His body
was churning, thumping against the wall as well as other players. His helmet went flying. Still he fought, one Devil, two Devils, three Devils, he fought with feet, legs, knees, whatever. It was so electrifying that even though all he was doing was pursuing a dormant puck, the crowd rippled, then roared.
“DI-NO! DI-NO! DI-NO!”
He needs to have that effect on his team tonight. He needs to show his fellow Wings that the only way out of being buried alive is to scratch and claw and roll and rise up. Of all the players on the Detroit roster, it is hard to imagine any having a more disruptive effect in this series — or scoring more than one goal a game — than Ciccarelli. After all, the way to beat Brodeur, they say, is to fire a bad shot and get him with the rebound.
That’s what Dino does.
Is this his final chance?
He is already a villain in New Jersey. The last time Devils fans saw Ciccarelli in the playoffs, he was with Washington, and was on fire. Something like eight goals in six games. So they hate him. They’re ready to boo him. Ask him if he cares.
“They have to hate someone,” he said. “They can’t be any worse than Chicago fans. In the old building they used to throw beer bottles. I survived that.”
At 35, he has survived a lot. Three teams. Several suspensions. And, in his long career, only one previous Stanley Cup final. With Minnesota. His team was wiped out by the Islanders.
That was 1981. Ciccarelli was a rookie. He set a record that still stands, 14 goals, 21 points — most ever for a rookie in a playoff season. He was young and fresh, and he thought every June would be another chance.
“That’s why I tell the guys it doesn’t mean anything to just make the finals. Look at me. I may never get back here again.”
He sighed. Dino is not sleeping well. He is grumpy and moody.
This is good. All the Wings should be this way.
You can have your finesse guys, because New Jersey eats finesse guys. And you can have your cautious defensemen, because New Jersey plays defense better than anyone else, anyhow.
Here is what I know: When you’re on the ledge, in a series where the breaks are rare, winning is a dirty job. It takes a pest like Ciccarelli to get the dirty job done.
Do it, Dino.
Somebody has to.