MINNEAPOLIS — A goal! A goal! Their kingdom for a goal! The Red Wings were down to the last gasping seconds of their 1992 season, their best season in years, all those victories, all of the weary days from October to April, the first-place finish, the rave reviews, all that excellence and effort now dripping away, dying before their bleary eyes, unless . . . unless they could put that puck in, just once. That would be enough. The score was 0-0. And they were in overtime. One goal! They live or they die. They were heaving and charging and dripping cold sweat, swarming the Minnesota net the way red ants swarm a picnic basket, coming from all sides. Shawn Burr tried one from point-blank range. Blocked! Sergei Fedorov took the rebound and swung. Blocked! One goal? Is that too much to ask? The crowd roared in a sea of noise that rocked the Met Center like sonic waves, rising with every Minnesota rush, pulling back with every missed shot. AHHHHHHHHHH! OOOOOOOOOOH! AAAAAAAAH! OOOOOOHHH!
One hundred eighty feet apart, goalies Jon Casey and Tim Cheveldae were waging the ultimate battle of wills. First one to blink loses. First one to lose sight of the puck, or mistime his reaction, fall down a second too early, and that was it. Over. One would still be perfect and the other would be flawed, defeated. That’s why they call it sudden death, isn’t it? One goal? That sudden? So they flopped and they swiped and they intercepted shot after shot, waiting for something to happen and pretending, for all the world, like they were not hearing their own heartbeats in their ears. Good lord! How could they even breathe behind those masks? One goal! One goal . . .
And here, once again, came Fedorov, from center ice, weaving his way in, he pulled back, he shot, the puck flew one way, then came flying back out the other way, and . . .
And . . .
“GOOD! GOOD!” screamed the Red Wings.
“NO GOOD! NO GOOD!” countered the North Stars.
They reviewed it. They watched it over and over. And finally, like the voice of God, came the announcement they had been waiting for.
“AFTER REVIEW, THE GOAL IS GOOD . . .”
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” you could hear the fans yelling at the TV sets back in Detroit. For here was a Red Wings season that was too promising to end. Losing Tuesday night would have been like dying in the birth canal for this team, like a flower that never bloomed. Better to at least take it to the limit. Let both teams prove who they are and what they are made of.
Better to go to a Game 7 and let them decide it there.
Which they will.
Thanks to the replay.
One to remember
What a game this was! What a heart-stopping, breath-robbing showdown! Three periods! Half an overtime period! Sixty-seven shots without a score! When the replay announcement came, the Red Wings burst out of their box and mobbed each other on the ice.
Put this one on the growth chart. Use a big colorful magic marker. In the process of becoming a championship team, this was like growing your front teeth. Going into the foreign arena, trailing in the series, taking it to overtime and still winning? In a shutout? These are the games you don’t forget. They prove that when you have to get it done, you get it done. The Pistons, in their glory years, knew this better than anyone. It is the mark of a contender. The crest of a champion.
“These games are what the sport is about,” Cheveldae had said before the action. “You can’t learn what you learn tonight from a regular-season game.”
He had no idea how right he would be. These kind of nights define your team, they go on the resume, they hang in the closet. Maybe next week, maybe next month, maybe next year, the Red Wings will use this game again, cash in the memory, draw upon the strength that they found between the nets this night. “Remember that night in Minnesota,” they will begin. “Remember how we did it then?”
And they will do it again.
Even if they had lost this game, it would not have been for lack of effort. Nuh-uh. Here was effort supreme. Here was the captain, Steve Yzerman, taking a smashing blow from Mark Tinordi in the first period, his head crushed against the glass like a grapefruit, leaving him so dizzy that when he tried to get up, he slid back down in a spin, like a punch-drunk fighter on skates. Yet a few moments later, Yzerman was back on the ice, stitches holding his bloody skin together. And in the second period he battled Tinordi again, behind the neck, and dragged him back and forth like a bag of groceries, Tinordi hanging on Yzerman, sticking under his arm, his stomach, but Yzerman refusing to yield the puck, circling out and actually getting off a shot before Tinrodi neck-whipped him to the ice.
Effort? No. There was no lack of effort. Here was Cheveldae, who, in the minds of the public has been a hero, a goat, trade-bait and a hero again — all in the span of a week — yet he was rock solid out there Tuesday night. He stopped point blank shots on break-aways by no less than Mike Modano and Dave Gagner. He snapped up a would-be goal bu Ulf Dahlen from no more than 10 feet away, gloving the puck like a shortstop. He knocked them away, he smothered them, he took them off his body. He was there. Overtime? A 0-0 game? What more can you ask from a man? His soul?
And here, finally, was Fedorov, weaving his way in unassisted, and flicking that puck so hard into the net, that it ricocheted back out. That’s OK. Still counts. And so, for at least one more game, do the Red Wings.
Game 7. Sudden life. And where there is life, there is hope, right?
Hope for the best. Because they just escaped the worst.