The Most Important Game was the last game of the regular season. If the Red Wings didn’t win that one, they might not have made the playoffs. But they did – and they did.
So The Most Important Game was behind them, right?
Then came the playoffs, and the opener against Anaheim, a Most Important Game because it set the tone.
The Wings lost, so Game 2 became The Most Important Game, because you don’t want to fall behind, two games to none, to a No.2 seed.
When the Wings won that showdown – in dramatic overtime fashion – Game 3 became The Most Important Game, because you didn’t want to give back home-ice advantage.
And when Game 3 was lost, Game 4 took the mantle, because if you lose that one, you could be eliminated the next night.
Once the Wings tied the series – again in overtime – then Game 5 was The Most Important Game, because it was a best-of-three series now.
And when the Wings lost that one – again in overtime – well, it’s obvious. Game 6 was The Most Important, because lose and you’re out.
Same for Game 7.
And then came Chicago.
The Western Conference semifinals …
Game 1 was critical because the Wings had to prove they weren’t pushovers for the mighty Blackhawks. They lost, 4-1.
So Game 2 was critical, because you’re not going to win four out of five from the No.1 seed, right?
But when the Wings stunned Chicago in the United Center, Game 3 became The Most Important, because you don’t want to give back what you so bravely earned.
And now comes tonight, Game 4. If the Wings win, they’d have a stranglehold on the series, three chances to win one. But if they lose, all that hard work, all that stellar play, brings them right back to where they started – dead even, with home ice in Chicago’s favor.
Which makes this The Most … well, you know.
“The playoffs are always about the next game,” Wings coach Mike Babcock told the media. “We have a huge game next game.”
A huge game. The biggest game. Momentum isn’t a pendulum anymore, it’s a wrecking ball. It smashes through walls. Everything is the biggest thing, the most important development.
I was starting to feel good about the Wings’ chances, but there has been so much in the last two days – about how good they actually are, how they’re getting in Chicago’s heads, how they’re shutting down Jonathan Toews – that it just seems inevitable Chicago will swing back, reverse the trend, and we’ll be taking a whole new story come Friday.
About Game 5.
The Most Important Game of The Series.
The Western Conference finals?
No wonder the players want to wear earmuffs during the playoffs. It can get awfully dizzy listening to the analysis.
“That’s why after every game in the playoffs,” forward Daniel Cleary told me, “Hank Zetterberg always says, ÃÂGuys, it’s even keel. Not too high, not too low. Keep it straight in the media. No bulletin board material. Make sure you’re saying the right things, doing the right things.'”
Zetterberg says this, according to Cleary, just before the media are allowed into the locker room. It may explain why the quotes coming out of that space often sound mimeographed.
“Hank’s got a great sense of timing,” Cleary said, laughing. “On and off the ice.”
Of course, Zetterberg himself is the very definition of an unrockable boat. As was Nicklas Lidstrom and Steve Yzerman before him. Other sports may make captains out of the loudest, brashest or boldest player. But hockey – and especially the Red Wings – has long celebrated the understated, the even keel.
Zetterberg is perfect. He often sounds as if he’s answering a civil service exam question.
And so here we go tonight at the Joe. Another Most Important Game. The Blackhawks have every reason to hoist their season on the stick and say, “This is who we are!” After all, if they lose, they’ve got a huge mountain to climb.
And the Wings? Well, to the fans it may be house money they’re playing with, but not to them.
“Just because we have a No.7 in front of our team doesn’t mean we can’t beat a No.1,” Cleary said. “I’ve been on the other side of that.”
It was 2006, and the Wings got upset by the Oilers, a No.8 seed, in the first round. I remember the night it happened.
We were calling it The Most Important Game.