by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

CHICAGO — Here’s one good reason the Blackhawks do not deserve to win this playoff series. They build this gorgeous new arena, and they don’t have any seats for the Red Wings.

I’m not kidding. It was a few minutes before Game 3, and I happened to pass Mark Howe, Martin Lapointe and several other scratched Detroit players wandering up in the press box, dressed in suits and ties, their hands in their pockets, like kids waiting for their moms in church.

“What’s doing?” I said.

“No place for us,” Lapointe said, glumly.

Now, Lapointe’s native tongue is French, so at first I figured maybe it was his English. Maybe he was trying to say “No place for ice” or “No pies tonight” or something. So I asked him again.

“No seats,” he said. “We have to stand out here.”

This seemed rather strange, especially since the Hawks found a seat for someone named “Neon Man” who wore blinking signs all over his body. So I asked some NHL people, including a French-speaking official, who said it was true. Sorry. No seats for the Wings.

They had to stand for nearly four hours.

So that’s just one reason the Blackhawks, as lousy hosts, should be barred from winning this series, and why the Wings should not bother to come back here more than one more time. Not that they plan to.

Not after the marathon they performed Tuesday night that ended, finally, with Vladimir Konstantinov’s first goal of the playoffs, a fluttering job in the second overtime that seemed to say, “Enough, we’re tired. Let’s end it and go home.”

Lord Stanley, get the table ready.

Three up, three down. Koharski whistled while Grimson worked

Konstantinov’s goal — assisted by his countryman Slava Fetisov — was the culmination of a miraculous game that left your heart somewhere around your esophagus. It featured the worst officiating and the best goaltending of the series. It had drama, crushing action, the odd laugh, it was one of those evenings that went on so long, it had different chapters, kind of like going to the movies and seeing a triple feature.

There was the beginning, in which Chicago was feisty, Detroit seemed rusty, and the period still ended in a 1-1 tie.

There was the humorous interlude, in which Detroit’s Tim Taylor flicked a pass across to a streaking Wings teammate . . . Stu Grimson.

That’s right. Stu Grimson. What do you think? I make mistakes on this job?

Grimson, normally a puncher of faces, punched the puck past a helpless Ed Belfour to tie the game, and even Grimson was laughing. His whole career, he had played 21 playoff games, all of them as a tough guy with — ta da! — the Blackhawks. And in all that time, he never scored.

And now he did. First playoff goal ever?

Wait. It gets better.

There was the slow dragging middle, in which referee Don Koharski decided he couldn’t breathe unless it was through his whistle. TWEET! A weak call on a dive. TWEET! A makeup call with a hooking. TWEET! Another flop. TWEET! Holding. TWEET! Slashing.

Koharski, you might recall, achieved fame in the 1988 playoffs when Jim Schoenfeld, then coach of New Jersey, got so fed up with him, he yelled, “Have another doughnut, you fat pig!” — which might not be nice but definitely ranks with the most original things ever yelled at a referee.

The Wings and Hawks were no doubt thinking even more, uh, original thoughts Koharski’s way after he called 13 penalties in the first two periods alone. Thirteen penalties? That’s more than were called in the first two games combined. Forget doughnuts. Sounds like too much coffee to me.

Of course, all this had a huge effect on the game — beyond people wanting to strangle Koharski. Chicago’s first two goals came on power plays, same as the Wings’ first three.

And of course, in the end, it was forgotten, because the finish was just so damn incredible. Wings ran into wall named Belfour

How do you describe that first overtime? It was a clinic in pressure hockey — led by Ed (Stickum) Belfour, who left everybody, especially the Wings, shaking their heads. Sixteen times, they threatened him with a killer shot. Sixteen times, he took the bullet. Nicklas Lidstrom whacked a long shot at Belfour; he stopped it cold. Keith Primeau had a golden chance, one-on-one. Belfour redirected it. Doug Brown peppered him from the outside. Caught. Ray Sheppard had him in his sights, 10 feet away. Belfour blocked it.

Tim Taylor had a great wraparound chance. Belfour was there. A split second later, Doug Brown was on the other side with a three-foot poke. Stopped.

Paul Coffey led a break, fired, it went off Belfour’s body. Kris Draper was right there for the rebound and yet Belfour, miraculously, recovered in time to stop that, too.

They chanted his name, “EDDIE! EDDIE!”

They should have been yelling, “SAVIOR!”

It wasn’t Wings-Hawks. It was Wings-Belfour. He stopped all 16 shots in that overtime. And it is simply a shame that the game had to end with a goal like Konstantinov’s, which, much as it made the Wings’ night, was not worthy of what had come before it. It fluttered weakly. It shocked the Hawks and Belfour. But it counted. That’s all that matters.

The Wings are one win away from the Stanley Cup final.

And you know what else, Chicago?

They’re coming back Thursday night.

And they’re bringing chairs.


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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.

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