ST. LOUIS — We now return you to your regularly scheduled Stanley Cup madness.
After a brief interruption Sunday — in which aliens from a slow-footed planet occupied the bodies of the Detroit Red Wings — the local hockey team was back in form Tuesday night, taking care of business in a most businesslike manner. First they took the measure of their opponents, then they ripped their hearts out.
Or, to paraphrase Billie Holliday, I woke up this morning, didn’t have no Blues.
Onward and southward. The Wings will head to Texas this weekend for the Western Conference finals against the Dallas Stars, having defeated St. Louis, a team many thought would be their toughest opponent, in six games. Why it took six and not five will be a question for the ages, especially when you consider the deftness with which Detroit dispatched the supposedly recharged Blues Tuesday night. What was the score? 6-1? I don’t want to say this team went down fast. But you know those old cowboy movies where a gunslinger comes busting through the barroom door? The Wings were the cowboy.
The Blues were the door.
“It’s a relief to win tonight after the way we blew it on Sunday,” said forward Darren McCarty, who opened the scoring for the Wings’ clinching victory in this second-round playoff series. “You have to be pumped for 60 minutes. We weren’t on Sunday, but we were tonight.”
Yes. You could say that. Their first five goals were scored by players better known for grinding than glory. McCarty — who always seems to do things like this when they are most needed — took Kris Draper’s winning face-off in the first period, and delivered it promptly past Grant Fuhr to the back of the net. That silenced the crowd and slowed the Blues.
Less than three minutes later, Doug Brown, who hasn’t played in a month, came down the ice, aimed and fired the puck into the far upper corner of the goal. Considering that was Brown’s first shot in 31 days, you gotta admire the accuracy.
“How do you do that when you’ve been sitting for the past month?” Brown was asked.
He laughed. “A lot of positive mental imagery,” he said.
Hmm. Just like Peter Pan. Think good things and you can fly. In which case, Martin Lapointe must have been Tinkerbell. Lapointe — who’s quietly becoming a star player — scored Detroit’s third and fourth goals. He is increasingly there when needed, and not just for muscle but for points. His first goal Tuesday, a well-positioned rebound shot, put the game out of reach.
His second goal pushed it into rout range.
By the third period, the Wings were mostly interested in avoiding injury, and the Blues were thinking about what clubs to put in the bag.
The captain’s character
“How do you win like this, in their building, after losing a game like Sunday at home?” center Steve Yzerman was asked.
“Experience,” he said. “We’re the kind of team, if we don’t play well one game, we just rebound in the next.”
Which says a lot about the character of this group. Being able to correct mistakes (such as the previously anemic power play, which scored three times Tuesday) is such an important trait. All playoff runs have peaks and dips. It’s how you recover from those dips that determines your fortune.
To the Wings’ credit, they saw Sunday’s loss as something they didn’t do to the opponent, not something the opponent did to them.
“We’re getting close,” they said of their power play.
“We just have to concentrate,” said the defense.
“We’ll be fine,” said Chris Osgood.
And so they were.
A word here about Yzerman, the captain, who had three assists and a goal Tuesday night and, for the moment, is leading point man in the NHL playoffs. He is such a tone-setter for this team, and his relentless pursuit of both puck and opponent was inspiring Tuesday. Whenever the Wings hit a bump in the road, they need only look over at Yzerman, who has a quiet way of shrugging off both victory and defeat. He may not make a lot of speeches, but in the show-me world of hockey, his attitude, to his teammates, is as good as the sermon on the mount.
“We’re just playing,” he said, with typical head-down humility, as reporters crowded around him. “We’re all just playing.”
And now St. Louis isn’t. In fact, by the end of the game, most of the Blues fans were on their way home, asking how many home runs Mark McGwire had hit. Meanwhile, inside the Kiel Center, it was hard to tell which was louder, the Detroit fans yelling “We want Dallas!” or the licking chops of Sergei Fedorov’s accountants. The Wings star just earned $12 million in a bonus clause. He might want to shave a few sawbucks off the top for Lapointe, Draper, McCarty, Brown …aw, heck. Caviar for everybody.
“Has anyone asked you for a loan yet?” Sergei was asked.
“No,” he said, looking around the room, “but they haven’t showered yet.”
The goalie grows
Before we leave this series, a nod to Osgood. The softspoken goalie continues to shake off doubts as deftly as he swats away pucks. Although he has been — and will continue to be — the object of occasional tongue clucking doubt, when he needed a big game, he delivered one, stopping all the Blues’ shots until the game was meaningless.
With each series he grows in stature. More importantly, he grows in his own mind toward the star player he deep down feels he is. “I’m a good goalie, I believe that,” he said after Tuesday’s victory, “but to be great, to be up there with the Patrick Roys, I have to win. That’s the only thing that will do it. I have to win.”
And now onto Dallas. The Stars are another tough team, another team feeling its time has come. The Stars are defensive. They have a hot goalie. They have home-ice advantage — although given the pattern so far, they may want to relinquish that.
Then again, it won’t matter if the Wings can go to the well and come back with the buckets they found Tuesday night. We may never know what happened Sunday, but then again, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to win them all, just win the ones you have to.
To paraphrase Lightnin’ Hopkins, woke up this morning, ain’t got no Blues. Or, to paraphrase Perry Como, don’t let the stars get in your eyes. Red rolls on.
To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.