The young Toronto goalie, Felix Potvin, keeps a religious charm inside his catching glove, a gift of luck from his father. Monday night, he would have been better off with an extra hand. Or a wooden stake. Or a silver bullet. You want to stop the Red Wings when they get going, you better bring the heavy artillery.
The Wings did. In Game 1 of what is supposed to be a nip- and-tuck series, they showed why anything is possible when they take the ice because they do this one little thing better than all the other teams in this NHL dance: They score goals.
Just ask Felix. He’s still trying to see the one Steve Chiasson put past him, after Bob Probert planted like a Redwood in front of the net, then leapt as the puck came at him. It went through Probert’s legs. Then it went through Potvin’s legs. I think the kid was so busy praying Probert wouldn’t land on him, he forgot all about the shot.
Not to worry. There were plenty of others. There was Shawn Burr, on a short-handed breakaway, winding up and firing — smack! — right down the pipes. There was Ray Sheppard, with typically great hands, taking a short pass from Probert and launching it into the promised land. There was Mark Howe on a ricochet put-back. And Steve Yzerman on a patient, semi-circle diagonal slapper.
And I’m just talking about the shots that went in!
Production? The Wings fired 33 times at Potvin and scored six times on the league’s second-best defense. They had more goals in Game One than in any single game in last years playoffs.
Somewhere in the owner’s box, Mike Ilitch must be smiling. Here’s a guy who owns a baseball team and a hockey team, and both of them score more than the Lions do.
OK. Maybe that’s an exaggeration. But not by much. The prevailing philosophy in sports is that teams win with defense. And that’s true. But it doesn’t hurt when your defense is also your offense. Paul Coffey, defense, assisted on two goals Monday night. Yves Racine, defense, scored a goal. Howe, defense, scored a goal. Chiasson, defense, scored a goal. .
“We have a variety of people,” coach Bryan Murray said, “who have a knack around the net.”
You can say that again. The Wings are like a spider on a trapped fly. They come at you from every angle — especially once they open a lead. Monday’s game went from 3-1 to 5-1 in a hurry. And get this: Detroit’s biggest goal scorer is Yzerman; he had one Monday night. Next in line is Dino Ciccarelli; he had none. Next is Sergei Fedorov; he had none. Next is Paul Ysebaert; he had none.
And the Wings won, 6-3?
“Big goal for you, huh?” a reporter said to Burr.
“Any goal is big for me,” he said.
Now. You don’t want to make a big deal out of any single playoff game, but something important did happen here Monday night. In the locker room before the face-off, the mood was expectant, confident. Guys chewed candy bars or tobacco or ice cubes and banged their sticks and shook out their muscles. “In other years,” Ysebaert said, “we were waiting to see what happened, hoping we could win. This year it’s like, ‘Come on. We’re ready. Let’s go. Show us what you got.”
They took the ice that way. They played that way. They were intense from the start, digging for the puck, buzzing around the net. By the end of the first period, they had twice the shots of Toronto. By the end of the game, they had twice the goals. They call that “executing on your potential,” something the Wings haven’t always done in the post-season.
“Paul Coffey said something before the game that stuck with me,” Burr said. “He said, ‘We have 20 guys playing good. We don’t need one guy playing great.’ “
Coffey should start charging by the sentence.
Across the hallway, the Maple Leafs were shaking off the loss. Pat Burns, their coach, was asked whether anything good came out of it.
“We got our butt kicked,” he said.
I guess that’s a big no.
Still, you have to feel for Potvin, the goalie, who was playing in the first playoff game of his NHL career. He is a thin, quiet kid, who was never supposed to start this season. But two guys got injured, and suddenly he’s on center stage, and he does so well, the Leafs trade Grant Fuhr.
That’s like coming up from college, throwing a few passes, and making Joe Montana pack his bags.
“I know what it is now,” he said of the playoffs. “Maybe I do better now in the next game.”
He was asked about the Red Wings come-from-anywhere scoring.
“They are a good team.”
When asked when he started to think about Game 2, he said, “as soon as I left the ice.”
As well he should. There will be closer games and even losses for the Red Wings as these playoffs snake through April and May. But you cannot close your eyes against this team. You cannot shut all the doors on them. Monday night was simply one win, nothing more, nothing less, but it sent out ripples like a brick thrown into a pond.
“They can score,” said Potvin.
“They can score,” said Burns.
Tell us something we don’t know.