by | May 30, 1998 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

So which part do you want to hear about? The Dream, The Sleep, The Nightmare or The Wake-Up? You can say a lot about the Red Wings Friday night. You can’t say they didn’t give you a taste of everything.

The first chunk of evening was too good to be true, shots deflecting off opponents’ skates into the net, the scoreboard flipping like a pinball machine. One goal. Two goals. Three. Four. A dream, right?

Sure. And the next chunk was a deep sleep, the Wings snoring through a couple of Dallas goals, sagging, rolling over, enjoying the pillow of their lead.

The third chunk was a nightmare, when, less than halfway through the final period, Mike Modano shoved a puck under Chris Osgood’s legs, and the crowd yelled “IN THE CREASE!” but the officials said, “The goal counts,” and, suddenly, it was a one-goal lead and the Wings were wiping their eyes like firemen caught in their pajamas.

The final chunk was putting that fire out. Wake up. The house is burning. The Wings shook off their lethargy while sliding down the pole. For the next eight minutes, I actually heard women screaming every time the Stars came into the Wings’ zone. That’s how frantic it was.

But finally, when Martin Lapointe swooped around the back of the Stars’ net, left goalie Eddie Belfour sprawling on the ice, and curled back in front for a quick shot through the legs of the desperately returning Belfour — well, the night had its ending, the fans had their money’s worth.

And coach Scotty Bowman had a few of his remaining hairs turn gray.

“We got caught watching the scoreboard,” Bowman admitted, after the Wings blew three-quarters of a 4-0 lead before bouncing back for a 5-3 victory and a 2-1 advantage in this Western Conference championship series. “We were just dumping the puck in the neutral zone. Things were almost going too well for us early.”

Can that happen? Sure it can. Remember that old song “Life could be a dream .
. .”? What’s the next word?

Sh-boom. As in crash.

Somebody pass the Maalox.

Nick at night

“How hard did you hit Belfour?” Lapointe was asked in the hallway after the victory.

“Shheeesh,” he said, rolling his eyes.

“Well, did you hit him at all?”

“I hit his stick,” he said. “He went for a dive. That’s when I knew to go right in front of the net and shoot.”

The feeling on the Wings was more relief than exultation.

Of course, they never would have been in that situation had they not amassed a hefty lead — something you’re not supposed to be able to do on Belfour and the Stars. For this, Detroit should thank its quiet men. Speak softly, swing a mean stick. Among the first three players to score goals for the Wings, I don’t think you could account for one colorful quote.

Big deal. Mum’s the word. This, after all, was not a press conference, it was a hockey game, and the winner would be in excellent position to scale the wall of this conference championship. It was already a noisy crowd on a noisy night, a time where words would be lost and deeds would stand out.

So perhaps it was fitting that one Detroit goal came from Jamie Macoun, maybe the most under-interviewed player on the Red Wings, and another came from Brent Gilchrist, the second-most under-interviewed player, and two came from Nick Lidstrom, who often speaks to open notebooks but very rarely fills a page.

A few more words on Lidstrom. Here he was Friday, on a power play (Wings fans yell, “hallelujah!”) and he sent a screamer to the net that dinged off Derian Hatcher’s skate, smacked into Belfour’s inner leg, and ricocheted into the net for a 2-0 lead. Minnesota Fats couldn’t have made that shot.

And then, in the second period, here was Lidstrom again, out top, like Reggie Miller from three-point land, like John Elway 50 yards from the end zone, and he whizzed another shot that smoked past Belfour’s left shoulder for a 3-0 lead.

“I got lucky tonight,” he said of his two slap-shot goals. “We talked about putting shots on net and hoping for rebounds and bounces. Both of my goals hit other guys on the way in.”

Not that Detroiters care. It’s just more of the St. Nick legend. He is there when the Wings need him most, whether poking pucks away from superstars, or slapping pucks past goalies from long distance. What’s amazing about Lidstrom is how he does both things, defense and offense, with so little contact. He is almost — and I mean this as a compliment — polite out there, never needing to resort to physical abuse, angry stick work or fisticuffs to get his job done.

After his second goal, he smiled only briefly as his teammates slapped him on the helmet. This is Lidstrom. He comes, he plays, he smiles, and nods as he leaves. He is as dedicated as he is polite, as polite as he is serious, as serious as he is effective. I’ll tell you this much: The Wings could do worse than to rip up the last year of this 28-year-old’s contract and give him a fat new one, before he gets serious about going home to Sweden.

The happy ending

Of course, Lidstrom’s night would have been washed away if the Wings hadn’t been able to hold the lead. And they almost didn’t. “When you have a 4-0 lead, you don’t have a lot of adrenaline,” Lapointe admitted. “We had to find it fast.”

And even though they did, if you ask me, Dallas made as much of a point in this game as Detroit. The Stars could have folded like pita bread, given up the chase and saved it for another night. There are few things as uphill as a four-goal deficit in another team’s building — especially when the other team is the defending Stanley Cup champion — but Dallas played as if programmed by a computer. The Stars kept coming, even as some Wings fans were leaving. They seemed unaffected by their deficit, kept chasing loose pucks, stealing passes, breaking up chances.

“They probably feel they should have won this game,” Macoun said later. “And who knows? Maybe they should have.”

Let Detroit take that as a warning.

For now, there is the victory, The Sunrise after The Dream, The Sleep, The Nightmare and The Wake-Up. There is also this: Home was sweet. That was a change. At least half the time in this playoff march, Joe Louis Arena has been less a friend than a foe. Familiarity bred contentment. Contentment meant a loss.

On Friday night, there was only enough contentment for a scare, not a defeat. And the series has tipped, for the moment, in favor of the defending champs. Still, when the final horn sounded, the Wings exhaled, and the PA system played “Oh, What a Night.” You could say that again. Wake us up on Sunday.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.


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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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