No chance, you told yourself. No way. Nicklas Lidstrom wound up for a slap shot, just a few feet in front of the blue line, and you whispered, “Forget it,” because that’s nearly 60 feet from the net, and in a game like this — a sweaty, hard- checking, goaltenders-like-flypaper affair — a shot like that, at best, only serves to set up another, right?
Lidstrom swung anyhow. The puck went screaming. Suddenly he couldn’t see it.
“Have you ever made a winning playoff goal before?” someone would ask later.
“Never before,” he would say.
Never before? Perfect. For here it was, just a minute into overtime in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, and the Wings needed to do something nearly as rare as a Lidstrom miracle. Against the Chicago Blackhawks, who were coming off two straight overtime wins on the road, Detroit needed to win its first home overtime playoff game since . . . Chubby Checker sang “The Twist.”
Thirty-five years? Not since 1960?
And Nicklas Lidstrom was going to do it with a 58-foot slap shot?
Didn’t I tell you this year was different?
“Good thing I have a big rear end,” Shawn Burr laughed, after helping to screen Lidstrom’s shot, allowing it to slip past goalie Ed Belfour for a 2-1 win.
Burr’s behind is just one of the things the Red Wings can be thankful for. True, they probably deserved to win this game. They played most of the night as if the ice were tilted in their favor, whacking 10 more shots than Chicago
— 24-14 — and holding the Hawks to a single shot on goal in the third period. Detroit had several chances to win in regulation, but every shot went a little too high, a little too wide. Two of them hit the post. Aren’t those the kind of games you end up losing?
Not Thursday. Lidstrom, the quiet Swede who is the NHL’s answer to the man in the gray flannel suit, wound up and swung, and heard a noise that only hockey players can mimic.
“It’s like this soft sound,” he said, “kind of hard to describe. . . .”
Fifty-eight feet away. A slap shot from another ZIP code. Hitting the back of the net.
Start with a bang. Unlike Sharks, the Hawks have teeth
“Man it was hot out there,” said Keith Primeau, still dripping in the Detroit locker room a half hour after the winner. “I went through three shirts tonight. Normally, I only go through one.”
Well. The Wings are playing in June. Finally. And besides, it didn’t take a minute to see that this Hawks series will be completely different from the one with San Jose. No more toothless Sharks. Thursday at the Joe, you could hear the action. The glass rattled and the boards vibrated. If the overture for Wings-Sharks was played on a pennywhistle, then the overture for Wings-Hawks would be played on a kettle drum.
Bang! Sergei Fedorov slammed into Gerald Diduck. Bang! Primeau sent Chris Chelios flying over his own goalie. Players were clamped on each other, and wrapped on each other and making like human pancakes, stacking two and three high. Few whistles. Joust and ride on.
This is real playoff hockey. No skating freely up the ice past lackluster San Jose players, like cars going through empty tollbooths. The Hawks, with the best defense in the league, make you pay for less-than-crisp passes, and while they are hardly the Harlem Globetrotters, their offense is fueled by take-aways, giving them sudden opportunities that leave you holding your breath.
Of course, the Wings are pretty good at this as well. They clamped down on nearly all the Hawks’ scoring chances.
“We didn’t do a very good job of penetrating their defense,” admitted their coach, Darryl Sutter. Chicago’s shots on goal read like a man running out of money: nine in the first period, four in the second, one in the third.
None in overtime.
Start with a bang. The big man comes up with a big game
A word here about Primeau. He played an excellent game, scoring the tying goal with a backhanded whack and winning the face-off that set up Lidstrom’s score. For years, the Wings have been hoping Primeau could play the big room, and this might well be his moment. He is a hulking force, his wingspan so broad that if he held his arms out, you’d swear he could sweep the entire ice in one try. He has long been the source of trade rumors, because, well, his potential was frightening. How many forwards can you find who go 6-feet-4, weigh 220 pounds and can skate and shoot like a man 30 pounds lighter?
But Thursday, trading him would have seemed unthinkable. He was everywhere, in the middle of offensive surges and playing heat-seeking missile to Chelios’ body. In the first period, Primeau sent Chelios flying over the goaltender. Later, he slammed him so hard, Chelios did a flip. I thought I was watching soul singer Jackie Wilson, who used to do that move in his act.
How nice for the Wings if Primeau stepped into the spotlight — and helped make up for the injured Steve Yzerman. It might be something new, but then, that was the theme of this night, from the new giant cartoon octopus to the first such victory in 35 years, by the most unlikely of heroes.
“Have you made shots like that in your dreams?” Lidstrom was asked.
“Yes, many times,” he said. He thought about it for a second. “Maybe from a little closer in.”
Start with a bang.