DENVER — Last year, at about this time, Fredrik Olausson was in a hospital bed in Bern, Switzerland, with a ruptured spleen. The idea of scoring an overtime goal in the Western Conference finals was as likely as his getting up and doing the rumba.
But time passes and things change, and here he was, one year later, on Wednesday night, in overtime, taking a pass in from Steve Yzerman and lining up a big slap shot that somehow did what all the other great Detroit shots could not do on this night — got past Colorado’s Patrick Roy.
“Did you even watch the playoffs last year?” someone asked Olausson, in the upbeat Red Wings locker room, after his goal won Game 3 and gave the Wings a precious 2-1 series lead.
“Did I watch the playoffs?” he said, laughing. “No. I couldn’t. They didn’t have satellite TV in the hospital.”
Freddie Olausson? HE scored the game-winner? That’s right. He did. The guy who doesn’t get mentioned when people talk about Detroit’s off-season acquisitions. They say Hull. They say Robitaille. They say Hasek.
And they say, “Oh yeah, there’s another free agent, a Swede, right?”
A Swede, indeed. Olausson got a phone call last spring from the Red Wings. He had been out of the NHL. He’d been playing in Switzerland. He wasn’t even sure he’d go back.
But when he heard Detroit, he looked at his wife, “and she just nodded,” he said. “She said, ‘You can’t pass up this opportunity.’ “
Back he came. Over the water. Into the Midwest. And Wednesday night, he applied that “don’t miss the opportunity” theory to the max.
His goal, nearly 13 minutes into overtime, was his first playoff goal in 10 years.
A Swede in need. A Swede, indeed.
That Roy magic
Now, I can hear the talk already. What about the big guns? How many nights can you count on Freddie Olausson’s scoring?
The answer is, that’s a dumb question.
You win any way you can in the playoffs. And Detroit was certainly not above taking anything that would get past Roy on Wednesday night. The Colorado netminder was his usual brilliant self, so good, in fact, that as the night went on, as the air got thinner, as their lungs got hungrier, the Red Wings seemed like victims of a three-card monte scheme.
When they were sure a goal was under the middle card, they came up empty. When they were sure they had one on the left — empty again. On the right — wrong again. In the middle — nope, sorry. Roy was always there. And if not Roy, then some other Avalanche stick or body.
After a while, the whole thing felt rigged. Could they really be playing this hard, getting this many shots — ultimately outshooting Colorado, 42-21 — and still be no more than tied in overtime? Steve Yzerman, dead in front — blocked! Brendan Shanahan on a rebound, three feet away — blocked! Sergei Fedorov, twisting, turning, unleashing cannon fire on Roy — stopped! All these big guns, firing blanks? What to do?
Call Freddie. His shot took the life out of the Pepsi Center fans, and reminded them that the Red Wings didn’t come all this way to lie down.
A Swede’s good deed.
Don’t forget Luc
“We were skating really hard tonight, offensively and defensively as well,” said Robitaille, who broke his own goal-less streak with a ricochet off his skate in the third period that would have made a pinball envious. The shot originated off Fedorov’s stick, then hit Roy, hit another Av, hit another Av, hit Robitaille’s skate, and went in.
“I’ll take it,” Robitaille said.
Who wouldn’t? It was that kind of night. Adjustments. New faces. Give the Wings and Scotty Bowman credit for being flexible and not standing foolishly by a plan that had flaws. Nicklas Lidstrom was switched to Peter Forsberg and netted him like a butterfly much of the night. Chris Chelios was assigned mostly to Joe Sakic, and you rarely heard his name.
Robitaille was deliberately given more ice time, and he responded with his most aggressive game and who knows? Maybe next time, he actually scores a goal with his stick.
So the Wings take the series lead, with a game even Colorado fans have to admit Detroit dominated. What does it mean? It means the Wings breathe a little easier for a few days. That’s all. This thing is far from done.
A word about “the big guns scoring” — a phrase that has been overused the last 48 hours in Detroit, as fans and analysts look for some kind of angle. Sure, you need your big guns to score. What team doesn’t? But on the Red Wings, they can’t all score at once, not unless you score nine goals a night. There are too many big guns. Sometimes the way they contribute is with a pass, or drawing defenders. Olausson’s goal doesn’t happen without Yzerman’s pass. To rant and rave that, with so many scorers, the Wings should have way more goals is to fail to grasp that 1) only a few of those guys can play at a time, and 2) they are playing the best defensive team in the NHL.
But no complaints this morning. Not from the big guns, and not from “the other guy” in the off-season acquisitions, Big Freddie (No Spleen) Olausson, a 35-year-old defenseman who would much rather be here than where he was last year. A locker room looks good compared to a hospital bed. And his hotel room even has satellite TV.
Then again, he doesn’t need a small screen to experience the magic of the playoffs.
He just lived it.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.