ST. LOUIS — So Sergei Fedorov gets the puck on a breakaway, and he makes one of those moves, and yada, yada, yada, Wings win.
Oh. Sorry. Got my shows crossed.
On a night when a third of the nation was watching “Seinfeld” end, those of us who prefer pucks to yucks were watching a remarkable pattern continue. It was the Red Wings showing familiar focus when threatened. It was the Red Wings showing familiar disregard for other people’s ice, winning their fourth straight road game in these playoffs.
And it was the Red Wings showing their familiar Russian connection of Sergei Fedorov, Mr. Flash, and Slava Kozlov, Mr. Shhhh, putting the knots on the playoff noose that now hangs around their opponents’ necks.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that….
“Do you practice that assist?” someone asked Fedorov about his seat-of-the-pants delivery, which led to Kozlov’s winning goal and the Wings’ ultimate 5-2 victory.
“Practice?” Fedorov said. “How can you practice sitting down and going backwards and making pass? Is not usual, is it?”
No, it isn’t. But neither is the Wings’ uncanny ability to escape trouble. Hello? Does anybody remember last Friday night anymore? Game 1? A week ago? When the Wings lost the opener of this series and people were saying, “Maybe these Blues are the grim reaper in disguise”?
How long ago does that seem now? The Wings haven’t lost since. They came down here to the land of riverboats and slushy ice and took both games. Now they return to Detroit with a chance to win the series without packing another toiletry bag.
First they’re trailing, and then, yada, yada, yada, they’re up, three games to one.
Mellow Wings have faith in themselves
It was not a game without its nervous moments. The danger in winning the way the Wings won Game 3 is the sense that everything is good and fine and going your way. The facts, of course, only partly supported that. Sure, Game 3 was won on a Brendan Shanahan flipper in the second overtime. But it was also nearly lost on a Craig Conroy post-to-post clinker the period before. And it would never have gone to overtime if not for a bad goal allowed by Chris Osgood.
So a tip here, a bounce there, and Wings fans are panicking instead of smiling. The truth is, these teams are very close. They both know how to play suffocating defense, and they both have guys who can score from anywhere.
But the Wings seem to have this sixth sense of their own ability. Darren McCarty called it a “mellowness.” It may simply be experience. The Wings have already been scared every which way you can be scared, by the Colorado Avalanche, by the Philadelphia Flyers, by the pressure of fighting a 42-year-old curse. They do not scare easily.
That, more than anything, is what won for them Thursday night. When the Wings blew a 2-0 lead and allowed St. Louis to tie it up with 6.4 seconds left in the second period, there was no panic. No letdown.
“You guys don’t get rattled, do you?” Steve Yzerman would later be asked.
“Oh, we get rattled,” he said, laughing, “but we just continue to play.”
So instead of sulking onto the ice for the third period, the Wings came out as if someone had spat at their sister. They attacked early and were rewarded when Fedorov took a puck into the corner, got knocked down, but somehow was able to follow the puck while sliding on his butt and still make a pass to Tomas Holmstrom, who fed the puck across to Kozlov, who, yada, yada, yada, he shoots, he scores.
The quietest wizard of ov
By the way, how many times does Kozlov do this? He is the quietest of the “ov” boys, but there isn’t a playoff series these past two years that hasn’t seen him score a crucial goal, if not the game-winner. His quick one-timer Thursday gave the Wings the momentum again, and less than seven minutes later, Fedorov took a breakaway pass from Kris Draper and beat Grant Fuhr with a beautiful shot to the far corner of the net.
Cynics will say Fedorov is now just one win away from his $12-million bonus for reaching the conference finals.
Hockey fans will say that the Wings, thanks largely to Fedorov, are one win away from the same place.
But it’s not just what the Wings are doing. It’s what they’re keeping St. Louis from doing. When was the last time you heard Brett Hull’s name mentioned in a significant way? The St. Louis fans were booing him Thursday night. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Grant Fuhr is standing on his head?” When was the last time Chris Pronger played his normal menacing role? What happened to the nasty Geoff Courtnall or the dangerous Steve Duchesne?
The best teams are the ones who force their identity on you and cause you to change. The Wings are doing that to the Blues with familiar methodology: sticky defense, stingy goaltending, timely scores, and a Russian one-two punch of Mr. Flash and Mr. Shhhh.
And they haven’t lost on the road in nearly three weeks.
“We’ve played so much playoff hockey now,” Yzerman said, looking over as his team got dressed, “that it really doesn’t matter if we’re on the road or not. It doesn’t bother us. We play the way we play. We do what we do.”
And, yada, yada, yada, they’re on the verge of advancing to another round. In certain ways, “Seinfeld” and these defending champion Wings are alike. They entertain, they deliver the goods, and they both know how to bring a season to a climax.
The difference is, Wings fans are looking forward to the rerun.
To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.
Mitch will sign copies of “Tuesdays with Morrie” from 1-2 p.m. Saturday at the Little Professor bookstore in Plymouth.