Thwack-thwack. The sound of stick meeting puck meeting stick. It haunted the Red Wings all night Thursday, the way a heartbeat haunted that guy from that Edgar Allan Poe story. Thwack-thwack. Every good shot. Every wide-open chance. Power plays. Rushes. From behind the net. From right in front. Thwack-thwack. The echo of futility. The Carolina Hurricanes were blocking the Wings like some whack-a-mole game gone berserk. Nearly 30 Red Wings chances never got past the opposing Hurricanes player. And as the clock ticked down, Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals was in danger of slipping into overtime, when anything bad can happen — and for Detroit, it usually has.
Quick. Nick. Use your stick.
That’s the trick.
“Some of the guys were teasing me in the locker room when we watched the replay,” Nicklas Lidstrom said after firing a shot past Arturs Irbe with just over five minutes left to break the Carolina stranglehold and push the Wings to a 3-1, series-tying victory. “They said, ‘Hey, Nick. You actually showed some emotion there. You raised your arms and had a little leg kick, too.’ “
Hey. Give the guy his own Rockettes number. For on a night when the offense got dangerously quiet, the quietest guy finally got offensive. Lidstrom, the Swedish sensation who plays about 900 minutes a night and never, near as anyone can tell, actually changes his expression, broke the deadlock, burst the dam, erupted the volcano, and brought the Wings, finally, back to their game, instead of the Carolina game they’d been playing for nearly two nights.
What’s more, the shot came on the power play, which to that point had ceased to be any advantage. Kris Draper added a well-earned insurance goal less than a minute later, and the Wings are back to even in this series, which so far feels less like the passing of a torch than the passing of a kidney stone.
“Wasn’t it getting frustrating out there, all those shots getting blocked and no scoring?” someone asked Steve Yzerman.
“Not really frustrating,” he said. “We’re not worried that much about scoring.”
I guess they leave that to the fans.
Getting into the Hurricanes’ heads
They were plenty worried. Playing the Hurricanes is like taking on the bad guys from “The Matrix.” They are nameless, faceless, black suits, black ties, no expression, never tire, don’t breathe hard, don’t sweat when they run. But they never stop pursuing you, and in the end, they seem fated to outlast you.
Which is why Lidstrom’s goal, when this thing is all over, may rank as a defining moment. It proved that the armor of the Carolina “system” can still be chinked.
“It was nice to get into their confidence a little bit,” Lidstrom admitted, walking down the Joe Louis hallway, his playoff beard uncharacteristically scruffy for a guy who always looks so clean-cut. “They were really playing well, blocking all those shots, stopping us most of the night. But now we’ve given them something to think about, and maybe they’re the ones who have to make some adjustments.”
Lidstrom stopped when he heard a familiar voice call his name. It was Bruce Martyn, the Wings’ longtime announcer. He pointed and came over and shook Lidstrom’s hand.
“About time you scored,” he joked.
“Thanks, Bruce,” Lidstrom said.
You witness that moment, and you realize how precious Lidstrom is to this team, how long he has been here, plowing away in a Detroit uniform, playing monster minutes, winning the Norris Trophy, never drawing attention, never complaining, doing all the little things and once in a while, like Thursday night, the big things.
“I always say watch Nick carefully and you’ll appreciate him even more,” Yzerman says. “He’s just . . . really good.”
Good old Nick.
Does the trick.
Not pickled by power outage — yet
Now. Since we are always hearing that this is a long series, a moment here for the power play. It was 1-for-8 Thursday night, after going 1-for-7 in Game 1. The idea of the power play is that you have an advantage, right? That’s why you get five skaters, they get four. And in theory, with a team as powerful as Detroit’s, that should come through now and then.
But at times on Thursday, the Wings’ power play was simply painful to observe, like watching a man who can’t open a jar of pickles. He twists. He yanks. He sticks it under the hot water. He clanks it with a knife. He twists and yanks again. Nothing. There was little cracking of the jar, and the Wings came close to being in a pickle of their own.
Of course, much of that will be forgotten with Lidstrom’s momentous shot. But the Wings cannot rest on this thing. They were, as Dominik Hasek said, “only five minutes from going into overtime after being a 1-1 game almost all night.”
He didn’t sound as if he were looking forward to that.
So the Wings will have to make adjustments, too, as they head into Game 3 Saturday night in Carolina. But that’s what the finals are about.
The series is knotted up now, and Detroit fans, having forced their hearts back down from their throats, don’t know this morning whether to be happy or still a bit ticked off. In the world of could-have-been and should-have-been the score in this one was 10-1. Maybe 15-1. If even half the good shots and near-misses and ridiculously obvious chances the Red Wings had that all went left, right, up, down, over, around, everywhere but in the net — if even half of those found their intended target, this thing would have been a blowout of yawning proportion.
But then, what fun would that be? Blowouts don’t need heroes. Nail-biters do. Along comes a Swedish defenseman, steady as a pacemaker. Quick Nick. With a kick.
“A leg kick, huh?” he was asked.
“Well, I was happy,” he said.
He was speaking for himself — and for a city that slept a lot better Thursday night, once that annoying thwack-thwack sound went away.
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).