by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Are you in? That’s supposedly the Red Wings’ playoff slogan this year, but midway through the third period Thursday night, it already had become a desperate fan’s question. Are you in? That puck flying across the crease? Are you in? That shot that hit the post? Are you in? That Johan Franzen second chance? Are you in? That Pavel Datsyuk solo rush?

No, came the answer. No, read the scoreboard. And the man most responsible was a 27-year-old rookie goalie who was, hard to believe, in his first NHL playoff game, and, even harder to believe, had played the last few years in Nebraska, Utah, Idaho and Iowa, where you’re more likely to tend crops than nets.

But here was Nashville’s Dan Ellis (that’s a golfer’s name, right? not a goalie’s!) slapping away a barrage of Detroit first attempts and second attempts, even kicking one blindly with his skate. In the second period alone he stopped 17 shots. In the first he stopped nine of 10. And he was cruising through the first six minutes of the final period, before Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg ran an icy version of the give-and-go, with Zetterberg one-timing the puck past Ellis to break a choking 1-1 tie and allow the Joe Louis Arena crowd to exhale in unison.

“Pav made the perfect play,” Zetterberg said, “and it was just ‘fire away.’ “

Are you in? Yes, finally.

Thankz, Hankz. Names from a painful past

Because let’s face it. The Wings don’t need to create another goalie legend. They don’t need to watch some guy beat them in the net who has no business beating them in the net. They still itch from Arturs Irbe, an import from Latvia who San Jose called “The Wall” and who stoned the favored Wings out of the playoffs in 1994, remember? They still cringe at the mention of Felix (The Cat) Potvin, who clawed to four straight victories for the L.A. Kings and dumped the Wings in the first round in 2001.

They are all too familiar with getting “Jiggy-ed” after the stunning upset at the hands of Mike Babcock’s Mighty Ducks and their new goalie star, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, in 2003. And they needn’t be reminded of a stunning exit two years ago at the hands of Edmonton and Dwayne Roloson, a 36-year-old guy who had been exiled to the AHL.

No, the Wings and Detroit have seen more than enough A-Goalie-Star-Is-Born stories, thank you. We’re quite happy to see a rookie play like a rookie. Ellis was good. The Wings, on this night, were better.

Even if only by one great play.

“I thought it was very important to get (Zetterberg’s) goal,” captain Nick Lidstrom said in the locker room. “… Ellis made some big saves. … It was very important to get a few goals on him and back him into his net a little bit.”

Your stars need to be stars

It was equally important to have Zetterberg be the guy to do it. Because if the Wings have learned one other playoff lesson the hard way – besides not turning goaltenders from “Joe Who?” into “Joe Wow!”- it’s this: Your stars have to score. Yes, you need role players. Yes, you need team defense. Yes, you need patience. Don’t care. First do this. Get your stars to score. When they do, the world is right. When they do, they -and the other guys – don’t press.

Zetterberg is the Red Wings’ star, their heir apparent to the Steve Yzerman mantle. Getting two goals in the playoff opener (he had the empty-netter to end a 3-1 victory) immediately relaxes him and makes the other team worry. “It’s nice,” he admitted, “to get a good start.”

He could be speaking for them all. How about no first-round shockers this year? How about no “Who Is This Guy?” The Wings are excellent enough to go far, very far, and given how our baseball team is faring, meeting expectations would a nice change of pace.

So would not having to do a profile on the opposing team’s goalie.


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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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