No one could’ve predicted how Wings reached Game 7

First off, anyone who says they know what’s going to happen in Game 7 should sit down and shut up. There are no patterns here. No predicting. The Red Wings stole a road win in Game 1 of this series and the Lightning stole a road win in Game 4. The Lightning whiffed when it had the momentum in Game 5, and the Wings did the same Monday night in Game 6.

It may be a case of “anything they can do, we can do worse.” But there’s only one night left now. No telling who grabs the vine. All we can tell you is that some kind of hockey game happened at the Joe on Monday.

And it didn’t end well for Detroit.

It didn’t start well, either. The Wings were down, 2-0, after one period, and 3-0 after a period and a half. They finally lost, 5-2, and now are down to 60 minutes of hockey to determine if the season goes on.

Go figure.

Because you can’t figure.

“Two good teams playing,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said after the loss. “Not a big surprise for us in here that it goes to seven. Maybe it’s a surprise to people on the outside.”

Uh … yeah. Didn’t most signs point to Detroit clinching? Hadn’t the Lightning come up totally empty in its building Saturday, showing no killer instinct in losing, 4-0?

Yes, yes, and so what? Wings coach Mike Babcock loves to say there’s no such thing as momentum, but, hey, his team doesn’t have to go this far to prove it.

An awful way to start

“We made mistakes,” Babcock admitted in the news conference room. “Tampa Bay’s a team that scores when you give them opportunities.”

And quickly. Before the game was four minutes old, it was going the wrong way. Tyler Johnson, the only Tampa Bay player who could remotely be called “hot,” took a nifty pass from Nikita Kucherov — after a 150-foot feed — and spun away from Danny DeKeyser to lift a puck over Petr Mrazek for his fifth goal of the series.

It did something to the visitors.

All goals count the same on the scoreboard. Some count more in the brain.

“Its amazing how (Johnson) seems to rise to the occasion,” his coach, Jon Cooper, said afterward. “That was huge for us.”

 

Indeed, the early lead seemed to relax Tampa Bay — as much as it deflated Detroit. It led to a breezy, confident period for the Lightning, who scored again less than eight minutes later, a goal by Jason Garrison, catching the Wings on a line change with their defensive pants down.

The period ended, 2-0, despite two power plays for the Wings and none for the Lightning. The only good news was that the damage came early, right? Wrong. Johnson scored again to make it 3-0 (that’s six goals in this series, if you’re counting, folks) and the Wings got no closer than 3-2 in the third period with more than 18 minutes left, on Tomas Tartar’s second goal of the night. “It looked like we had the game going back our way,” Babcock would say.

But that was the end of it. The Lightning scored with just over five minutes left. That sealed the defeat. An empty-netter made it sting.

Wings fans exited Joe Louis Arena quietly, wondering whether they had just seen their last game of the year. For the second time in the series, the Wings had surrendered home-ice advantage.

“Now,” a reporter said to Zetterberg, “you have to win three games in their building–”

“No, we have to win one.”

Right. Let’s hope it goes better than Monday. When you get seven chances on the power play and you only score once, you can’t blame anyone but yourself.

A slew of crazy saves

And despite the five goals, you really couldn’t blame Mrazek. He was the only thing between Detroit and a severe blowout. In the second period, he was caught dead to rights with Tampa Bay’s Brian Boyle close enough to hand him a cell phone. Boyle lifted a shot, but Mrazek, flat on the ice, never let his stick drop, keeping it inches off the surface. It stopped Boyle’s shot, leaving the puck in the crease, and Mrazek flipped over and smothered it with his left glove. You had to watch it five times to believe you’d watched it once.

Later that same period, Steven Stamkos took a perfect pass that left him with enough alone time to take a guitar solo. He swiped a shot with Mrazek down — but somehow the goalie swallowed that one as well. The crowd went nuts. So did the Lightning. Moments later, the players were pounding on each other — which is usually the mark of a great save frustrating the heck out of the denied team.

“Obviously, his saves kept us in the game,” Tartar would later tell the media.

But that would be the limit of the Wings’ satisfaction. Yes, there were some big hits, and Niklas Kronwall got a major lick on Kucherov, promting the fans to scream, “You got Kronwalled.” (And hopefully the league leaves it at that.) But the hits were meaningless. The shots — and the skating — told the tale. The Lightning looked solid. The Wings did not. It’s a Game 7 now Wednesday night. All bets are off.

“We have to get our mind right again and get ready,” Babcock said. “Let’s go to Tampa.”

It’s a total mystery. A roulette wheel. A lottery ticket. You want a prediction? You want some kind of hint? Fine. Here you go:

The Lighting won Game 6. And no team has won two in a row in this series. So that means …

Nothing.

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at mitchalbom.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/mitch-albom.

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