CHICAGO — As someone once said, if you’re going to lose a game by forgetting your style, getting slammed on the boards, misplacing your scoring touch, half-hearting your defense, and generally lacking the speed, strength and desire that brought you your success, you might as well do it when you’re up three games to none.
Actually, I don’t think anyone really said that, at least not without coming up for air. But it fits the occasion. On a night when the Clarence Campbell Bowl was in the building, just waiting for the Red Wings to skate it around triumphantly, celebrating their first Stanley Cup finals in nearly 30 years, it stayed right where it was, locked away.
On a night that back at Joe Louis Arena, thousands of fans came down just to watch the game on a big screen, hoping to celebrate a joyous victory — they instead went home moaning, shaking their heads.
On a night when the Detroit club owner, his wife, the front office, the doctors, and even Al — the arena guy who swings the octopi over his head — were in the United Center, ready to bask in sweet moments of success, instead, they got this:
Slava Fetisov behind his own net, trying to dig out a puck, and getting slammed and flipped into the air by a Chicago player named Daze.
That’s Daze. As in “You’re in a . . . “
Or this: Murray Craven outhustling Bob Rouse for the puck, popping it to bad guy Dirk Graham — who looks like Larry Csonka, and sometimes plays like him — and Graham whacking it past Mike Vernon for a three-goal lead in the first period.
Or this: Vernon being pulled for Chris Osgood — the first time that has happened since Vernon came to Detroit — after giving up four goals in six shots.
“We embarrassed ourselves,” said Keith Primeau after the 5-2 drubbing that kept Detroit’s dreams on ice. “We were not prepared to win.”
Truth be told, we should have seen this debacle coming, not from any of the above, but from this harbinger of doom: During the first period, longtime Wings radio announcer Bruce Martyn, who has been calling the games for 31 years, had to leave the booth with a sore voice from a cold.
Bruce? On the DL?
“HE SHOOTS, HE . . . “
Waits? Detroit power play went pffft . . .
They shoot, they wait. That is the summation of the Wings this morning after the Blackhawks showed more moxie than most gave them credit for, smacking the Wings in their noses.
How can we describe this? As playoff games go, the food was good. Thursday was so lopsided that the Wings, the most powerful offense in hockey, were given four power-play chances in the first period, and not only didn’t they score, but on some of them they didn’t get off a shot. Chicago, meanwhile, was like a VISA card — everywhere you want to be — especially when the loose puck got behind the Wings’ defense and skidded all alone toward Vernon. This happened way too often. Denis Savard scored that way. Joe Murphy scored that way. Maybe someone else. I stopped counting.
I don’t want to say this was over early, but by the second period, we were checking the baseball scores.
Now, the first suspicion in a defeat like this is that the Wings were overconfident. I didn’t see that.
“How could we be overconfident?” Kris Draper asked. “We’ve won every game by one goal.”
Or, as Vernon said: “I’ve played a lot of playoff series. And very few end in four games.”
More likely this was a game of pride for the Hawks, and even though the crowd was half as loud as in Game 3, their early goals — and the Wings’ bad defense — bolstered them, made them think, “Hey, why the hell not?”
Detroit offered no protest.
They shoot, they wait. Blackhawks will be loose — and dangerous
Now, leaving the door open this way is a mistake. All championship teams must possess the killer instinct. You don’t leave the enemy breathing — no matter how bloody they look. Never was this expressed better than in the late
’80s, when the Pistons had a 3-2 lead on the Boston Celtics and were finally on the brink of making the NBA Finals. Bill Laimbeer came into the locker room with a duffel bag, got his teammates’ attention, then pulled out a huge blade.
“If you want to kill a snake,” he said, “you have to chop its head off.”
No mercy. No breath. The Wings will be favored in Game 5, but the pressure is off the Blackhawks from this point forward. Anything they do will be a pleasant surprise to their fans — and maybe even to them. And beware a team that plays that loose.
Having said all that, let us admit that the Wings have played well enough to deserve an off night. They’ve really had only one other the entire playoffs — another Game 4 loss, to Dallas — and that may have been because, against the Stars, it was hard to stay awake.
But Thursday was ugly, and unworthy of the history the Wings had hoped to make.
“They were flying,” said Steve Yzerman, whose return from injury was barely worth this game. “And we were a step behind.”
More like a mile. To me, the whole thing was summed up in the radio booth. In between the second and third periods, WJR’s Rich Kincaide, who jumped in to sub for Martyn, stepped away from the microphone and shook his head.
“You want it back?” he asked Martyn.
Martyn looked at the scoreboard.
“Not really,” he croaked.
They shoot, they wait.