He wound up for a slap shot, just a few feet in front of the blue line, and you told yourself, “No chance,” because that’s nearly 60 feet from the net, and in a game like this, with the goaltenders playing like human flypaper, a shot like that serves little purpose but to set up another, right?
Nicklas Lidstrom pulled back anyhow. He swung. The puck went screaming . .
Screaming. Wasn’t everyone screaming at that point? Just a minute into overtime in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals? You could almost touch the nerve endings inside Joe Louis Arena. Talk about your bad karma. Here were the Chicago Blackhawks, on the road, where they had won their last two playoff games in overtime.
And the Wings? They hadn’t won a home overtime playoff game since, well, since Chubby Checker was singing “The Twist” — not over the arena sound system, but live, on “American Bandstand.”
And Nicklas Lidstrom was going to win the game with a 58- foot slap shot?
Didn’t I tell you this year was different from the others?
“I don’t think Ed even saw it,” a glum Darryl Sutter, coach of the Blackhawks, said of the goal that somehow went past Ed Belfour, giving the Wings a 2-1 overtime win. “Anyhow, I’m not even sure we played well enough in regulation to deserve an overtime.”
Start with a bang. Truth be told, Sutter is right, the Wings deserved to win. They played most of the night as if the ice were tilted in their favor, whacking 10 more shots than Chicago — 24-14 — and holding the Hawks to a single shot on goal in the final period. The Wings had numerous opportunities to win in regulation, but every shot went a little too high, a little wide. Two of them hit the post.
Which made Lidstrom’s shot all the more unlikely. Fifty- eight feet away? Give or take a few feet? A slap shot from another ZIP code?
Start with a bang. Unlike Sharks, the Hawks had teeth
Of course, you could say that right from the opening face- off. It didn’t take but a minute to see that this was a completely different series from the last one. No more toothless San Jose Sharks. On Thursday night, you could hear the difference. The glass was rattling and the boards were vibrating. If the overture for Wings-Sharks was played on a pennywhistle, then the overture for Wings-Hawks would play on a kettle drum.
Bang! Sergei Fedorov slammed into Gerald Diduck. Bang! Keith Primeau sent Chris Chelios flying over his own goalie. Players were clamped on each other, and wrapped on each other and making like human pancakes, stacking two and three high. No whistles. Joust, and ride on.
This was real playoff hockey. No skating freely up the ice past lackluster San Jose players, like cars going through empty tollbooths. The Hawks, with the best defense in the league, make you pay for less-than-crisp passes, and while they are hardly the Harlem Globetrotters, their offense is fueled by good defense, giving them sudden opportunities that leave you holding your breath.
Of course, the Wings are pretty good at this as well. They clamped down on nearly all the Hawks’ scoring chances.
“We didn’t do a very good job of penetrating their defense,” Sutter admitted. The shots-on-goal numbers read like a man running out of money. Nine in the first period. Four in the second.
One in the third.
“We’ve played a lot of close games with Chicago,” coach Scotty Bowman said. “We expected it to be this way.”
And that final shot?
“I don’t think (Belfour) even saw it.”
Everyone else did.
Start with a bang. Primeau steps up to the big time
A word here about Primeau. He played an excellent game Thursday night, scoring the tying goal with a backhanded whack as he skated past the net. For years, the Wings have been hoping he could play the big room, and this might well be his moment.
Primeau is a hulking force, his frame so broad that if he held his arms out, you’d swear he could sweep the entire ice in one try. He has long been the source of trade rumors, because, well, how many forwards can you find who go 6-feet-4, weigh 220 pounds and can skate and shoot like a man 30 pounds lighter?
But Thursday he was everywhere, in the middle of offensive surges and playing heat-seeking missile to Chelios’ body. In the first period, Primeau sent Chelios flying over the goaltender with a shove. Later, that same period, he slammed him so hard, Chelios did a flip. I thought I was watching soul singer Jackie Wilson, who used to do that move in his act.
How nice for the Wings if Primeau stepped into the spotlight just in time.
What a perfect complement for what might be the first Stanley Cup season in 40 years.
After all, the arena Thursday held reminders of how long it had been since the Wings played a game that mattered this much. Bob Probert, who was a linchpin of this team the last time it reached a third round, was in suit and tie, watching from a box, a member of the enemy team now. Gerard Gallant, also with that 1988 team, and whom you mostly remember with a stitched-up gash on his face, came by the press box, looking tanned and fit, his season in Tampa Bay long since over.
Symbols of change. Just like the overtime game winner, the Wings’ first at home in the playoffs since . . . Eisenhower was president? A slap shot? Nicklas Lidstrom?
Start with a bang.