by | Jun 10, 2009 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

PITTSBURGH – In the final, maddening seconds, the Red Wings had their goalie off the ice, the other goalie out of his net, Johan Franzen in front, slamming his stick, and only Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi playing netminder, spread on the ice, kick-saving the game, maybe the series, maybe the whole fate of the 2009 championship. The Wings stuffed the crease, then the net, one player, two, three – it looked like college kids trying a phone booth stunt. But players don’t change the scoreboard, only pucks do.

And this one didn’t.

All the way to the edge.

“We had some chances,” Nicklas Lidstrom told the NBC cameras after the 2-1 heart-thumping defeat Tuesday night that tied the finals at 3. “We couldn’t … get the second goal.”

So now it’s a bounce, a bad call, a ricochet. The Stanley Cup will be decided in a Game 7, and Game 7s often are decided on such things. The Wings have as good a shot of winning as they have of losing, but what they don’t have anymore is options.

On Tuesday, Detroit mostly played like a team that had another chance. Pittsburgh played like a team that didn’t.

And now they both don’t.

All the way to the edge. Ozzie kept it so close

Let’s be honest. The Wings lost this thing by a 2-1 score, but it could have been 4-1 or 6-1 if not for Chris Osgood’s amazing efforts. Until a surge in the third period, the Wings were like a car trying to start on a cold morning, like a dancer trying to jump without warming up. The Penguins lived in their zone. They took their sweaters and tried them on. The Wings didn’t hit but they got hit, they didn’t sustain much pressure but they faced buckets of it, they got outhustled, they got squeezed, and, finally, they got stung.

Yes, there should have been a penalty called on Ruslan Fedotenko for jamming his stick between Lidstrom’s legs, keeping him from clearing a puck that wound up on Tyler Kennedy’s stick for the game-winner.

Yes, Dan Cleary had a great chance late in the game to tie the thing on a breakaway, and just held too long, jamming it into the pads of Marc-Andre Fleury instead of lighting the red light.

Yes, Pavel Datsyuk played great. Yes, they were charging hard at the end. Yes, yes, yes – and no. That doesn’t make up for the first two periods. The Wings knew the Penguins were going to come out hard, but at times they still seemed overwhelmed. They are too smart and too experienced to be swarmed like that – unless the Penguins are simply that good.

And maybe we should recognize they are. Remember, Pittsburgh was coming off a 5-0 shellacking in Detroit. The Pens could have played turtle, hidden in their shells. Instead, they came out angry, as if Game 5 were an insult yelled at their family name.

“We got it out of our system,” Sidney Crosby told CBC.

But they can’t get Game 7 out of Joe Louis Arena. They haven’t won there yet. And if ever the Wings need to rely on a building, home fans and bouncy boards, the time is now – or rather Friday night. It’s winner take all

Although the final score was tantalizingly close, you never had the feeling the Wings were in charge of Game 6. As Mike Babcock admitted: “I thought they were better than us from the start of the game for probably the first 32 minutes. They won more races and more battles.”

The Wings too often gave up the puck in the neutral zone and found themselves spinning backward and playing defense. The shots after two periods were 24-12 in favor of Pittsburgh. That shouldn’t happen against the Wings. I don’t care what building they’re in.

So now, it’s a one-game season. One game for the whole thing. Pittsburgh must be taken very seriously here, because this team has returned from a 3-1 deficit already in these playoffs and clobbered Washington in a Game 7 on the road. It already has established that it is better than last year’s version, which went out in six games.

Then again, as Henrik Zetterberg noted to NBC, “It’s kind of similar feeling to last year. We lost Game 5 going in and refocused and found energy to play a good game. We have to do it at home instead.”

Emphasis on the words “have to.” The options are gone. It’s all the way to the edge now. Take a deep breath. A very deep breath.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

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.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!