Just before the national anthem Wednesday night, it was announced that Pavel Datsyuk had recently reached the 600-assist milestone with the Red Wings. He was called out on the ice for a presentation. Then, as the 37-year-old skated back to the bench, anxious fans broke into a cheer:
“One more year! … One more year!”
They could have been yelling at the team.
So much was dangling at Joe Louis Arena on this night — the Wings’ playoff chances, Datsyuk’s NHL tenure, a postseason streak that defies belief — that the banners in the rafters seemed almost redundant.
It was the start of a 24-hour run that would determine the Wings’ season. Win both games — against Philadelphia and Boston — and they were in, their franchise playoff run would reach an incredible quarter of a century, and a lot of folks in the Wings organization would take a breath.
Lose and …? Well. Hard to say. It’s been so long around here since there wasn’t a postseason, who can remember the consequences? The Wings haven’t missed the playoffs since Bernie Federko and Mike O’Connell were on the team, since Jacques Demers was butchering the English language in their locker room, since Ronald Reagan was handing the reigns to George Bush — the older one.
Demers, the coach, lost his job the last time the Wings stayed home after a regular season. That won’t happen no matter what this time. (Jeff Blashill is in his first year leading this group.) But a certain luster would rub off the Wings’ legacy.
And while some might argue that missing the playoffs would force the Wings to confront critical questions about their future, is there any reason they can’t do that AND make the playoffs?
A great night at the Joe
That was certainly the attitude coming in Wednesday night. And with Joe Louis intensity somewhere between regular and postseason — a lone octopus; a huge roar — they got off with a jump and took early control.
Remember, the Wings hadn’t beaten the Flyers in two tries this year, and the last time they met, Detroit surrendered 23 shots and two goals in the first period!
Not this time. Less than eight minutes into the game, aided by an errant Flyers pass after Brad Richards locked up his man, Darren Helm flipped a loose puck over Philly goalie Steve Mason and the Wings were ahead, 1-0.
A period later, blazing rookie Andreas Athanasiou grabbed a fortunate bounce off a Philly misplay and took off during a Flyers’ power play. Nobody was catching this kid. He flew toward the net and juked a cute, fake-the-backhand-go-to-forehand move that left Mason on his butt and the puck in the net.
A 2-0 edge, with both goals unassisted, one short-handed, may not have been the team stats Blashill was aiming for, but a lead is a lead. Besides, the Wings were churning effort, on offense and, if not always on defense, at least in killing penalties. Luke Glendening put on a checking clinic against the boards at one point, going after three separate players to wring seconds off the clock. He earned a huge ovation.
And when the final horn sounded, after a Kyle Quincey empty-netter, so had the Wings.
Detroit 3, Philadelphia 0.
Jimmy Howard made 30 saves.
One down. One to go. A postseason looming.
Team really could make a run
And let’s be honest. Even those oddly hoping to teach the Wings a lesson about complacency and older rosters should be rooting for a win in Boston tonight. Hockey is predictably unpredictable, and Detroit fans remember low seeds upsetting the favored Wings in years past, Why not the reverse?
One scenario would have Detroit opening against Tampa Bay, a team molded by Steve Yzerman but suddenly without its star player, Steven Stamkos. Come on. That’s not intriguing? That’s not worth pulling for?
Of course it is. The second half of Detroit’s daily double will be the harder one to win, tonight, on the road, against the Bruins, who have won two of three against the Wings this season.
On the other hand, if Detroit gets the W, it says an awful lot about their determination when faced with elimination. And that’s as important in the playoffs as a beard.
Besides, no one wants to wonder if we’ve just seen the last Wings game of the year, or the final performance of the Magic Man in Detroit, or the end of a 24-season playoff string. Who wouldn’t yell “One more year?”
To paraphrase Shakespeare, if playoffs be the food of love, play on. It’s way too cold for baseball anyhow.