ONE WILD WINWINGS STRIKE FOR 3 IN A ROW, LEAD SERIES, 2-0

Somebody get the name of that angel. The one that blew a loose puck away from an open Detroit net, the one that threw a bag full of pixie dust on Steve Yzerman’s uniform, the one that snuck Kris Draper onto the ice and made him turn and fire a goal with 4:36 left in overtime that switched what seemed like a sure Stanley Cup finals defeat into yet another notch on the Red Wings’ amazing victory belt.

Second act. Second effort.

Second win.

“It’s what you dream about as a kid playing rubber-ball hockey,” said Draper, whose goal capped a 5-4 comeback victory to give the Wings a 2-0 lead in the finals. “Clock winding down, you take the shot to win the game. I think my smile tells you how I feel about it.”

Say no more.

Wow! What a night! In a three-hour, 31-minute marathon, under a rain of noise by a near-crazed Joe Louis Arena crowd — and the hopeful gazes of Vladimir Konstantinov and Sergei Mnatsakanov — the Wings proved Thursday that this series might be about fate after all. It would be hard to explain how they came back from 3-1 and 4-2 deficits to win without a little magic mixed in. It might be even harder to explain the normally unflappable Scotty Bowman actually smiling and pumping his fist.

Pumping his fist?

Second act. Second victory.

This was more than a hockey game. It was pandemonium unleashed, three goals in less than 10 minutes by Washington, and three goals in less than nine minutes by Detroit. But mostly, Game 2 was about putting your head down and coming back from long odds, never quitting. It was all about second effort, like Yzerman following up his first shot and scoring on the rebound, like Doug Brown ignoring misses on earlier chances and putting in the game-tying goal with just less than five minutes to go in the third period. Like Draper, who hadn’t scored a goal in these playoffs — which means he hadn’t scored in what, an eternity? — hanging in until his chance came on a perfect crossing pass by Martin Lapointe.

“I think if you threw all the names in a hat,” Draper said, laughing, “mine would have been the last one you pulled out. But I’ll take it.”

It was a night of broken sticks and body slams, a night when the Capitals peppered Chris Osgood with pucks, and a night when Osgood actually threw one back. It was noise and chills and drama and shrieks — a typical overtime NHL playoff game — and although Washington will go home shaking its head, the Wings may be rolling their eyes from now until Saturday. True, they fired 60 shots on Olaf Kolzig. And yes, they came back from weighty deficits.

Then again, none of this morning’s whooping and celebrating would be taking place if Esa Tikkanen hadn’t gone temporarily blind and dizzy late in the game, when he stole an Yzerman pass and faked Osgood into a flop. The net was wide open. The scorer had his finger on the button. It was a chipper, a no-brainer, like letting water go down the tub. A simple flip for a two-goal lead.

Tikkanen missed.

He missed?

“The angels were definitely on our side tonight,” said a grinning Lapointe.

Second act. Second win.

The lucky break

What can you say about these Red Wings? No team in 42 years had come back to win in the finals after trailing by two goals in the third period. This Detroit squad seems to breathe in and out, right before your eyes, absorbing a blow like a cagey old fighter, knowing that nothing counts until the final bell.

So here were the Wings, in the third period, down two goals, and down a player on a Washington power play. The crowd was on the lip of despair, and fans were squirming with the idea that Detroit, for the first time since 1995, would lose a finals game.

And then along came the captain. Yzerman took a breakaway pass and raced down the ice, dangling the puck between sharing and scoring, just long enough to get the lone defenseman to leave an opening. Then Yzerman fired right through Kolzig, a shot hard enough to cut through the back of the net. And suddenly the arena was a revival meeting, people screaming “I believe! I believe!”

They believed. Even when Washington scored on that same power play 28 seconds later, they believed. And when Lapointe took an Igor Larionov feed and spun and hit paydirt, they believed even more.

And when Brown, who has battled back through two shoulder injuries in these playoffs, fired high over Kolzig and saw the red light flash, they believed even more. Brown did a midair dance, pumping his fists as he spun around. There was nothing wrong with his shoulder at that moment.

We, however, did learn after the game that Brown had a broken nose. Isn’t that fitting?

He believed. They believed. The whole building believed. And when Draper fired and Bowman shook his fist, well, wouldn’t you believe , too?

Second act.

The amazing captain

There were many heroes on this night. But a word here about the captain, whose
“C” on his sweater now stands for “clutch” and “character” and maybe even
“cryogenics.” Is he 33 or 21? In Thursday’s marathon, Yzerman seemed to never come off the ice. He was in the corners, digging, he was at center ice, leading a charge, he was behind the net, looking for an angle, he was in front of the net, squirming for position. He was on his back, on his stomach, on his heels, and on his game. Remember when Yzerman used to be the hard-luck guy in the playoffs, always getting hurt at the wrong time, playing with painful handicaps? Now he plays like a teenager, with endless wind and a crater’s worth of resolve.

“I don’t feel more pressure than anyone else on this team,” Yzerman said after Thursday’s game.

But more than any single player, he is responsible for Detroit’s unfailing attitude. Remember that the Wings have a full roster, but they are not at full offensive might. Sergei Fedorov is skating fast, but has just one goal in the last eight games. Brendan Shanahan is playing through enormous pain and is not his sharpshooting self. He doesn’t have a goal since the St. Louis series. Slava Kozlov, normally a big-time goal-scorer, left the game Thursday night with an injured leg.

How much is left? No matter how much mucking and grinding you have, the point of hockey is to put pucks in the net, and Yzerman, once thought to be turning more defensive, has been more involved with offense than anyone, leading the playoffs in points. His two goals Thursday are only an ice tip on a mountain of effort that is inspiring to his teammates and his fans. He digs. He fights. He flips over. He jumps up. Put it this way: If you ran a camera on nothing but Yzerman all night, you’d still be seeing a great game.

So whether it was him or Draper or the defense or the coaching, you’ve got to like where the Wings are right now. And you have to admit, a little dash of destiny doesn’t hurt. The Wings are flying to Washington with a perfect record in their last six finals games. And whether you do or don’t believe in angels, you’d have to feel pretty safe on that team plane right now.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.

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