The Red Wings’ new slogan is “Bring It.”
Who knew they meant Maalox?
You wanted playoff hockey back? It’s back. So is that old indigestion. It took two years for Detroit to see an April octopus. Two years to see a new Karen Newman playoff outfit.
And one night to make the fans sweat all over again.
Double overtime? Nearly four hours of action at the Joe? Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Wings opened a playoff series against a lower seed with way less experience and they dominated them with shots but they couldn’t get the puck to-
OK. But not before saying this. THEY WON! You can lift your head from your hands now. Kirk Maltby, who began the game getting whacked by the Edmonton goalie, who scored the tying goal off his stick just inches from the net, decided maybe it’s safer on the outside. Less than three minutes into the second overtime, he fired a shot from just inside the boards and it did what so many other shots had failed to do on this night – got past Dwayne Roloson for the game-winner.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.
Wings win the opener, 3-2 – a game they could just as easily have lost. You’ve seen this before, folks. More times than you can remember. It’s hockey. It’s the playoffs. And it’s the Western Conference, where, in 2006, there are no gimme teams, no cakewalks. The Wings on Friday night were like the guy with a million bucks in his pocket but no change for the tollbooth. They swarmed the Edmonton end numerous times, putting shot after shot on Roloson, but they couldn’t cash in.
Meanwhile, Edmonton, like a guy who hits on his first lottery ticket, scored two times in its seven shots. Both goals came on power plays. The first Manny Legace might never have stopped. The second, he probably should have.
And just like that, the city was back to its old habit – tying itself in knots, waiting, praying, hoping. The stomachs churned. The fists clenched and unclenched.
Felt good, didn’t it?
A tale of two games
Come on. This is what the postseason is about. You didn’t forget during that one-year layoff, did you? True, for a while Friday, it seemed as if the Wings were trying to make up for the whole missed season in one night. But then, there were two different games played on this night.
The way the Wings started, nine goals seemed possible.
The way they finished, one seemed almost impossible.
Less than five minutes into these playoffs, the Wings were on the board with a picture-perfect score. Brendan Shanahan dug the puck from behind the net, whacked it to Steve Yzerman in front of the net, who redirected it to Robert Lang on the side of the net, who poked it into the net.
Talk about the triangle offense!
“I’d like to get a couple more of those,” Lang said in the first intermission interview.
An hour later, the Wings would have settled for one more of anything. At one point in the second period they had three times the shots of the Oilers and one half of the goals.
And by the time the game ended, they’d fired 57 shots and cashed in on just three. It’s not the way you want to have to win a game. After all, Maltby just five goals all season. The odds of him getting in one night are pretty slim.
But hey. You can talk all you want about new rules and the goosed up offense. The playoffs are – and likely always – will be about goaltenders. And Friday night was no exception.
What we also learned
True, this wasn’t Patrick Roy versus Grant Fuhr. Legace was making just his fifth career playoff start. Roloson was making his 16th. And neither is a kid. Roloson only recently joined the Oilers from Minnesota. And the way he worked Friday night, he should have been paid by two teams. Fifty-seven shots he faced?
Yes. And hats off to his performance. But in the end, Legace won the war if not the battles. He admitted Thursday that he was extraordinarily nervous.
A victory should calm him down.
OK. A few lessons learned from this Game 1.
First, it’s clear, Pavel Datsyuk, the quietest star in Detroit sports – who missed Friday’s game nursing a charley horse – had better be on the ice during these playoffs. The Wings need his flair and scoring. And his running mate, Henrik Zetterberg, has to show that he’s two years more mature than his last playoff go-round. At one point Friday Zetterberg had 33 shifts and just three shots on goal. He simply has to be a force for the Wings to advance.
And yes, it’s clear, Legace is going to have to be better than “regular-season good” if the Wings are going to dip into the clogged offense mode of years past.
But can we remind everyone of what we said at the top?
And in case you forgot, that’s the idea.
And in case you forgot, this is exactly what playoff hockey is like. You sweat. You groan. You swear you’re never going to put yourself through this again.
Go to sleep early tonight.
There’s another game tomorrow.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or email@example.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.