DALLAS — They were 85 seconds away from the big room, the bright lights, the top floor of the highest skyscraper, the Stanley Cup finals — and then a Big Dallas Taxi splashed dirty water all over their skates.
Coming home. There will be a Game 6 in these Western Conference finals, because the Stars never gave up, and because Detroit could not ride Lady Luck forever. Already — more than a few times — the Red Wings had been saved by the brilliant play of goalie Chris Osgood, or the fortunate flick of a defenseman’s stick, or the misfire of a Dallas shot that might otherwise have drawn blood. Not all of this is luck of course. But some of it is. No big deal. All teams need a little. Most get some eventually. But the Stars were just about convinced that they had forgotten to send in their destiny dues.
That is until Guy Carbonneau — who I believe is 102 years old — fired a youthfully hopeful shot from the left of the Wings net with 85 seconds left in the Dallas season. It was not what you’d call a high percentage shot. It was not what you’d call a likely shot. But it hit Nick Lidstrom’s stick, which launched it on an unstoppable angle. It clanged over Osgood and tied the score at 2.
And so much for a quick flight home.
The Dallas fans were re-energized. The arena began to thump. And more importantly, Lady Luck had found a new boyfriend. Less than a minute into overtime, Jamie Langenbrunner, who had not scored a goal all playoffs, fired a long, long shot that Chris Osgood would stop 99 out of 100 times.
This was time No. 100.
“We’re stickin’ around!” read a sign that a fan waved seconds after it ended.
And the Wings are coming home.
“They tied it up, they took a shot, and they won it,” said a shrugging Steve Yzerman, putting a captain-like spin on the 3-2 defeat.
“Are you worried about bouncing back for Game 6 on Friday?” someone asked him.
“I don’t see it as bouncing back,” he said. “I see it as moving on.”
Wise. Very wise.
Eighty-five bleeping seconds!
An amazing first period
“I was definitely surprised,” said Langenbrunner, in the understatement of the season. “It’s been a long time for me. Whenever you make a shot like that, you’re surprised.”
Tell us about it. Surprised, for Detroit faithful, is too weak a word. Perhaps the Wings never lost their concentration, but the fans were already scouting Washington and Buffalo, and figuring who they knew who might be able to get them Stanley Cup finals tickets.
Not that you could blame them. Even though the Wings were clinging to a one-goal lead for what seemed like eternity, it felt like a night of Detroit destiny. If the first period was any indication, fate was certainly wearing red. Dallas was everywhere, blocking shots, stealing passes, putting the puck into Osgood’s pads, chest, shoulder. The Red Wings were badly outhustled, yet with less than a minute to play, Craig Ludwig yanked Martin Lapointe to the ice in an unusual fashion — by his neck. A whistle blew. A power play was on. Moments later, Larry Murphy’s wobbly shot was redirected by Tomas Holmstrom, it trickled over Ed Belfour, and the two teams skated off the ice tied, 1-1.
A tie? This, despite the Stars’ more than doubling the Wings’ shots in the period, and more than doubling their hustle? A tie?
Yep. That kind of night. And then, in the second period, Igor Larionov got crashed against the boards, fell to the ice, got up dizzy, missed his chance to change shifts, and started down the ice instead. He looked like a man who missed a bus. Next thing he knew, Lidstrom was firing him a pass, and — with little else to do — Larionov fired a long shot from the left of the net. Lo and behold, it went right past Belfour.
At that point, even Joseph McCarthy would have put his money on red.
But that’s why they play 60 minutes, not 58. The Stars deserved a victory. They won more face-offs. They had more shots. They never gave up.
“Our persistence paid off,” said coach Ken Hitchcock.
Do these guys always give such obvious quotes?
Just forget about it
Now, remember that the buildup to this game was filled with accusations by the Stars, who seemed to feel that fate was treating them like a dog who just soiled the carpet.
“(The Wings) know the deal,” sniped Benoit Hogue of the Wings’ 3-1 lead going into Wednesday. “They know they’ve been floating on their luck.”
Well, given the slushy ice down here, the Wing were floating on something, but I think it was the playing surface.
In either case, the luck has turned — in a big way. And the question, of course, is what this does to the Wings. They will never admit it, but they no doubt were thinking this series was over. Wouldn’t you? With less than two minutes to go and a whole night in which you’d dodged bullets?
Now they have less than 48 hours to rethink all that. And to forget about it. The best thing the Wings can do is act as if they lost this game, 4-0. Because if they start reviewing how close they were to the finals, they’ll drive themselves crazy.
They’ll see a wide-open chance by Brendan Shanahan, that he put right into Belfour.
They’ll see good openings for Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov — shots that just missed connecting.
And they’ll see that final shot by Langenbrunner, which reversed a trend they had come to like very much: Osgood playing out of his head.
Until that final goal, Osgood was the story of this game. He was about to lead this team onto the big stage, the way he leads them out onto the ice every night. The doubters would have to clear a path, because his hot play was what kept the Wings alive all night Wednesday.
Now, one slip at the end, and hot play becomes the cold shoulder.
“Don’t underestimate Ozzie’s toughness,” Yzerman warned. “I’m not worried about him at all.”
“We lose as a team,” added coach Scotty Bowman, reverting to the proper defense for his goalie.
Good enough for me. Which is why I say this: Forget about the 85 seconds, forget about Langenbrunner’s shot. Act as if it were the most normal of losses, no big deal, inevitable against a very good team that could not be held down forever.
And then just hope that Dallas doesn’t spend the next day inhaling the fumes of its miracle. You don’t want to mess with a destiny like that.
To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.