DENVER — You ain’t going nowhere. The ice has not yet melted. Summer has not yet arrived. From the opening minutes to the closing horn Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center, the message was as clear as a telegram:
Not done. Stop. Not losing. Stop. The Red Wings are not hitting the golf course. Stop. The Avalanche is not dancing into the Stanley Cup finals. Stop. There will be a Game 7 in this series, because one team was not ready to give up on its destiny and one man was more than ready to face his own.
You ain’t going nowhere.
“When this team loses, people say we’re old, and when we win, they say we’re experienced,” said a laughing Darren McCarty, who scored the Wings’ second goal in Detroit’s 2-0 Game 6 thriller that pushes the Western Conference finals to a finale Friday night at Joe Louis Arena. “But the thing is, we are experienced. We’ve been in these situations before. You have to think of it as just one hockey game.
“And then you have to go and win it.”
That they did, for a myriad of reasons, but one that stands a mask above the rest: On a night when the Red Wings needed 37-year-old Dominik Hasek to deliver $8 million worth of goaltending, he did.
He is the reason they are alive today.
“We have no doubts,” captain Steve Yzerman said in the Wings’ upbeat locker room, “about our goaltender. None.”
Hasek was glue and rock and concrete and granite. He has never won a Stanley Cup, but there is a time for history, and there is a time to make some of your own.
So here was Hasek on Wednesday night, pitching his first shutout of the Western Conference finals, turning away all 24 Colorado shots, stopping the deadly Joe Sakic at point-blank range, stopping him again by blocking a flip shot, stopping him again while lying on his stomach.
Here was Hasek smothering a wraparound attempt by Chris Drury. Here was Hasek falling on another Drury shot not two feet from his body.
He stopped the Avs on four power plays, when they had five skaters and the Wings had four. He stopped the Avs when they pulled their goalie, and had six skaters to the Wings’ five. He stopped them from all angles. From all distances.
At one point, when Colorado couldn’t beat Hasek with the puck, it tried to beat him with the rule book. Coach Bob Hartley challenged Hasek’s stick width during a Colorado power play, hoping to gain a 5-on-3 advantage.
Hasek flicked away the challenge the same way he flicked away pucks. His stick was clean. Hartley’s ploy backfired.
“He was trying to get an advantage,” Hasek said. “I wasn’t worried.”
And as the night went on, he seemed to grow in stature. Finally, there was a moment, in the third period, when Hasek blocked a slap shot that flipped over his head and for an instant he couldn’t see it. It was up there somewhere, and likely falling. So he simply spread his arms and legs across the net opening, blocking it with a big, red human X.
X marks the Stop.
You ain’t going nowhere.
A professional performance
Now, we mentioned the Wings needed several things on this night. They needed Hasek to be superhuman. He was. And they needed Patrick Roy to be something less.
They got that too. Not by much. Not for long. But in the first period, after Steve Yzerman fired a close-range shot, Roy stopped it, and was so sure he had it in his glove, he rose up in triumph. Then, like a Little Leaguer who had his eyes closed on the pop-up, he opened his glove and . . . oops, there was nothing there. The puck was sliding behind him, heading for the net.
Brendan Shanahan spotted it, finished it off, and the Wings had two things they have not had in this series. The first goal.
And a crucial Roy mistake.
“You said if you got another great chance, you wouldn’t miss this time,” a TV reporter told Shanahan in the locker room afterward.
“Well, it’s pretty hard to miss from there,” Shanahan said. “I’d have had to hang up my skates if I missed that one.”
So Brendan is on the board. And big deal. People have made too much over “the big guns’ not scoring.” Shanahan’s goal was far less symbolic than Roy’s posture after the red light flashed. Roy dropped his head and buried it in his hands. A small thing, perhaps, but an inspirational one to Detroit fans.
And after that, the Wings were untouchable. For one 20-minute stretch, they outshot the Avalanche, 18-1. Their defense was tight. Their penalty killing was notable. Sergei Fedorov did an excellent job of thankless puck pursuit. Tomas Holmstrom took more front-of-the-net punishment than any man should have to endure.
It was little things. It was big things. It was as efficient and professional a performance as you could hope for from a hockey team.
Then again, the Wings’ average age is, what, 86?
Back to the Joe
So there will be a Game 7. It is fitting. It is right. After all, Wednesday was the six-year anniversary of the night Kris Draper met Claude Lemieux and this whole bloody rivalry began. Anything less than a Game 7 would be . . . unseemly.
But just as the Wings had to fight mental demons Wednesday — to ignore their pending elimination — so, too, must they ignore the notion that they won anything Wednesday night.
“We’re still a desperate hockey team,” Yzerman said. “We have to take this attitude and carry it through the whole game Friday night.”
The fact is, the Wings have simply fought all the way back to Square One. Yes, it was some fight. The Red Wings were trying to climb out of hell, and you don’t do that with baby steps. Everybody charged. Everybody swung. Players fell into other players, tangled sticks with skates, tumbled headfirst and flipped bottoms-up. For much of the night, you couldn’t tell your defensemen from your forwards or even from your goalies. It was one big whirling dervish of a scrum, a rolling ball of helmeted humanity.
And it will have to be the same on Friday.
“The only difference now,” Hasek said before heading to the bus, “is that we both have a 50-50 chance of being eliminated.”
It’s a countdown now, to the best kind of moment in the best kind of series in a winter sport that glows brightest as it approaches summer. Stay indoors. Keep your long sleeves on. You ain’t going nowhere.
And neither are they.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.