When it comes to one funny bounce – and it has.
When it comes to one weird deflection – and it has.
When it comes to one ricochet, one shove, one screen, one stray skate blade, one well-positioned stick, one churning body, one annoying pest in front of the net – and it has.
When it comes to all of this – and with Game 7, it surely has – I’d look to Tomas Holmstrom.
If I could find him.
The problem is, Detroit’s most dependable distraction is suddenly nowhere to be found. How do you misplace a guy like that? It would be like forgetting Dennis The Menace. Like ignoring poison ivy. These are the games when Holmstrom usually shines: late round, tight playoff games, where one goal is everything.
But Holmstrom has no goals or assists in this series so far. Zero. Nothing. And even worse, lately, he hasn’t made much of an impression. That’s like saying a bee doesn’t buzz. On Tuesday night in Anaheim, in a game that could have put the Red Wings in the Western Conference finals, Holmstrom played just 12 minutes and 34 seconds. That’s a fifth of the game. That’s his lowest contribution of these playoffs. In hockey as well as literary terms, Holmstrom is getting the short shift.
And that worries me.
Because nobody has been better in playoff runs at mucking around the net, distracting the goaltender, drawing in defensemen, using a leg, skate, stick, arm, shoulder, helmet – heck, his nose if that’s what it takes – to knock in a winning goal.
Homer. Come home.
These Ducks won’t fly away
On Tuesday night, Holmstrom had just one shot, in the first period. No assists. No highlight footage. The only thing I really remember is him getting spun around and pounced on by a Ducks player. Heck, he didn’t even have a penalty!
Holmstrom’s plight is much like his team’s. You are surprised to learn that he has been this ineffective, just as you are surprised to wake up and find that the Wings could be eliminated tonight at Joe Louis Arena. It doesn’t feel warranted, does it?
The Wings blew through the first round with a sweep of Columbus, and they began this series with a victory against Anaheim. Then, with 6-3 and 4-1 victories in Games 4 and 5, they seemingly were heading strong to the conference finals. Everyone was talking about how the Wings had worn down the Ducks, how Ryan Getzlaf’s line was out of gas, how Jonas Hiller had been mortalized.
But Tuesday night, Getzlaf came alive as if he went to Lourdes on his off day, and Hiller either makes it look too easy or the Wings are shooting right at him, but he stopped almost everything.
And, suddenly, it’s down to one night where the strange, unlucky, odd, bouncing, rolling, tipping, deflected puck could end a season.
There is still a portion of Wings Nation that seems unconcerned, convinced that Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals is an inevitability.
A time to step it up
Just ask No. 1 seed San Jose. Or No. 3 Vancouver. They’re both done for the year. Ask Boston, the East’s No. 1 seed, which is down to a Game 7 with Carolina. These are not moments to be resting on your laurels.
Or disappearing. The Wings have had strange patterns this series. Pavel Datsyuk, arguably the NHL’s best player, has been blanked, no goals. Henrik Zetterberg, the star of last year’s playoffs, has some stats, but he has not been a force. Marian Hossa, who was brought in to shine during the playoffs, had one productive game and has otherwise been dry.
The answer to pretty much everything has been Johan Franzen. Need a goal? Look to Franzen. Need a big play? Look to Franzen. But one guy can’t carry a team. The Wings have long understood the playoff need to create traffic around the net, to not rely on fancy skating or deke moves, but rather a puck off a leg, a stick handle or a skate blade. And to draw penalties. And to annoy defensemen.
And to unnerve goalies.
If that sounds a lot like Tomas Holmstrom’s job, that’s because it is. And I’d feel a lot more confident tonight if he did it the way he used to.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or email@example.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).