by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

He had tried the slapshot. He had tried the rebound. He had tried the quick flick.

So when he came down the ice early in overtime, puck on his stick, crowd on its feet, Johan Franzen, with eight failed shots on the night, made a decision for No. 9.

“I was gonna try,” he said, “and deke him and go backhand.”

“Why that?” he was asked.

“Well, the other shots didn’t seem to work.”

Good point, Johan. And thank goodness this guy isn’t as stubborn as his nickname, Mule, or we might still be at Joe Louis Arena, waiting for a score. Or worse. We’d be shaking our heads this morning wondering why anyone bothers to play the regular season in the NHL.

Honestly, until Franzen’s game-winner, which exhaled Detroit to a 3-2 lead in this first round series, this night, for the Red Wings, was like trying to stuff a fistful of pennies into a piggy bank. You may have riches all over your lap, but you have precious little in the place where you need it.

So it was that Detroit was peppering the Nashville goalie, Dan Ellis, Friday night, peppering him, salting him, raining down red pennies until he might as well have been covered in paprika. But you don’t get points for hitting a goalie’s glove, or his pads, or his stick. Fifty-three times in the first three periods, the Wings fired on Ellis.

Only once did they put the puck past him.

So when Ellis was pulled in the final minute, it was the least his team could do for him. I mean, the man was exhausted! Besides, it gave him a ringside seat to watch his Predators do what the Wings could not – score. A terrible end to regulation

And that fast, the whole thing shifted. Radek Bonk slipped through two Wings – only the two biggest stars on the team, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg – to quick-fire a shot over Chris Osgood and tie the game with 44 seconds to go.

And suddenly, the Wings, who had owned this game in every department, were going to overtime, in danger of having it yanked away like a tablecloth stolen from beneath their Stanley Cup dreams.

What they needed was something unshakable.

What they needed was something stubborn.

Like a … mule?

“If you knew the deke was going to work, why not do that in regulation and save us from overtime?” someone joked with Franzen.

“Ah, it’s always fun to get an overtime goal.”

Maybe for him. But it’s no fun for those of us watching. Only hockey can take something really good – lots of shots – and eventually make you feel like it’s a curse. The burden of being good

“There’s many games here where we outshoot the opponent and we only get one goal,” Franzen said.

True. The Wings are a potent offense. But that pattern is a burden in the playoffs. The Wings have too often seen a ridiculous tilt in the shots-on-goal board, only to see the wrong numbers on the board that counts – the scoreboard.

On Friday, Zetterberg had six shots, Tomas Holmstrom had six shots, Mikael Samuelsson had six shots. Four others had at least three shots. Franzen had nine. At times, the Wings were outshooting Nashville – playing without two star centers – by a 3-1 margin.

And yet they struggled mightily to put any distance between themselves and the No. 8 seed. All of which says they needed to win this game, and they need to do better in the next one. Osgood won his first playoff game as a Wing in seven years – and he had enough time between shots to remember every minute of the last one.

He was pitching a shutout when Bonk, with only Nashville’s 20th shot of the night, ruined regulation and threatened to ruin the night.

“I had to look at the (replay) to see how that shot went in,” Osgood joked.

He can smile now – they all can – because this one turned out OK. But by no means can the Wings relax on this. You can tell yourself you’re the better team all you want. The fact is, the Wings were dangerously close to blowing this series – at home, against a No. 8 seed that was missing several stars. Pennies on your lap don’t count.

“We’re overdue to score some goals,” Ozzie said. “I feel like it’s coming.”

How about Sunday?

Maybe Franzen can shoot through his legs.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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