Here came Valtteri Filpulla, flying down the ice, beating his defender, who grabbed at him desperately, as if trying to hug a train. Filpulla broke free, eye on the puck, dove for it, swinging his stick and – shades of Bobby Orr! – he put that black bullet past the Pittsburgh goalie, then he slid on his belly across the ice. It was fast. It was furious. It was even a bit magical.
“Did you sneak a peek at the replay on the scoreboard?” someone asked Filpulla after the 3-0 Game 2 victory.
“I did, I did,” he admitted smiling sheepishly.
Why not? That moment summed up the night and it sums up this championship series, which is now two games done, and has zoomed halfway toward a Cup for Detroit.
Beep, beep. Out of the way.
This is the Motor City, and the Red Wings are playing as if right off the line with the pedal to the metal. They have cruised through two games with barely a blemish, barely a nick, seven goals to the positive, none to the negative. Two shutouts? Really? We know they are supposed to be playing a great team out there. The question is, does Pittsburgh know it?
For the moment, the guys in the yellow and black seem to be playing Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons. Always flattened. Always looking up from the pavement, wondering “What just hit us?” (Or, in Filppula’s case, what just flew past?)
Beep. Beep. Was that just Brad Stuart, firing a slap hot past Marc-Andre Fleury? Brad Stuart? A defenseman whose biggest playoff production before Monday night was the birth of his first baby?
Beep. Beep. Was that Niklas Kronwall lowering his shoulder and upending Jarkko Ruutu halfway into next week?
Beep, beep. Was that Chris Osgood, once again playing the spoiler to the celebrated Pittsburgh offense, stopping all 22 shots, and upping his playoff legend by getting knocked down in the third period by Ryan Malone, drawing a penalty – and STILL stopping a shot? While lying on his side? What’s next? Ozzie stops one while reading a program? Ozzie stops one while eating a Snickers? Ozzie stops one while still dressing in the locker room?
Beep, beep. Out of the way.
“You couldn’t have expected to have back-to-back shutouts,” someone said to coach Mike Babcock after the 3-0 victory at Joe Louis Arena.
“No,” he answered, “but we were hoping to have back-to-back wins.”
A rocky road ahead
Let’s face it. This is a team that is rolling big time. The city is jazzed. The true believers are thinking about a parade.
Which is why I am about to say what I am about to say.
Yes, the Red Wings are doing all they are supposed to do. Yes, they even got Johan Franzen back Monday, and he took a licking and kept on ticking, when he went down in the third period after a nasty hit and still came back out moments later, then went down in a late skirmish and, yes, got up again.
Sure, Ozzie has been amazing – only the fourth goalie in NHL history to start the Stanley Cup finals with two shutouts. “I’m not into stats too much,” Osgood said after someone pointed out his amazing goals-against average in these playoffs. “I’m just into winning.”
Yes, the puck control is in a league of its own. The Wings deny the neutral zone as if locking up a grocery store after midnight. They squeeze the air out of their opponents. And yes, the Wings are getting points from their stars (Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holstrom combined on the second score) as well as the less-likely players.
All good. No argument.
But Pittsburgh has yet to play a game on its home ice in these finals. And the Penguins have not lost there in three months and three days. Three months? That’s right. Forget about the Boston Celtics’ home court thing. Three months? That’s a REAL advantage.
The Pens are perfect in the playoffs on the home ice, and until the Wings snap that, there should be no celebrating, and very little highlight-film watching.
If the Wings go into Pittsburgh Wednesday night and do what they did in Detroit, there’ll be ample time for parade talk.
And it will be well justified.
Back to the applause
OK. So now that the cautious schoolteacher voice has been sounded, let’s return, for the moment, to pay proper homage to what the Wings pulled off Monday. They avoided falling soft to their good reviews after Game 1 – always a danger when you’re at home (just ask the Pistons). In fact, the Wings came out better in this first period than they did in the opening period of Game 1. They led, 2-0, after the first 20 minutes and had the Penguins wondering whether they could apply for equal puck time.
The Wings rendered Pittsburgh’s superstars moot. Sidney Crosby had six shots, more than a quarter of his entire team’s output, but nothing that got through. And Evgeni Malkin continued his drought, no shots on goal – no shots on goal? You half wonder if he’s even out there sometimes. Remember, this was a guy who not too long ago was being hailed as the best player in the playoffs.
“It’s really tough to generate offense against that team,” Penguins coach Michael Therrien admitted.
Uh, yeah. Near the end, they resorted to knocking the goalie down, or trying to take his shoulder off. Didn’t work.
Two in the books. Halfway to a Cup in Detroit. It is no time to get cocky. No time to let up.
Then again, the Penguins may not want to hear what Babcock said when asked to sum up the performance.
“We’re gonna play better,” he declared. “… We’re excited to get on the road.”
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.