DALLAS — First, he shoved the Stars’ best player, Mike Modano, and knocked him to the ice like a bully flooring a schoolkid. Then he flipped another Dallas star, Pat Verbeek, stripping his helmet as he was sent sprawling. The ref blew the whistle and pointed — you, mister, I mean you — and the Detroit Bad Boy snarled and shook his head.
And this is our goalie.
It was that kind of night here in the Lone Star State, where there must be something in the smoke that’s coming from those Mexican fires. Something evil this way comes. Or, maybe more accurately, something weird. We had goalies playing sumo wrestlers, and tough guys taking fists to the face without retaliation. We had shooters missing shots and non-scorers scoring goals.
We had a game that went against type, and in the end proved what I’ve been saying year after year: You can’t sum up a series based on the first game.
“That’s a pretty good hockey team over there,” right wing Darren McCarty admitted, after the Stars evened the Western Conference finals at one game apiece with a grinding 3-1 victory. “It was a physical game, for sure. But you do what you have to do to win. Sometimes, there are liberties taken.”
Liberties? If the elbows, fists and sticks that flew Tuesday night were liberties, then “give me liberty or give me death” might be a toss-up.
Then again, it was that kind of game. Experts thought they had this series wrapped after the Red Wings’ opening victory, where Detroit played good defense, just enough offense, and won convincingly.
“AH HA!” the impatient declared, “we have our pattern!”
But Tuesday was a different night. Different in attitude, different in result. Here was Dallas, being told its offense would come from Modano or nobody. Uh-huh. Meet Nobody No. 1, Bob Bassen, a grinding center who hadn’t scored a playoff goal this year, and Nobody No. 2, Greg Adams, an oft-injured forward who, based on his stats, wasn’t due for another playoff goal for another three summers. And each of them put a puck past Chris Osgood.
But then, Osgood — or is it The Incredible Hulk? — was busy going against type himself. He was a one-man highlight film — if you’re filming for the World Wrestling Federation. Down goes Modano. Down goes Verbeek. Me, goalie. You, Jane.
This of course, was exceeded only by his netminding counterpart, Eddie (The Egg Slicer) Belfour, who could be seen — depending on when you looked over — exchanging punches with Brendan Shanahan or chopping his stick onto the head of a downed Martin Lapointe.
Whatever happened to stopping the puck and sipping from a water bottle?
Dallas gets desperate
Well, what happened was this: Things got desperate for Dallas. And physical. Very physical. In previous games, when opposing teams are foolish enough to go to the penalty box, the Wings eventually make them pay. Not Tuesday. Detroit’s on-again, off-again power play was off again, and by the end was painful to watch. With the slushy ice, the warm arena and the fatigue of this physical contest, just setting up the power play seemed more than the Wings were capable of doing. Cross-ice passes were stolen, rebounds were misplayed, the dead-bounce walls of Reunion Arena wreaked havoc with the flow. In general, the Wings had about as much rhythm as Don Knotts at a rap party.
“In a close series like this, a power-play goal can make the difference,” captain Steve Yzerman said in the locker room afterward. “We have to find a way to make it work.”
The Wings were 0-for-6 with the man advantage Tuesday. It’s funny. Between playing at home and going on the power play, the things that are supposed to help the Red Wings are almost no help at all.
And here’s another oddity. Detroit’s only goal came from Slava Kozlov. When Dallas didn’t get a point from Modano on Sunday, all the critics could say was how the Dallas offense was cold. Nobody said anything about Yzerman, Shanahan or Nick Lidstrom being shut out.
But that’s the pattern that Game 2 continued. And maybe people will be talking about that now.
As soon as they stop talking about the rough stuff.
Dallas gets even
Let’s face it. The highlight film from this game would play like one of those Batman TV series fights. “BOINK!” “ZZZAP!” “KAPOW!” This was Sergei Fedorov being sandwiched by Verbeek and Jamie Langenbrunner, and knocked to his butt. This was Yzerman getting blindside-whacked by Derian Hatcher, being knocked to his knees. This was Lapointe getting stuck in the face by one Dallas player and whacked like pizza dough by Belfour. This was Kirk Maltby, one of the toughest guys on the Wings, taking a punch to the face and a strangle to the throat in drawing a penalty on Craig Ludwig.
Again, all of this would have been fine if the Wings used the aggressiveness of the Stars against them. But in missing that chance — what with Belfour stopping 27 of the Wings’ 28 shots — they only gave the Stars new life.
If nothing else, this should teach us not to overanalyze any series based on the opener. People were sure they had the pattern of this series after Sunday
— Dallas, no offense; Wings, too experienced — but if Sunday gave you the Wings that people talk about, then Tuesday gave you the Stars that people talk about.
And now that we have all been properly introduced, we can get on with the series, minus the genius analysis that comes out of one game.
“I look at the positive,” McCarty said. “We came down here and got one.” And the Stars look at their positive; they head north tied. Face it. All we know for sure is that the teams will play Game 3, Friday night, in Detroit. The ice temperatures will be cooler. We’ll have to see about the tempers.
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