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

The first hit that made any noise didn’t come until five minutes in, and two of the loudest cheers came off the scoreboard: One when they ran a replay of Darren McCarty pummeling Claude Lemiuex back in 1997; the other when they showed Al Sobotka taking the octopus he’d been told not to swing on the ice and swinging it in the tunnel instead.

Good for Al. He turned a stupid NHL edict into instant nostalgia. Then again, much of Thursday night had a forced past tense to it, like when an oldies band does its one big hit. We wanted it to be special. We wanted it to be nostalgic – the old Avalanche versus the Red Wings.

But time marches on. Lemiuex retires. Steve Yzerman wears a suit. A team can get fined for slinging fish.

Still, the Red Wings have long been about offensive skill, and scoring four goals in the first 22 minutes was a welcome flashback. On the other hand, almost blowing a 4-1 lead is not.

“You don’t want that to happen,” Nicklas Lidstrom admitted, after Chris Osgood stopped a point-blank shot in the final nine seconds to save a 4-3 victory. Hanging on for dear life is not the way to finish a game you had in your pocket.

“For now,” Mike Babcock admitted, “it’s a good win.”

Something tells me it won’t be an easy practice. Too good looking for violence

Nor will this be a series of nostalgia. Detroit and Colorado have not faced each other in the playoffs since 2002, when the Wings won in seven and took their last Stanley Cup. In those days, as in the ’90s, the Wings-Avs rivalry could have been subtitled “There Will Be Blood.”

Not anymore. Both teams are still fast. Both teams can pass and shoot. But the hate, the glares, the clenched fists, they’re just not there.

“What are the odds of the goalies fighting each other in this series?” I asked Osgood.

“Zero,” he said.


“We’re both too good looking.”

You see? In the old days, you weren’t good looking unless you had stitches. In the old days, French accents were taboo because of Patrick Roy. In the old days, if your kid was named Claude he had to change schools.

Today? “The media brings it up,” said Johan Franzen, who had two goals, “but guys like me” who weren’t there “aren’t too aware of it.”

Or as Lidstrom put it: “You still have the skill players, but you don’t have, uh …”

“The villains?” I suggested.

“Yeah.” Oh, those one-goal games

Which, by the way, does not doom this series to boredom. The Wings’ four goals included some beauties, including a perfectly threaded pass by Pavel Datsyuk to Henrik Zetterberg, and a textbook redirected puck off Franzen’s stick.

But you have the feeling defense will ultimately win this thing. The Wings caught a break with the Colorado roster, including a missing Peter Forsberg. But the Avs are used to one-goal games: They played five of them in their first series. You got the sense Thursday’s game, played in Colorado, might have ended differently.

The Wings need to keep it tight, and Osgood has to play as if his life depends on it – lead or no lead. It was interesting to see him out there, opposite Colorado backup Peter Budaj, while Dominik Hasek and Jose Theodore, two Vezina Award winners, sat on the bench.

It shows you how quickly things can change. The Wings, having escaped Game 1, should remember that in Game 2.

Meanwhile, they draw first blood, even if the odds of blood in the series are like the odds of Lemieux opening a Coney Island on Woodward.

“We don’t have too many enemies yet in this series.” Franzen said.

“How many games does it take to make enemies?” I asked.

“Usually two.”

So there’s hope.


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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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