MINNEAPOLIS — They were looking toward heaven, not for God, but, under these peculiar circumstances, the next best thing: the instant replay judge. Was it good? Was it no good? Were the Red Wings still alive, still breathing in these crazy playoffs, heading home for Game 7? Or were they still in Game 6, still in overtime, forced to go back out there, dripping sweat, one mistake away from heading home for the summer? They craned their necks. They whispered. Like Moses, they waited for some kind of sign.

“I was sure it was no good,” Paul Ysebaert would later say. “I was out there when Sergei shot it, I had a bird’s-eye view, and I was sure it hit the crossbar and came out. I told everyone on the bench, ‘Unless I’m blind, that puck was not in.’ “

Get the man some glasses. What a game! What a finish! A goal! A goal! Their kingdom for a goal! Here were the Red Wings down to the last gasping seconds of the 1992 season, their best season in years, all those victories, all of the weary days from October to April, the first-place finish, the rave reviews, all that effort now dripping away, dying before their bleary eyes, unless . . . unless they could put that puck in, just once. That would be enough. The score was 0-0. In overtime! They were heaving and charging and swarming the Minnesota net the way red ants swarm a picnic basket, coming from all sides. Shawn Burr tried one from point-blank range. Blocked! Sergei Fedorov took the rebound and swung. Blocked! One goal? Is that too much to ask? The crowd roared in an ocean of noise that rocked the Met Center like sonic waves, rising with every Minnesota rush, pulling back with every missed shot. AHHHHHH! OOOOOOH! AAAAAH! OOOOHHH!

For 75 minutes they played, these two teams, they took 67 shots between them, many close, many from spitting distance, and still no one had scored. Goalies Jon Casey and Tim Cheveldae were waging the ultimate battle of wills, first one to blink loses, first one to lose sight of the puck, or mistime his reaction, fall down a second too early, and that was it. Over. That’s why they call it sudden death, right? One goal, and you’re dead.

Finally, with less than four minutes left in the overtime, here came Fedorov, one more time from center ice, picking up a loose puck, weaving his way in, he pulled back, he shot, the puck flew one way, then came flying back out the other way, and . . .

And . . .

“GOOD!” screamed the Wings.

“NO GOOD! NO GOOD!” countered the North Stars.

Which brings us back to the beginning, with 40 exhausted hockey players looking toward the rafters, trying to steal a sign. Is this any way to end a classic? Across the ice, near the penalty box, Steve Yzerman, the captain, awaited the official word. It was like an eternity. Standing. Waiting.

And finally it came.

They said, in these words: “It was a goal.”

And Yzerman went nuts.

He spinned toward the bench and raised his arms, and the Red Wings leapt over the boards into a mid-ice celebration, even as the angry fans showered the ice with cups. They won? They won!

Sudden life.

“I thought about faking it, you know, going back to the bench shaking my head like we didn’t get it,” Yzerman said, after the Wings’ stunning 1-0 victory. “But I guess I was too excited to hide it.”

Guess so.

Sudden life. A vital step

Put this one on the growth chart. Use a big colorful magic marker. In the process of becoming a championship team, this was like growing your front teeth. Going into the foreign arena, trailing in the series, taking it to overtime and still winning? In a shutout? These are the games you don’t forget. They prove that when you have to get it done, you get it done. The Pistons, in their glory years, knew this better than anyone. It is the mark of a contender. The crest of a champion.

“If we go on to do something special,” Ysebaert said, “it may be this night that got us there.”

You can say that again. These kind of nights define your team, they go on the resume, they hang in the closet. Maybe next week, maybe next month, maybe next year, the Red Wings will use this game again, cash in the memory, draw upon the strength that they found between the nets this night. “Remember that night in Minnesota,” they will begin. “Remember how we did it then?”

And they will do it again.

Sudden life.

“I have to say, from my perspective, this was the best game this group of guys has been involved in,” Yzerman admitted afterward.

“Aw, geez, you’d hated to lose that one, eh?” said Shawn Burr, putting it a little less formally.

But however you say it, you have to give the Wings enormous credit. Even if they had lost this game, it would not have been for lack of effort. Here was effort supreme. Here was Yzerman, taking a smashing blow from Mark Tinordi in the first period, his head crushed against the glass like a grapefruit, leaving him so dizzy that when he tried to get up, he slid back down in a spin, like a punch-drunk fighter on skates. Yet a few moments later, Yzerman was back on the ice, stitches holding his bloody skin together. And in the second period he battled Tinordi again, behind the neck, and dragged him back and forth like a bag of groceries, Tinordi hanging on Yzerman, sticking under his arm, his stomach, but Yzerman refusing to yield the puck, circling out and actually getting off a shot before Tinordi neck-whipped him to the ice.

Effort? Here was Cheveldae, who, in the minds of the public, has been a hero, a goat, trade-bait and a hero again — all in the span of a week — yet he was rock solid out there Tuesday night. He stopped point-blank shots on breakaways by no less than Mike Modano and Dave Gagner. He snapped up a would-be goal by Ulf Dahlen from no more than 10 feet away, gloving the puck like a shortstop. He knocked them away, he smothered them, he took them off his body. He was there. He has now pitched two shutouts in a row. What more can you ask from a man? His soul?

And here, finally, was Fedorov, weaving his way in unassisted, and flicking that puck so hard into the net, that it ricocheted back out. That’s OK. Still counts. And so, for at least one more game, do the Red Wings.

“I thought it was good,” Fedorov said afterward.

“Did you see where it went? Did you have the angle? Did you know where you were shooting it?” came the questions from the reporters.

“I thought it was good,” he repeated.

It was. And so the Red Wings live to fight another day. Make no mistake. This was more than a good hockey game. This was a big test passed. “If we win Game 7, then people will be able to look back at this as a great game,” Cheveldae said. “But if we lose Game 7, it’s just another hockey game that everyone forgets.”

Forgets? Not likely. Not with all those shots and all those saves and all that noise and that weirdest of endings, a whole arena waiting for the man in the booth to give them the thumbs up or the thumbs down. Forget? Who could forget?

“How long could you have kept going out there?” someone asked Burr.

“A game like that?” he said, smiling. “Forever.”

Sudden life. Feels good, huh?

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