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

Niklas Kronwall came plowing into his Dallas opponent like a football linebacker running to make a bus. Shoulder in. Opponent goes up. Opponent crashes. Kronwall skates away.

What rust?

If the Red Wings brought any creaking into these Western Conference finals, it must have scraped off during warm-ups and been sprinkled over the Dallas net. Rust? Detroit’s skaters jumped as if just unwrapped from the box, fresh batteries included. They looked shiny and new and fast. They took the puck and kept the puck and checked and blocked and scored four times on the supposedly impenetrable Marty Turco, three on power plays in the first 27 minutes.

“A good start,” Johan Franzen said.

“Rust is a myth,” Chris Osgood said.

The Wings did their part.

Now what about us? Plenty of empty red seats

Before I spend one more word on how good our hockey team played Thursday night, I have to say how bad it looked to see so many empty seats at Joe Louis Arena. Cheaper seats. Expensive seats. Empty clusters. Half-empty rows.

Hey, this ain’t Nashville, folks.

This is Detroit, Hockeytown, where every seat should be filled, because these are the conference finals, the bridge to the championship, against Dallas, a team that hasn’t been here for the playoffs in 10 years. That last time was a war that ultimately led to a Detroit Stanley Cup.

Remember the Cup? We loved that thing. We felt like we earned it – every step. So what’s the problem now? I know the economy is bad. I’m not telling people to hock the jewelry or find a job.

But we’re not talking 100,000 spots here, either. There are enough fans and money in our area to fill those absent clusters. Hey, if we can fill Lions seats, we can fill Red Wings seats.

And, by the way, you can’t blame the team. I know that hockey isn’t as sexy as it used to be around here, the Hall of Fame roster has changed, the Canadian darlings are gone, the interviews are less exciting and more, well, Swedish.

But this is great hockey being played here, folks, and that’s all we can ask. Ever since Game 5 against Nashville, the Wings have been hopping, hitting and hat-tricking. They haven’t lost in three weeks. Three weeks? They look tight and enthused. They’ve gotten production from their stars and their supporting cast. They’re protecting the puck and they’re getting an enormous boost from Osgood, the goalie.

I mentioned that they haven’t lost in three weeks, right? That incredible streak

If you skipped the game Thursday, here’s what you missed:

Opportunities? The Wings got a 5-on-3 chance less than five minutes in. Nine seconds later, they scored – a beautiful ricochet slapper by Brian Rafalski.

Physical? Kronwall body-checked Antti Miettinen so high they’re respelling his name “Auntie.”

History? How about Franzen, redirecting a puck for his 12th playoff goal and his fifth straight playoff game with a score – tying a record held by, ahem, Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay.

Bet you’d pay to see those guys.

“It’s comparable to some of the great teams (we’ve had),” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said when asked to evaluate the seven-game winning streak. And if Nick says it’s special, it’s special.

So why not see it? Yes, the Wings have tested patience with previous early exits, but this is no longer early and they don’t look like they’re exiting. Miss these games, and you‘re missing a chance to say you were there, perhaps, for something rare.

OK. End of lecture. I don’t know if those tickets weren’t sold (bad) or just not used (worse). I only know that if the Wings win seven more games, if they capture the Cup, if they keep up this excellence and they do it with this many empty seats, we don’t deserve the name Hockeytown. And it’ll be our loss.


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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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