WINGS FANS GOTTA LOVE IT– AT LEAST FOR ONE NIGHT

Here in Detroit, where the ice doesn’t melt and the transformers don’t explode, we like our cars homemade, and our hockey players imported. Especially the ones whose names end with “ov” and who skate with the red-and-white sweaters down at Joe Louis Arena.

In case you’re confused, Colorado, they’re the ones you’re seeing in your bad dreams this morning.

How about thatov?

The Red Wings got only two goals out of Monday night, and both came off wonderful individual efforts by fast skaters and quick shooters who play in the rock group we call The Russian Five.

The first came from Sergei Fedorov, who has so much raw talent you want to cry sometimes — especially on the nights when he doesn’t use it. But Monday was no such night. Fedorov came flying out of the starting gate, and less than two minutes into the game, he pulled a move that was reminiscent of Nate
(Tiny) Archibaldov, the famous Russian point guard. He flew down the wing, pulled up — I think fans in the third row were showered with ice shavings from his turn — then spun backward and fired a backhand pass to Slava Kozlov, who put it past Patrick Roy for a 1-0 lead.

The second magnificent effort came from Kozlov himself — who sat for much of the game because of his teammates’ penalties. But here he was, well-rested in the third period, with the score tied and the Wings desperately looking for inspiration. They got it when Kozlov moved toward the net, pulled up, then lifted a shot so hard it blew past Roy and ricocheted off an inside metal post. So speedy was the knockout blow, the referees needed to review it, just to make sure it wasn’t an optical illusion.

“I heard the ping,” said forward Doug Brown, who assisted on the play. “I told Kozzie it was good. And I wouldn’t lie. It would set a bad example for my kids.”

Kozlov took the performance in stride. “Two times I shoot the puck,” he said, “and I score two goals.”

Actually, he shot it three times. But who are we to correct his math? Besides, with Monday’s two scores, Kozlov now leads the Wings with seven goals in this year’s playoffs. He tends to make big shots when they’re most needed, which goes against his locker-room personality, which is quiet and reserved.

“What does he say when he scores?” Brown was asked.

He laughed. “He says, ‘Hi-de-ho, boys.’ “

What do you know? A Russian cowboy.

‘Twas Vernie’s night, too

Now, by no means was this Game 3 victory strictly a Russian blitz. The Wings would not have won without their goaltending. In fact, they might have lost it, 10-2. After Kozlov’s early goal, the Wings had three penalties in a row, leaving themselves shorthanded for six of eight straight minutes.

It was a perfect opportunity for Colorado to splash back in — except for the stocky redhead in the net. Mike Vernon — or is it Vernonov? — stopped 27 of 28 shots. He was as limber as a snake, as thick as a wall, as impenetrable as a bomb shelter.

And he no doubt felt like a bomb shelter, what with all the explosions going on around him.

From the moment Martin Lapointe skated off to serve the first penalty, the Avs changed. They had been semi-dormant, back on their heels. Now they were rats near an open refrigerator.

They nibbled at Vernon’s padding, peppering him with shot after shot. Vernon came from behind to knock away an Adam Deadmarsh poke. He blocked a hard slap shot by Claude Lemieux. Meanwhile, no sooner was Lapointe out of the penalty box, then he went back in. And when he came out, Darren McCarty went in. Vernon kept shrugging it off, and kept whacking away these Colorado missiles, as if hockey were supposed to be played one man down.

So when Valeri Kamensky slapped a corner shot so true that he raised his arms in celebration, Vernon was busy pushing it away. When Joe Sakic launched one of his patented wrist shots — which could slice cheese — Vernon was busy catching it. And when Rene Corbet came in like a dive bomber and fired a shot, Vernon was busy kicking it away with his left skate.

“This was Mike Vernon’s win,” McCarty said.

Said Vernon: “I’m basically trying to hold up my end of the bargain. Tonight was just seeing the puck.”

Yeah, like every five seconds.

It isn’t over till it’s over

Now, for all the exultation of a 2-1 conference finals lead, for all the children learning to speak Russian this morning, this is the most important thing I’m going to write today: Stop trying to analyze this series after every game.

That goes for sports talk stations, for newspapers, for the water cooler, for every place where people feel compelled to shoot all the way to the top or sink all the way to the bottom after every game.

These are two great teams. And if you doubted that about Colorado, you weren’t watching its second period Monday night. It looked like the Avs were using jets and the Wings were using paper airplanes.

The fact is, a series is about adjustments. What one team does in one game, the other tries to take away in the next. What one team claims as its emotional motive belongs to the next team the next night.

“They’re still the Stanley Cup champions,” McCarty cautioned.

And he’s right. There is only one time for analysis of this series: the morning after it ends. Meanwhile, until they meet again Thursday night, you can take with you the sweet sounds of Game 3’s hockey ballet, the whack of a goaltender’s stick, and the icy whoosh of Moscow on the Michigan. Is this series a blastov, or what?

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