Night after night, if you watch the NHL playoffs, you’ll notice a pattern. It’s Joe Sakic making a lightning-quick goal for Colorado. It’s Wayne Gretzky scoring three in one game for the Rangers. It’s Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemiuex breaking away to put it in the net and keep his Penguins from elimination. It’s big players doing big things, stepping up to grab the ring of greatness that separates them from the pack.
It is everything the Wings have been missing.
Until Friday night.
“Starting with me . . .” Steve Yzerman told his team after the Game 4 loss, then proceeded to insist that Detroit’s big- time players had better play big-time, or this season was history. Sleepy time was over. Stand up or get lost.
It wasn’t a long speech. It never is with Yzerman. But it hit home. And it came to roost.
Starting with him.
From Yzerman’s most unlikely opening goal — a 95-foot slap shot that, had it been any farther out, would have required overnight delivery service — to Brendan Shanahan’s chip shot, Slava Kozlov’s bullet and Darren McCarty’s ricochet rip, the Wings’ big guns stepped up to the firing line Friday night.
And when it was over, four of the Wings’ top five goal- scorers had done exactly that, scored goals, and all six of their top six assist men had done exactly that, made assists.
“Someone wrote on the blackboard today, ‘A battleship is safe in the harbor, but it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do,’ ” said Igor Larionov, after the 5-2 Game 5 victory, in which the Wings scored as many goals as they had in the four games prior. “I don’t know who wrote it, maybe one of the coaches. But we all knew what it meant.”
Here is what it meant.
An all-out offensive assault
“What Stevie said was right,” Shanahan said in the locker room after the victory. “Tonight, we all wanted to concentrate on delivering the goods.”
Why not? Hey. This is who the Wings are. They score goals. They had more goals than every team in their conference except Colorado and Vancouver. They should be torching the red light. It’s the fighting that’s supposed to stop in the playoffs, not the scoring.
Too often in recent playoff games, the Wings seemed to play as if they lost their sense of direction. They played — as Shanahan put it — “waiting to see what St. Louis would do.”
Forget that. Friday night, the Wings came out with their eyes on the prize. Which in hockey is the net.
They threw everything they could at Grant Fuhr — and they threw it from just about anywhere. Corners. Blue line. Center ice. Wherever. Then they rushed in after it, following their shots, going for the rebounds. Never mind trying to blast the door down; bust it one hinge at a time. This is so sound a philosophy against a guy like Fuhr, you have to wonder where it was before this.
The Wings kept storming the castle. At different points they outshot the Blues, 15-5 and 20-8 and 32-18.
“We’d had plenty of shots before,” coach Scotty Bowman said. “Tonight, they went in.”
This was good medicine — not just for beleaguered fans, but for the team itself. And, even better, it came from many places.
It was Yzerman, not only opening the scoring with a feel- good long bomb, but also assisting on one goal, and drawing penalties that led to power plays and another Wings score.
It was Kozlov, who hadn’t posted a goal all postseason, taking a sweet feed from the always-thinking Larionov and firing a high bullet that went off Fuhr’s body into the net.
It was Shanahan, shaking loose the playoff cobwebs, taking a pass inside and backhanding the puck under Fuhr. From that moment on, he looked 10 pounds lighter, he was flying, playing tough defense. He played like, well, he played like the star he was before the playoffs began.
And it was the checking line — Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper, McCarty once again — grinding like a drill.
“There is no sense,” said Larionov, who speaks more like a poet than any hockey player I’ve ever met, “in leaving your weapons in the locker room.”
Sunday’s game looms large
Now, OK. Friday night makes Wings fans feel good. But let’s make no mistake here. Friday cannot be the exception. It has to be the rule. You don’t disappear for two games, then play hard one night and consider it a good playoff series.
Uh-uh. This is every-night drama, requiring every-night heroes. If Yzerman, Shanahan and Kozlov go dry Sunday, they’ll have proven nothing except that they are capable of having a good night.
We already know they are capable of good nights. The playoffs are about good weeks. Good months. They are about momentum, getting into a groove, an accelerated heartbeat that pounds faster as the rounds go on, never slowing, never stopping for a rest — not until the deed is done.
You can’t do that if you’re rising and falling every other night.
“So far it seems that no game has carried over to the next,” Shanahan said.
“We can’t just go out there Sunday and throw our sticks on the ice and expect to win.”
No. They’re going to have to find whatever they had Friday night all over again. It may have been inspired by words from the captain, but it only will be maintained by something louder and stronger, something that comes from within. The players know what I’m talking about.
And stay up.