Sharks 2, Red Wings 1; Western Semifinals, 1-4; season over
|Bob Dylan - Knockin' On Heaven's Door|
|Found at skreemr.com|
We wanted to believe. All of us, to a man/woman. Believe me, even I did. The way the Red Wings dispatched the Sharks in Game 4, it ignited a little bit of hope in all of us. A 7-1 win, Johan Franzen coming alive, that little flicker of hope that exists in all of us, no matter what the circumstance, it burned inside of us for the past two days. We wanted to believe that miracles were possible.
Over the years, opponents have tried every trick in the book to best the Red Wings. They've resorted to thuggery to try and throw the Wings off their game. They've used the dreaded neutral zone trap to try and neutralize Detroit's speed. But in this series, the Red Wings ran into something they didn't expect: a mirror. What the Wings have built a championship foundation on - puck possession, speed through the neutral zone, faceoff circle dominance, devastating special teams - was thrown back in their faces by a Babcock disciple. I don't necessarily think Todd McLellan is a better head coach than Mike Babcock. He's absolutely a better coach than Brad McCrimmon, but this was more a case of the team that yearns to breathe the air at the top of the mountain overcoming the team dizzy from being there already. I understand, the officiating was terrible. Dan O'Halloran reffing a Detroit game is a travesty. Douglas Murray's blindside hit on Franzen was reprehensible; the officials not calling it even worse.
In the end though, the Wings just didn't want it badly enough. They weren't as hungry, weren't as fast, weren't as good. I was as disgusted as all of you were with some of the calls that happened during the series, but in the end, sometimes you just have to overcome. The missed headshot on Franzen, as bad as it was - Rafalski blindly passing behind his back right onto the stick of Joe Thornton, setting up the season-ending goal by Patrick Marleau was worse. Losing a 3-1 lead in the 3rd period of Game 3 when they had to win was worse. Sometimes destiny - we like to call them the Hockey Gods - is not on your side. They were on the Red Wings' side once before, and will be again. It just wasn't our year.
It haunts me, and all of us, really, to think that this could possibly be the end for Tomas Holmstrom and Nicklas Lidstrom. Homer has been with us for so long, and he's taken such an unbelievable beating, I'm surprised he can get out of bed in the morning. I honestly thought he was going to retire after last year, he was dragging so badly at the end. When he's gone, his presence will be missed immeasurably. Franzen, Cleary and Bertuzzi are all the type that can go to the net and disrupt things, and even get a tip in, but I've never seen someone do it as good as Homer does it.
And Nick, well....what can you say? He's one of the greatest to ever play the game. When he retires, his #5 will instantly go out of circulation forever in Detroit; nobody will ever wear it again, and it will ascend to the rafters on Opening Night of the following season. This is a moment we all dread. For essentially 20 years, as the entire roster has changed, as Primeau and Sheppard faltered, and Yzerman and Shanahan bloomed into champions and then faded into the sunset, as Fedorov dazzled us and befuddled us and ultimately betrayed us, as the kids from Europe with the funny names grew up one lonely night in Anaheim, a night that would be a springboard to a championship, and as the others on the blueline shuffled in and out, from Chiasson to Coffey to Konstantinov to Murphy to Fischer to Chelios to Schneider to Rafalski, there has always been one constant - #5, Nicklas Lidstrom, patrolling the backend. He's been the safety net, and even as the media decries about the decline of Lidstrom and the emergence of new blood (Doughty, Keith and LOLMike Green as the Norris finalists), Lidstrom remains the rock we all rely upon to be there when we need it. He's our security blanket, and the day will come when he's no longer there to protect us, and I am epically sad just thinking about it.
Before Game 4, I made a promise to all of you that in the inevitable wake of defeat, I would provide something uplifting and optimistic. Up to this point, this hasn't exactly been happy. So, I'll try to commence with the optimism now:
As the final seconds ticked away in San Jose tonight, the Sharks' bench erupted, and their players spilled over onto the ice to celebrate wildly. A certain amount of celebration always ensues after a series victory, of course, but this was different. The Sharks celebrated, not just because they just got a giant monkey off their backs, but because they beat Detroit. Just as the Lakers hit the road to "BEAT LA" chants, just as the Yankees are universally despised - hatred cannot come without greatness. But even these Red Wings had to learn to become great. They had to learn to fly. Three years ago in the opening round, that process began.
In a familiar position, Game 5 at home on a weekend afternoon in a 2-2 series, the Red Wings began to shed the past. They lost in that same position in 2004 to Calgary and 2006 to Edmonton. And after 23 and a half minutes of scoreless hockey in Game 5 against the Flames in the opening round in 2007, Dan Cleary buried his penalty shot against one of the best goaltenders in the world, sparking a 5-1 humiliation. The next night, in that house of horrors called the Saddledome in Calgary, someone named Franzen provided the next memory.
We didn't know it at the time, but that snipe late in the night in western Canada would be the opening act of a playoff legend for the Red Wings. In the next series, ironically, the Sharks were seconds away from burying the Red Wings. They led two games to one, and led Game 4 2-1 in the final minute, when Robert Lang, of all people, tied it, and Mathieu Schneider won it in overtime, tying a series that the Wings would win going away with shutdown wins in Games 5 and 6.
It was ironic that two men who did not last long enough to partake in the future glory, Lang and Schneider, helped the growth process with their heroics.
That was the second to last game Mathieu Schneider ever played in a Red Wings jersey. He broke his wrist in Game 5, missed the Western Finals against Anaheim, and then signed with the Ducks after the season. In those West Finals against the Ducks, the Red Wings were one minute away from a 3-2 series lead, before the Fluttering Puck of Death off of Scott Niedermayer's stick tied Game 5 with 45 seconds left, setting the stage for Teemu Selanne's overtime goal and a shellshocked Red Wings team getting blown away in Game 6 in Anaheim...until Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg grew up in front of our eyes, combining for four points in the third period, coming up just shy of prolonging the season, but setting the stage for what was to come.
The 2008 postseason began just as 2007's did - a 2-0 start at home, but road losses in Games 3 and 4, setting the stage for another pivotal Game 5 at home. The Predators hung around, and just as the Ducks had done the previous spring, they tied the game at 1 in the final minute, much to our horror.
And then some guy named Franzen was there again, early in overtime, telling us that this was going to be different. Telling us that the past had taught the present Red Wings how to fly.
A couple of weeks later, he would no longer be "some guy" named Franzen. He would be one of the Red Wings' greatest playoff performers after scoring nine goals in a four game sweep of the Avalanche. And then in the West Finals against Dallas, even with Franzen sidelined with a concussion, they staked a 3-0 series lead, one game from returning to the Finals. They made us sweat, losing Games 4 and 5, setting up a nervous Game 6 on the road. And after one period, the nervousness was gone.
Then, after five games against Pittsburgh, two of which were laughers, two of which were nailbiters, and one of which was an epic heartbreak, destiny called. In the most hostile of hostile territory, against a foe that went down swinging to the very last second, the Red Wings claimed what was theirs, what they had worked so hard to obtain. With one final swat by Chris Osgood, the coronation took place.
"And that's it! The Detroit Red Wings...for the fourth time in 11 years, are the Stanley Cup Champions! One last MARVELOUS play!!"
Ever since that warm June night 23 months ago, the weight of the world has been on their shoulders, and it's been evident. I've gone into detail about how they're different, how they've changed. It's natural. It's human nature. Once you reach the top of the mountain, it's almost impossible to show the fire and hunger needed to stay there that you showed on your climb up, especially when trying to fight off those trying to knock you off.
But along the way, they provided us with drama...
...and reminded us just how dominant they can be.
It's been quite the roller coaster over the past four years. We've had the lowest of lows (That Fateful Night in June), and the highest of all the highs in the world, that warm night 23 months ago. That's what makes this all worthwhile. If the Stanley Cup, or really any championship, was easy to win, none of the trials and tribulations we go through as fans would be worth it. Those sleepless nights after something awful like Game 3 in Anaheim last year, that epic nervousness you feel all day in your stomach on the day of a Game 7 against the hated Ducks or against the scrappy Coyotes. The joy that surges through your veins when Darren Helm buries the puck in the net in overtime against Chicago to send the Wings back to the Finals. The awe as you watch Johan Franzen do things the normal man cannot. The adrenaline that prohibits you from normal activity on every breakaway, every power play, every penalty kill. Add it all together, and you get the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We hate them and we love them all at the same time. And that's what makes it beautiful. There is a certain undefinable charm in the chase, just as there is an indescribable nirvana in the victory.
For all of the above, I thank you, Red Wings. See you in October.