Thursday, April 24, 2014

When the Air Left the Building

If #8 Justin Abdelkader had finished here--a breakaway in overtime--we wouldn't even be talking about any of this right now...

Less than 10 minutes before the dropped the puck to start Game 4 here tonight in Detroit, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and I were doing the exact same thing: filling in an incorrect lineup card, one with the wrong number circled next to the name of the starting goaltender.  I had already circled Jimmy Howard's #35 (in pen, of course) when the press box PA man stunned us all by saying, "...And starting in goal, #50 Jonas Gustavsson."

Like a slapshot through a screen, I never saw that one coming.  My immediate reaction was that Babcock was desperate--using a late change in starting goalie to shock his team out the stupor which was the most noticeable aspect of their game here in the 3-0 loss to the Bruins two nights ago.

He wasn't.  After warmup, Babcock was informed by his medical staff that Howard couldn't go.  He was out with the flu. Babcock has already filled out his lineup and the referee had to tell him that he had the wrong goalie listed.  It had to be changed.  So did mine.  As such, because of that late-breaking case of the flu, the Red Wings had to play their most important game of the year without the player who is, by definition their most important player.  (Your goalie is always your most important player is this game, especially in the playoffs).

It turned out not to matter.  It's hard to imagine Howard playing any better than did Gustavsson tonight, which means the result would have been the same no matter who was in net.  The Wings lost Game 4 here to the Boston Bruins 3-2 in overtime and they now trail the Bruins 3 games to 1 and the Bruins can dispatch Detroit Saturday afternoon, end this thing at the TD Bank Garden, or whatever it is that the Bruins home rink is named.

I never cheer; not ever.  Not for the most exciting, dramtic goal or for anything else.  I never say "we" or "us" when referencing a team; any team.  It's the way I was brought up.  Professionally, that is.  You don't cheer in the Press Box.  You don't show favoritism in the Press Box.

But, perhaps due to my upbringing here in the Detroit, perhaps due to how important a part of my life the Detroit Red Wings have been for almost as far back as I can remember (I didn't discover them or the NHL or, for that matter, the game of hockey until I was ten so I have some memories which predate this team and this game) I still get nervous before playoff games.  I hate them, generally.  Tonight, maybe for the first time in my life, I wasn't nervous at all at a playoff game.  The reason was simple, really.  Detroit had no chance. Why be nervous when the result is preordained?

I saw with my own eyes what happped in Game 3: men against boys.  An entire team ragdolled, rolled.  They had no chance to win that game.  Thus, they had no chance to win this one, either.

And then came the Red Wings--dominating Boston in the first period tonight they way they had been dominated by the Bruins the night before last out.  Outshot 11-4 and held without a scoring chance in the first period of Game 3, Detroit turned the tables on the Bruins completely in the first period of this one, outshooting the Bruins 15-5 and outchancing them 9-2.  It was Boston on the run from an overwhelming Detroit attack which featured multiple breakaways in the first few minutes and chance after glorious chance until the horn sounded--mercifully enough for Boston--to end the twenty minutes.  The problem was, Detroit had gotten only one puck past Tukka Rask, a power play slapper from just inside the line by Niklas Kronwall, and led by just that single goal at the intermission.  And, yes, that was good news, very good news for a team which had scored only one goal in their previous six periods, but it wasn't enough.

Pavel Datsyuk scored at 4:27 of the second, becoming the first Wings to score multiple goals in the series (not hard to imagine as it was only Detroit's fourth goal of this series) and, I don't know, I started to let myself think the same thing the 20,000 throaty fans sitting around me were letting themselves think: "Maybe they can pull this thing out.  Wouldn't that be something?  The series would be tied 2-2.  The series would be a best two-of-three..."

But, you know.

At 10:14 (a matter of seconds after me and the 20,000 throaty fans sitting around me had thought: "Halfway home!") Boston got a power play slapper from just inside the line by Torey Krug and it was 2-1.  Their first goal was identical to Detroit's.

As this was happening, the Wings influence over events was inexorably waning.  Slowly but noticeably, the dominant became the dominated.  Now it was the Bruins getting the chances.  And, finally, it was the Bruins tying the score early in the third period when the hated Milan Lucic (hit a guy in the stones with your stick one time and they never let you forget...) the player booed by 20,000 throaty fans here every time he stepped on the ice these past two games, scored at 1:15 and the air left the room.  From then on, it just felt like a matter of time until the moment of doom arrived.

The Wings had chances but in your heart you just somehow knew they weren't going in.  Even Abdelkader's OT breakway (see above).  If only, if only, if only...

And then it ended the way it had to end.  Not on a great play but on a fluke.  (It happens that way so often in overtime).  Dougie Hamilton had it along the right wing half-wall and he tossed it towards the net from 30 feet and it hit Boston's Jerome Iginla and it hit Detroit's Danny Dekeyser and it didn't hit Gustavsson but it did hit the back of the net and the air left the room and the game was over.  And with it, one supposes, the series.  Think Detroit can beat this team three in a row?  Maybe, but you'll have to show me.  

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