Playoff hockey taketh away/The Red Line
Ever been in those moments where thoughts and emotions pull in opposite directions with equal strength and you don’t know what to think?
Playoff hockey giveth, and playoff hockey taketh away; blessed be playoff hockey.
There really isn’t a situation in which blowing a three-games-to-one lead in a playoff series is acceptable. And yet, a Detroit Red Wings team I’d basically been complaining about since the NHL lockout ended in January pushed the top seed in the Western Conference to a sudden death situation in Game 7.
Technically, that’s good, right?
I think Vince Lombardi said “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser,” but Detroit was at least good for a while, even if it was a loser in the end. My expectations of this series against Chicago were remarkably low. After all, people had been picking Detroit to beat Anaheim all over the place, but after the way the Blackhawks picked apart Minnesota, there was very little money on the Red Wings going into the series.
Mike Babcock, the writer, not the coach, tends to be my sounding board on hockey-related gripes, and it had become a running joke after every game of the series that no matter what the outcome, I’d declare the Wings doomed.
Whenever I hear a Tigers fan gripe about Alex Avila or the bullpen on a first-place team, I wonder where it came from and I remember Wings fans have been tough on goalies since Bob Essensa and Tim Cheveldae.
Defensemen have rarely been more innocent. The very night the Wings won the 2007 Stanley Cup, I wrote a column about how, even though I was very happy to see them win, I still thought Andreas Lilja was incompetent.
This year’s victim was Brendan Smith. Of course, he was the poster child of the Game 6 disaster in Detroit that brought us to Wednesday’s melodrama, and the fans of the other 29 teams in the NHL would probably want a first-round draft pick and Hobey Baker Award finalist (at Wisconsin), but being a hockey fan is not a rational pursuit.
When they’re not trashing their own goaltenders and defensemen, Wings fans have an abnormal tendency toward conspiracy theories, and the penalty shot in the third period of Game 6 was more than enough evidence to stoke one.
I still don’t think Carlo Colaiacovo’s slash caused Michael Frolik to lose the puck, but looking back, the play met all of the conditions necessary to trigger a penalty shot. Frolik was in the attacking zone, fully in the clear, was fouled from behind and possessed the puck with an opportunity to score. Whether or not Colaiacovo’s slash actually did anything is impossible to tell at game speed, and may not matter anyway.
Besides, anyone who’d watched the first 10 minutes of the period knew the Wings had ceased to defend the front of the net and were doomed anyway.
Here I go again.
Detroit was vastly outplayed through two periods Wednesday night, to the point where I wasn’t quite sure how it was still 1-0. But after a quick goal to start the third and a shocking surge in energy and tactics, the Wings looked the better team.
Of course, Chicago’s Niklas Hjalmarsson had a goal waved off inside the last two minutes for a whistle behind the play, creating the least desirable playoff overtime ever.
Brent Seabrook’s series-killer a few minutes into overtime almost felt like a relief. CBC played audio of the play in question and the whistle clearly blew before the shot, but I wasn’t really looking forward to having to defend that all summer.
In the end, it felt to me like I feel about another celebrated Detroit sports disaster: Darko Milicic. The disinterested Serbian center was a tremendous bust at the No. 2 overall pick sandwiched between LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (not to mention Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade). However, that pick was basically stolen from the then-Vancouver Grizzlies in a deal for Otis Thorpe.
For that reason, I don’t lose sleep over that trade and I won’t lose sleep over this game. Unless I’m tossing and turning trying to figure out how I’m supposed to digest a Wings playoff run that extended well past its natural life.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.