Monday, May 27, 2013

Strike Two: Wings Blow Lead, Have One Chance Left to Eliminate 'Hawks

            Let this go down as one of the ones that hurt to write. Let it go down as one of the nights I was reminded that sports often suck. What’s to be said? What’s to be said for a team that still hasn’t figured out what a 3rd period is?

Not much. But at the same time, so much. This game, our figurative strike two, was a study in everything the Wings have been this year. The first was mediocre, the second was above average with flashes of brilliance, and the third was a lot of trash time with a late, get your hopes up gut-punch of a goal. The kids played well at times, the vets not named Datsyuk disappeared for long stretches and the result of all that is, simply, we go back to Chicago for our second game 7 in a row. Here’s hoping we repeat that outcome.

                Now, where do I begin? With the bad? With the good? With the first? I suppose we can start there. We came out with, in the author’s humble opinion, a good first three or four minutes. We escaped the period with scores knotted at one. Such is our usual MO and this should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the Wings for any stretch this year. And, in the same vein, you can imagine how the time between our good first few minutes and the end of the period went. Red Wings Bingo was played and if you had “Stupid Penalty” “…that leads to a goal” “Goal by a Hard Working Lower Liner” and “Franzen Being Invisible” on your card (Along with Free Space) you probably won the first period. The Wings, however, did not. Chicago controlled most of it and coming out tied felt like a victory in itself.

                The second, consequently, was a pleasant and happy change. The Wings played like a team inspired, a team that realized it could close out the Blackhawks juggernaut on home ice in front of a building that was electric. Sure, it didn’t start well. Franzen went to the box, and very shortly after his penalty was successfully killed, another was called. You could almost hear the whole of Detroit groan. Too many men on the ice was the penalty, and it was an obvious one. It was an idiotic one. And fortunately, it was a fruitless one for Chicago. After the kill, momentum swung in the Wings direction and began to build. A BEAUTIFUL and downright filthy knuckle puck goal was the just reward for a period that saw the Red Wings truly play like a team that knew what could be achieved. The downside, though, of such a dominant period is that it left Wings fans with the feeling we’d regret not capitalizing on more chances. Going into the third, with a 2-1 lead, was a dangerous way to start. Wings fans know well how rocky our third period play can be. If only we knew just how rocky this third would be.

                I don’t even want to talk about it. I truly don’t. But I suppose I have to, don’t I? For those who did not watch, let me describe it in the best ways that I can. First there were the nerves. Typical game nerves, up 2-1 and 20 minutes away from doing what no one said we could do. Then there was the first Chicago goal. It happened quickly and it felt like being punched in the stomach. A sort of deflation followed, a sense of dread from the part of the brain that understands sports and that annoyingly optimistic cheer of “At least we’re still tied!” from the part of the brain that will never understand sports.

                Goal two was a complete deflation. Feeling left the extremities and we all sunk a bit low in our chairs, like that old anti-marijuana commercial where the girl is talking about her sister who is simply an airless human balloon. The third period, we knew, would be brutal. It’s never *that* easy. But it shouldn’t be that hard. It shouldn’t be that hard to rally a professional hockey team with a veteran core who KNOW what it takes to win a playoff series against a tougher opponent!  IT SHOULDN’T BE THAT HARD TO PLAY A FULL 60 MINUTES, RED WINGS. And yet it is. And there is the anger, just in time for…

                Goal number three. I really, really don’t want to talk about this one. Please don’t make me.

                But seriously, who calls a penalty shot on THAT weak of a slash in an elimination game of the playoffs? Who calls that? No. I will not argue that that call lost us the game because I have been a fan of hockey too long. I respect the game too much to try to argue that a penalty shot, instead of not capitalizing on our momentum in the second or not playing better defense in the third, was the reason we lost the game. But that cannot erase the fact that the penalty shot never should have been called. For those who didn’t watch the game, check out the replay. Go, do it.

                See? And if that doesn’t convince you enough, I’ll put it this way: Ed Olczyk said it shouldn’t have been a penalty shot. Ed Olczyk said the Chicago Blackhawks should not have had a penalty shot against the Detroit Red Wings. Now do you see how serious this is?

                But let’s move one, because we’ve got one more gut punch to cover before we all go to bed and toss and turn all night thinking about the couldas, shouldas, and wouldas. Brunner gave us hope. Brunner, who, if he isn’t careful will begin to pick up the nickname “garbage time,” gave us hope. With under a minute left, he put us within one. And that may have been the biggest gut punch of all. Sports have taught us all to hope for miracles, even though we know we shouldn’t expect them. And so we did. We hoped and we hoped, for the next 50 odd seconds, and it came to nothing. We go back to Chicago with one more pitch, one more chance. It’s time to swing away, fellas. No more giving up, no more 3rd period collapses. No more stupid penalties, dangerous passes in front of our own goalie or failing miserably to gain the offensive zone. A full on, full team, 60 minute effort is the only chance we have. We are capable of it, truly. We just have to do it.

And on one quick, somewhat unrelated note: If you are giving up on this team before the puck is even dropped for game 7, you are not a Red Wings’ fan. This is playoff hockey and we have at least 60 minutes of it to go. Buck up and get behind this team, that has spent the entire season surprising us and going farther than we expected. Game 7 against THIS Hawks team? Who could have seen it coming? It’s proof. Proof that game 7, this series, this season is not over until it’s over. If you want to quit on this team, don’t come back as a fan next year. We don’t need you. And now, the author has some feelings she needs to take care of with ice cream, or funny tv shows, or something. Until next time, fellow Wings fans. And, as always: Let’s Go Red Wings!