Monday, April 23, 2007

Quietly Confident Wings Advance, In An Inexplicable Way

You've heard the phrase, "addition by subtraction"?

How about this one: "filled by a void"?

Wandering around the Red Wings' locker room after Saturday's 5-1, Game 5 win over Calgary (working for Michigan In Play! Magazine), one of the things that struck me was the "business as usual" nature of the room. There was a void of celebration or giddiness, which I believe translates into a quite confidence.

The Wings had just thoroughly dominated the Flames in the best game they'd played in the series, and you could hardly tell it. Players dressed quietly, purposely, as their equipment bags were loaded onto carts for the plane to Calgary that evening.

Not far from the cart, goalie Dominik Hasek, the 42-year-old who's channeling his inner Sawchuk in this series, talked about the chance to play in back-to-back games for the first time all season.

"I am ready to go. I'm up for the challenge," Hasek said. "I have never had the chance to play back-to-back games this season, so I'm really excited to do it."

He played like it last night in the Wings' series-clinching Game 6. Hasek, though not nearly as worked over as the Flames' Miikka Kiprusoff, was outstanding when he had to be, getting all slinky-ish and looking like a Gumby rather than a Goalie. He seems hellbent on not being the reason the Wings lose in the playoffs, should they be eliminated.

Before the playoffs even began, I asked Hasek what a Stanley Cup would mean to him, at this stage of his career. He's now in third stint with the Red Wings, after a one-year retirement, a league lockout, and an injury-marred season in Ottawa.

"It (the Cup) is the ultimate trophy in hockey," Hasek told me. "I decided that I would want another shot at being on top. So now here I am, and I'm very happy for the opportunity."

Was he surprised, I wondered, by the level of his play this season? Hasek ran either #1 or #2 in GAA all season. And this from a guy who was an afterthought when the Wings couldn't come to terms with Ed Belfour.

"I can't say I was too surprised. I felt healthy all year and I worked hard at staying healthy. I didn't make any goals like I want to win 35 games or anything like that. But I wouldn't say I was too surprised."

The contrast between the Red Wings' composure on the ice and their calm afterward, compared to the Flames' meltdown late in the third period and the reported bitching out of backup goalie Jamie McLennan by his teammates in the locker room for his stickwork (he amassed 17 minutes in penalties in just 18 seconds of work), cemented, to me, who should win the series. But we all know the difference between "should" and "will" in the NHL playoffs.

So the Wings won it, because they were the first team to win a road game in the series. I asked defenseman Mathieu Schneider after Game 5 if he could explain the home ice phenomenon, because in the playoffs the road team will typically steal a game or two.

"No, I can't really explain it. I think a goal here and there and things could have gone either way in these games. It's really been about momentum. The team that's jumped out to the lead has been the winning team, so you want to get that first goal and jump on them."

The Wings won Game 6 last night -- on the road, and by not scoring the first goal. Both were firsts in the series.

No wonder that even a 15-year veteran like Schneider can't explain it.

No comments: