Friday, May 04, 2007

Lang Reappears Just In Time

The moments only become signature if the end result is something worth shouting about. In 1997, it actually occurred in the regular season -- a goalie fight of all things, between Colorado's Patrick Roy and the Red Wings' Mike Vernon. THERE -- everyone said after the champagne corks were popped -- THAT'S when the Red Wings came of age.

In 1998, it was a speech reportedly given by captain Steve Yzerman when another underdog was giving the Red Wings fits. The St. Louis Blues had squared their second round series with Detroit at 2-2, and Yzerman, according to Hockeytown lore, stood in front of his teammates and challenged them to prove what we all believed to be true: that the Wings were clearly the better team. The team responded by lasering thru the Blues in the next two games, en route to their second straight Stanley Cup.

In 2002 ...

I had just flipped the game back on after doing some channel surfing. Another west coast playoff series, played out long after the wife and chicklet had gone to bed. The Red Wings were in another first round struggle, this time with the Vancouver Canucks. Detroit lost the first two games at home -- the second one ending among a chorus of JLA boos -- and now were tied, 1-1, in Game 3 at Vancouver. It was the second period, the brooms still waving inside GM Place.

Then moments after I flipped back, I saw it happen. Nicklas Lidstrom carried the puck from his own zone and, just after crossing the center red line, he wound up for a long slapshot -- trying to do nothing more than rifle the puck into the Canucks zone, it appeared.

It did more than that. The puck somehow made it past Canucks goalie Dan Cloutier. The Wings led, 2-1. They would win the game, 3-1. They would win the next. And the next. And the next.

When the Cup was hoisted some seven weeks later, it was easy this time to point to that postseason's turning point: Nick Lidstrom's goal, from center ice, in Game 3.

I thought of Lidstrom and his goal -- and doubtful that I was alone -- when I saw Robert Lang wrist one past San Jose netminder Evgeni Nabokov with 33.1 seconds remaining in the third period of Wednesday's Game 4, sending the game into overtime. The Wings won, 3-2 -- which needed to happen to make Lang's dramatic goal significant, and to make it a Turning Point candidate.

I'd say it would qualify. Lang doesn't score, and the Wings are down 3-1 in the series. Daunting? You bet.

Interesting that it was Lang who scored. He's been spotty, at best, but his spots have been picked well. His only other goal in these playoffs came in Calgary in Game 6, tying that game. He's worked his way into coach Mike Babcock's pooch parlor.

But Dominik Hasek started horribly in the 2002 playoffs, yet by the time the Wings finished off the Carolina Hurricanes to win the whole enchilada, you could have made a sharp case for Hasek as the Conn Smythe winner for MVP of the playoffs. He was especially brilliant against the Canes.

Using some very finite wisdom, I wrote in this space last week that Lang, among all the forwards, was one of the few the team could least afford seeing end up on the side of a milk carton against the big, bad Sharks. He "can't be M.I.A.", my headline screamed that day. Yet he had been, until the dramatics in Game 4.

Yes, the Red Wings have their early candidate for Turning Point of the 2007 playoffs. But there can be no TP if there isn't a chalice from which to drink in June.

No comments: