Thursday, June 05, 2008

Fleury's Rump The Perfectly Timed Nudge Red Wings Needed For Cup #11

The puck slid, slid, slid -- slow as molasses yet fast enough to make your heart race. It moved toward the goal line and really it was like a microcosm of this entire playoff run: you were pretty sure that it was going to get there, but there was still a hint of doubt. Then down came Marc-Andre Fleury's padded rump, and it provided the final nudge the puck needed to finally cross the goal line. And with it, the Red Wings could finally breathe, right?

Well, kinda.

That goal, which gave the Red Wings a 3-1 lead, wasn't immediately evident until the referee's right arm went chop, chop, chop, pointing vigorously to the back of the net, and even the Wings players on the ice seemed as surprised as someone who just found an old $20 bill in their pants pocket. They lifted their sticks and gathered into a group hug, perhaps still not certain how Henrik Zetterberg's marshmallow shot finagled its way through Fleury's pads, sweater, and legs and how an "innocent-looking play" -- that marvelous hockey term -- could end in such a happy manner. In fact, probably those of us watching at home knew before the Wings themselves did, how a 2-1 nail-biter turned into a 3-1 mini-exhale.

The replay was in slow-motion, but I think they could have run it in real time and there wouldn't have been any discernible difference in the vulcanized disc of rubber's speed. But as I watched the videotape roll, I kept thinking that that goal symbolized everything that has happened since the first week of April, when 16 teams started on a journey that each of them believed would end the way it ended last night, with their team captain lifting that 35-pound chalice. It symbolized the long, sometimes excruciating path that simply cannot be avoided if you want to call yourselves NHL champions. Inching, inching toward the finish line. All it needed was a nudge.

In a playoff run where Tomas Holmstrom's butt supposedly caused goaltender interference, waving off a critical marker in Dallas, it's only fair that the Red Wings get their Cup-winning tally because an opponent's posterior betrayed him. Butt, butt, nudge, nudge.

Of course, that wasn't the only drama, nor the only metaphor, nor the only symbolism. You could point to so many things: the 86-second 5-on-3 penalty kill in Game 4. The final, furious moments of Game 6, when the Pittsburgh Penguins scored to move within a goal -- again -- and the clock showed 1:27 remaining. 87 seconds. 87 -- same as Sidney "The Next Great One" Crosby's uniform number. Those 87 seconds finally clicked off, the clock finally showed that glorious trio of :00.0, and 87 was gone for the summer, too.

Gone too was Pens coach Michel Therrien, and I wish I knew where he kept his pacifier, bottle, and bankie, because he was, by far, the biggest crybaby coach of this post-season. But his bleatings worked to a degree, getting the officials to look harder at all that annoying obstruction that Therrien said was going on, and getting a few more calls along the way. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock didn't get sucked in, and wonderfully once referred to Therrien as "the other guy" when he allowed himself a degree of complaining. "I'm just trying what the other guy has been doing," Babcock said at one of the between-games pressers. Zing.

So it's over -- another two-month long playoff run in the books. Red Wings champions, as I predicted they'd be wayyyy back at the beginning of April. Granted, it didn't happen the way I suspected it would -- Chris Osgood in net; a brutal sweep of the once-mighty Colorado Avalanche; a scary 3-0 lead turning into 3-2 against Dallas; being 35 seconds away from the Cup in Detroit and letting it slip through the ice cracks. No, none of that was I clairvoyant enough to forecast. Nor would I have wanted to. Part of the fun of winning the Stanley Cup is that it's never the same every time. Each run is different. Someone said on the radio that you should treat all your teams' championships like your children: separate but equal in affection. Right on.

Now, about that baseball team of ours...


Brian said...

I kept wondering all night what the one memory of this Cup run would be, because except for the tally with 34.3 left in game 5, nothing really stuck out for me. And I sure as he** didn't want that goal to be my memory of 08.

In 97, it was McCarty's stick-handling through about 9 Flyers to tuck the game winner in. In 98, it was Essa Tikkanen missing a wiiiiide open net. In 2002, the obvious one was Larionov's goal in the early morning, but the one I'll remember more was Roy's "Statue of Liberty" in the conference finals.

And then we finally got our "do you remember?" moment last night. I remember saying out loud, "there's no whistle yet" while watching the players kind of stand around. And you couldn't see the puck (at least on Channel 4) as it was happening live. And then I started screaming, "it's a goal!! It's a goal!!" when I saw the ref wildly signaling over and over that it was in the net.


Greg Eno said...

There's not a greater sight in the world than seeing the referee pointing into the net, when it's your team on the attack!

Brian said...

Especially after seeing a few of the opposite - puck goes in the net, players are celebrating, and he's waving it off. I guess the only thing that would have made it full circle is if it was Homer's butt that put it in.

Greg Eno said...

I was thinking of something funny. Wouldn't it have been something if Holmstrom took the Cup, skated directly to the crease, and held it high, making sure BOTH of his skates were squarely inside? That would have been hilarious -- but also very un-Red Wing-like.

Brian said...

I was kind of thinking along the same lines - he skates right to the outside of the crease, and then sticks his butt (and only his butt) in. But again, like you said, not very Red Wing-like.