Curse those NHL higher-ups. What are they doing, putting three teams in California, anyway?
Why couldn’t they have left well enough alone? Why wasn’t it OK to have a “Western trip” mean a train to Chicago and Detroit?
Hockey in California?
The fans walk to the arena in shorts and flip-flops, for goodness sakes. The seats are stained with sushi. There’s more dye in people’s hair than there is paint on the ice. The stadium is a place to go to cool off.
Hockey in California?
The NHL went westward ho in 1967. It put a team in Inglewood, in a place called the Fabulous Forum next to Los Angeles, and called it the Kings. They dressed the players in mustard uniforms with purple highlights. They were California, come to think of it, because the duds looked like a bad acid trip.
Down the line, it was pointed out by someone who knows about royalty that the crown logo on the front of the Kings sweaters was actually that of a queen.
That must have been the last straw, because the Kings shucked the mustard and purple and went to black and silver in 1988, altering the crown logo, after they jobbed the Edmonton Oilers and traded for Wayne Gretzky.
Five years later, the Kings were in the Cup Final, although even The Great One couldn’t lead them past the Montreal Canadiens, an Original Six team that played in the original Forum.
The NHL subsequently added two more teams in California—the San Jose Sharks in 1991 and the Anaheim (then) Mighty Ducks in 1993.
Despite the seeming dichotomy of a game played on ice being migrated to sunny California, California teams have managed to win two Stanley Cups—the (no more mighty) Ducks in 2007 and the Kings just last June. It only took 40 years for the cup to be paraded down the beaches of the Pacific.
The Red Wings are in a whale of a series in this year’s playoffs, going up against the Anaheim Ducks in a series that has already, in six games, seen four overtime games. This is the first time the Red Wings have played four OT games in a single playoff series. They have won three of them, tying a franchise record for most in a series.
So it’s back out West for Game 7, another flight across country, to play the Ducks in a game that will start, locally in Detroit, past 10 p.m. ET. If it goes into yet another extra session, the fans here won’t see their pillows until at least 2 a.m. ET—on a work night.
But this could be the last of these treks out West for the Red Wings in the playoffs, win or lose on Sunday.
Next season, the Red Wings debut in the Eastern Conference, where all the games start at 7:30 p.m. ET.
A caveat: The Red Wings could still need to venture to California this spring, if they beat the Ducks Sunday and oust the Chicago Blackhawks in the next round. For awaiting them would be either the Kings or the Sharks in the conference final.
The Red Wings have plenty of history playing California teams in the playoffs.
The San Jose Sharks were a three-year-old enterprise in the 1993-94 season, when they qualified for their first playoff and drew the top-seeded Red Wings in the first round.
Because of the travel, Red Wings VP Jimmy Devellano signed off on a plan by which Games 3, 4, 5 would be played in San Jose, after Games 1 and 2 in Detroit. This was counter to the normal 2-2-1-1-1 format. Games 6 and 7, if necessary (as they say), would be played in Detroit.
The Sharks stunned the Red Wings in Detroit in Game 1, then with the series tied 1-1, the Sharks took two of three in San Jose, as Devellano’s plan seemed foolish when, with the series tied 2-2, Game 5 was played in San Jose, rather than in Detroit, under normal circumstances.
The Sharks won Game 5, then got slaughtered back in Detroit in Game 6.
In Game 7, with the game tied late in the third period, rookie goalie Chris Osgood, all of 21 years old, made an errant clearing attempt and Jamie Baker slung the puck into the vacated net. The Sharks held on to win the game and the series as the Red Wings were booed off the ice. Jimmy D should have been booed, too.
The Red Wings swept the Sharks in a 1995 second-round series.
In 1997, the Red Wings, on their way to winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1955, swept the Mighty Ducks in a series that included three OT wins.
The Red Wings swept the Ducks again in 1999. The following spring, Detroit swept the Kings. One year later, the Kings got revenge, upsetting the Red Wings in six games.
In 2003, the Red Wings were stunned in four games by the Mighty Ducks, who went on to the Cup Final. Anaheim was coached by a guy named Mike Babcock.
In 2007, the Red Wings beat the Sharks in six games in the second round, then fell to the Ducks in six games in the conference final.
In 2009, the Red Wings beat the Ducks in a thrilling seven-game series.
In 2010, the Red Wings lost to the Sharks in five games, then in 2011 lost in seven, but not until battling back from an 0-3 series deficit to force Game 7.
The final tally: The Red Wings have played 12 playoff series against the surfing bums in California and have won six and lost six. And the current series with the Ducks has gone to a deciding Game 7. You can’t get much more Even Steven than that.
Whatever happens this postseason, you can bet the Red Wings won’t be too wistful about not having to fly three time zones west in the playoffs, with their move to the East next season.
Instead of trips to San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Vancouver, the Red Wings will be on tour up and down the Atlantic Coast, playing Broadway, Beantown, the City of Brotherly Love and the nation’s capital.
Not a time zone change in the bunch. And buildings where the fans go to warm up, not to cool off.
But there’s still Game 7 against the Ducks to endure. The Red Wings are 3-1 in overtime and 0-2 in regulation in this series.
Here’s hoping we all wake up bleary-eyed Monday morning.
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