Last night I had the fortune of attending Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche.
I’ve been to a handful of games at Joe Louis Arena over the last few seasons. During most games, the crowd is fairly docile.
Sure, they’ll raise some noise when prompted by commands launched from the scoreboard. But for the most part, the average collection of fans who attend games remain lethargic to the winning ways the Wings have spoiled us with over the course of many regular season victories.
Last night was different, though.
Last night there was an energy I haven’t felt in that old barn for too long. As resident anthem singer Karen Newman wrapped up the last few words of the National Anthem, I thought the roof was about to be torn off.
The building was literally shaking. Goosebumps ran up and down my arms. This is playoff hockey. And the Wings appeared to respond to the raucous ovation their fans showered upon them.
From the opening face-off, Detroit took the game to Colorado. They out-hustled, out-hit, and out-chanced the visitors. Even when Avalanche center Paul Stastny scored the games opening goal, the Wings refused to deflate.
Like their fans, they refused to lay back and let the game unfold before them. They continued their attack, scoring three unanswered goals. Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Cleary, and Johan Franzen each bent the twine less than eight minutes apart, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Johan Franzen would again light the lamp, only 1:13 into the second period, firing a laser from the top of the circle past a shell-shocked Jose Theodore. That would be all for Colorado netminder as Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville sent backup goalie Peter Budaj to relieve him.
Reports of a flu-sickened Theodore are beginning to trickle out. It would help explain why he was shaky from the start, giving up far too many rebounds while having difficulty picking up the puck.
He certainly didn’t look anything like the man who single-handedly defeated the Minnesota Wild in the opening round of these playoffs.
The change of goaltenders appeared to settle the Colorado skaters down. With Detroit happy to sit on a three-goal lead, the Avalanche slowly began to inch back into the game.
Defenseman John-Michael Liles got the ball rolling when he ripped a short-side slapshot past Detroit netminder Chris Osgood from a bad angle. With less than four minutes remaining in the middle stanza, Milan Hejduk would take a pass from Stastny and bury it past Osgood, cutting Detroit’s lead to one.
Suffering from flashbacks of the Wings first-round series against the Predators, the crowd’s enthusiasm began to recede, sensing another lead was slipping through their grasp.
The Wings were on their heels throughout most of the third period, refusing to budge from their defensive shell. Colorado swarmed Detroit’s offensive zone giving the home team fits with their tenacious forechecking and strong cycling.
Through timely saves and several blocked shots, Detroit was able to thwart many of the visiting team’s best chances. With less than a minute to play, Budaj headed to the bench for an extra attacker. Every seat was sold out for last night’s game but nary a soul was in theirs.
With 20,000 plus fans on their feet, octaves would reach new levels, swelling with each Osgood save or chance stymied by the skaters in front of him. Only 14 seconds remained when Liles would find himself with the puck, all alone, five feet from Osgood.
The crowd held its breath, Ozzie made the save, and the Joe erupted. The decibel meter would remain on edge well after Detroit managed to kill off the remaining eight seconds, locking up a game one victory in the second round.
Hockey is a game of emotion. From the players to the fans, it’s what makes this great game so special. Detroit has taken a lot of abuse recently due to its fans apathetic feelings towards their hockey club. Last night Colorado helped resurrect old ghosts.
Old ghosts that revived the Joe, and for Wings fans, hopefully bury the Avalanche.