Stanley Cup Playoffs 2011: Detroit Red Wings on the Verge of History

Greg Eno@@GregEnoSenior Analyst IMay 11, 2011

DETROIT - MAY 10: Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates a 3-1 victory with teammates over the San Jose Sharks in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 10, 2011 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s now the thinkable.

The Red Wings are Secretariat in 1973, the ‘51 Giants, the ‘78 Yankees. They’re the ‘68-69 New York Jets, the 2004 Red Sox.

The tortoise has nothing on them, in that great race against the hare.

Check the calendar for a month of Sundays. Charlie Brown might get that kick off, after all, out of Lucy’s hold.

This isn’t happening, but yet it is. Even Disney’s Mighty Ducks never pulled something like this off.

The Red Wings are going to play a Game 7, which was a fantasy a week ago. Remember a week ago? A gut-wrenching overtime loss in Game 3? Devin Setoguchi with a hat trick, including a penalty in overtime and the game-winner shortly after he fled the box?

A 3-0 series lead for the San Jose Sharks. The Red Wings looked as dead as Osama bin Laden.

But we never saw bin Laden’s corpse for 100 percent proof, and the Sharks haven’t been able to produce a body, either, despite having three chances to do so.

The NHL has been around for over 80 years, and the Red Wings are only the eighth team to force a Game 7 after falling behind, 3-0. Only three have come all the way back to win the series.

Funny thing is, it’s happened three times in the past two years—where a team down 0-3 has won three straight games. The Red Wings aren’t even the first team to do it this spring.

But make no mistake, this is big doings.

It’s tempting to look at Game 7 and say, “Well, they came back this far. They have nothing to be ashamed about.”

That works until they drop the puck in San Jose Thursday night. Then you’ll say, “Come on—they can’t come this far and lose it at the end!”

Just ask Chicago Blackhawks fans what that feels like.

But indeed, the Red Wings have shown mettle and heart that fits right in with the team celebrating 20 straight years of playoff appearances.

Think back to all those playoffs since 1991. We thought we’d seen it all—the heartbreak, the disappointment, the triumph. We’ve been thrilled and we’ve been chilled.

The epic Game 5 win in San Jose and the even more epic Game 6 win in Detroit has sealed it: we hadn’t seen it all.

How can you say that we had, when this is going on?

Frankly, most of us thought this would be a seven-game series. We just didn’t fathom it would happen in this manner.

Those fickle hockey playoff bounces, which were all going the Sharks’ way in the first three games, are now going the Red Wings’ way. An inch here, an inch there. That’s what this series has come down to.

Danny Cleary inexplicably whiffed on a breakaway last night, clanging the puck off the goalpost after deking Antti Niemi out of his you-know-what. Henrik Zetterberg had a wide open net and a one-inch stick shaft thwarted him. Tomas Holmstrom looked like he had one buried but he went head-over-heels, literally, and the puck somehow stayed out of the net.

This all happened with the Red Wings tilting the ice so badly, you half expected Jimmy Howard to come sliding down into the Sharks zone, too.

Yet it was 0-0, and a few minutes into the third period it was 1-0—San Jose!

Another of those playoff goals—where the puck has a mind of its own and slithers through pads and past sticks and slides ever-so-slowly over the goal line, like a curling rock coming to rest.

Well, you might have thought, at least they forced a Game 6.

But the Red Wings, as they did in the third period of Game 5, showed why their players have beating hearts of multiple Stanley Cup champions.

Damn the torpedoes, the Red Wings seemed to say. Full speed ahead!

A Zetterberg tip in with under 10 minutes to play knotted the game. Then, just a couple minutes later, Val Filppula glided into the Sharks zone, unbothered, and rammed home a pass from Pavel Datsyuk, who is only the best player in the world right now.

The Red Wings know the way to San Jose.

For the final 16 minutes of the third period, the Red Wings played maniacal hockey; lose-and-go-home kind of hockey. No one felt like going home, apparently. The golf course doesn’t beckon quite yet.

The flukey Sharks goal didn’t deflate the Wings; in fact, it almost seemed to tick them off.

In retrospect, the Sharks didn’t have a chance, though it didn’t look like that at the time.

And what would a steely win over the Sharks be in this series without a late Justin Abdelkader penalty?

“Oops, I did it again” shouldn’t be the name of a Britney Spears CD, it ought to be Abby’s mantra in this series.

Abdelkader, the abrasive kid from MSU, has the timing of a telemarketer.

Once again the Red Wings had to kill off an Abby penalty, this one a blatant hold on Dan Boyle with about six minutes left. In Game 5, it was a blatant elbow with about five minutes to play. There have been others in this series that have put the Red Wings behind the 8-ball.

Bottom line: there WILL be a Game 7. The Sharks have to play the unthinkable, which now may be the unmanageable.

For Red Wings fans, it is the unbelievable.

Game on!


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