– Paul Simon, Papa Hobo, 1971
On Friday night, Henrik Zetterberg breathed new life into the Detroit Red Wings with one quick shot, 1:04 into overtime. The season was over with a loss, the Anaheim Ducks had just scored two late goals to tie the game, and the Joe Louis Arena crowd was stunned. It was a perfect scenario for Anaheim to steal a win and knock out the Red Wings. But Zetterberg came up big, when absolutely needed.
It’s been that kind of playoff run for the Red Wings, one where every game (except one) has gone down to the wire. Detroit has essentially done exactly enough to get to this point – a series tied at 3, with a Game 7 looming. It’s the first time in team history that the Red Wings have played in four overtime games in a single, the first time in team history where the Red Wings scored three overtime goals in one series. Anaheim is supposed to be the better team, but the Red Wings have something that takes a heroic effort to defeat.
Bruce Boudreau, head coach of the Anaheim Ducks, explained it this way: The Wings “have got championship blood.”
What’s championship blood? It’s not just the winning experience, or banner after banner hanging downtown. It’s a story of 22 years, of 87 years, of 11 championship years, all of which are used to maximum value.
The Red Wings, from the playoff streak down to the NHL draft, starts with Mike Ilitch’s dedication to loyalty. When you’re a Red Wing, when you work for Mr. I, you’re a Red Wing for life. Every player that is loyal to the team gets that same loyalty back in return, even in this salary-cap era. The Red Wings have hardly ever made a big move since the first Stanley Cup years to ship a player out of town. A Cup ensures a spot for the rest of a player’s career.
The Red Wings, more than any other team, embrace their history and the wisdom that goes with it. Recent alums like Chris Osgood, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Chris Chelios, and others still come to the Joe each game day. Legends like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay still have a spot in the locker room. With all that history, other teams cannot replicate the kind of mentorship that past greats can provide.
The Red Wings are a team of succession, and systems. Steve Yzerman begat Henrik Zetterberg, as the star forward who can shut down anyone on defense. Sergei Fedorov begat Pavel Datsyuk, as the captivating forward with an unlimited bag of tricks. Nicklas Lidstrom begat a successor still to be named, but found somewhere. This is all due to geniuses in the scouting department, to smarter drafting, and to a system of play instilled into everyone.
That’s what championship blood is. Add a fanbase that seems to invade every other arena, and no team is currently more intimidating to play.
This means that Zetterberg’s overtime winner in Friday night’s Game 6 may go down as something bigger than just a game-winning goal. Or bigger than a goal to continue the Wings’ season by a game. It will go down as the first great moment of Henrik Zetterberg’s captaincy, and the moment where the Red Wings might have gotten respect back.
That’s right. Gotten respect back. For years, the easiest hockey column to expect from hockey writers has been to predict the downfall of the Detroit Red Wings. It happens whenever anything changes in Detroit, with Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement as the latest example. And once again, even after a very rough season by Red Wings standards, that championship blood might just pull out a series win.
What does this mean for Game 7? It means that, despite all of the randomness that a Game 7 provides, the Red Wings have a slight edge.
Anything can happen in Game 7. The Wings and Ducks could play to yet another tie and head to overtime once again. Or, as was the case in the 2002 series between Detroit and Colorado, six tight games could end with a blowout. Someone will be the hero tomorrow, with one play or one image going into the histories of both teams.
How can ‘anything can happen’ favor the Wings? In honor of the four Stanley Cups won in this streak, here’s the four reasons how.
- The Red Wings’ big stars are finding success when it matters, and are using their skills to get the most out of their teammates. Pavel Datsyuk has two goals and five assists, Henrik Zetterberg has two goals and four assists. On the other hand, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf has three goals and two assists, while Corey Perry has two assists and no goals. Disregarding how the Wings have shut down Perry, the Datsyuk-Zetterberg combination has played a role in 60% of the Wings’ goals, 9 out of 15; the Getzlaf-Perry combination has had a factor in 31.6& of the Ducks’ goals, only 6 of 19.
- Jimmy Howard is one the top of his game. In Game 6, Jimmy Howard deserved a shutout. Instead, a fluke bounce off a goalpost and a Red Wing led to Anaheim’s first goal, a blind and misguided pass led to Anaheim’s second, and a blown call led to Anaheim’s third. If anything, the only one that Howard could have done anything about was the third and final Ducks goal. Jimmy has been playing very well in this series, and the breaks have not gone his way. Breaks even out over seven games. Jimmy Howard is due for those to go his way, and that would be a huge key to success.
- The Red Wings keep improving, while the Ducks are not. In all of the little things, Detroit has controlled the play. The Red Wings won more faceoffs in the last two games, the Red Wings did not take a penalty in Game 6, and the Red Wings are keeping Anaheim from quality chances. Detroit is scoring with increased pressure, while Anaheim is taken aback by the play. And throughout, the younger Red Wings are gaining playoff experience and confidence. Can Anaheim defeat a much-improved team from the start of the series? With that question being asked…
- All the pressure is now on the Ducks, and might be in their heads. Taking a look at things from the Anaheim perspective, everything is going against them. The Ducks are the #2 seed, and have not been able to defeat a #7 seed. Three games that could have been Anaheim wins ended in defeat, simply due to a demoralizing overtime goal. Even their coach has admitted that the Wings have something extra. Now, a season could end on another loss. On top of that, the Red Wings have nothing to lose, and a big Detroit contingent will take any home-ice advantage away from the home team. That’s a lot for the Ducks to consider, and any hesitation or pressure could result in a series-winning goal.
My prediction is that the Wings will win Game 7 and advance to play Chicago. An early goal, like in Game 2, will open the floodgates for Detroit. A rattled Ducks team won’t find the Detroit mistakes necessary to play themselves back into the game, instead only getting easy-to-read shots on Jimmy Howard. The Wings will win by a score of about 4-1. It will be how Game 2 should have ended.
At the end of a long series, the Red Wings have something Anaheim does not. It might be championship blood. It might be a young team that keeps getting better. It might even be the hot goalie. Whatever it is, that factor will send the Red Wings into the second round.
Gordon Fall has been around the Detroit sports scene for his entire life and even entered the world with a Red Wings hockey stick in hand. With a variety of connections around the Detroit area, Fall will be presenting the unspoken, yet optimistic truth of our city’s sports scene.