Second chances aren't constitutionally guaranteed. They're earned and, unfortunately, not always appreciated. So what would it mean if the Red Wings need a contribution tonight from someone who finds his salvation every day in a game he only recently discovered he dearly loved?
Coach Mike Babcock said yesterday that Darren McCarty will play tonight in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals if Tomas Holmstrom is out. Holmstrom suffered a lower leg injury in Game 3, inflicted when Hal Gill violently dropped him onto the ice in the third period.
"This journey is like a fairy tale, like a movie," McCarty said yesterday after practice. "It's already been more than I could have ever hoped for that I've gotten the opportunity to just be a part of the preparation. And then get the chance to contribute when other guys went down because of injury.
"I got to play in Game 1 [of the finals]. Hopefully, Homer can play because it makes us a better team. But I'll be ready if called upon and keep these incredible last eight months going."
Holmstrom described his status for tonight as probable. General manager Ken Holland sounded a little less optimistic, settling on the more dubious prognosis of "day-to-day." What did anybody expect?
The decision to play can't be left entirely to the player's discretion, because he has been programmed to play at this time of the season, even if his leg drags beside him, hanging tenuously by a tendon.
A significant factor in the Red Wings' sustained excellence is their ability to create opportunities. If one piece is missing, there's another that might fit a little differently, but nonetheless finds its rightful and productive place in the bigger picture.
The Red Wings' depth speaks well of their domination. They've long rewarded commitment with opportunity.
If Holmstrom's out, just slide in Johan Franzen on the top power-play unit.
Franzen's amazing consistency -- 28 goals in his past 29 games -- began when he filled in for Holmstrom in the regular season on the power play while Holmstrom was out with a sports hernia.
"Opportunity has always been a two-way street," Holland said. "Getting an opportunity gives you confidence, but you've got to prove yourself deserving of getting that opportunity. That's true with guys you're counting on to fill in when another guy goes down and that's also true when somebody's looking for a chance to get his life back together."
Holland made his terms clear to McCarty's representatives when they approached him in November about a possible return. No crazy hair colors. No crazy hair cuts. No band diverting his focus.
"When I came in to meet him [in January], I was going for a job interview," McCarty said. "I had on a good suit. I shaved, had a nice haircut and just created the appearance of someone who had gained some maturity after everything I went through. It was to show him that I was in a different place. I come from a place of gratitude and appreciation now and I never did that before."
McCarty had it all, then nothing, got it back again and then fell even further.
"There's a book that I read that talked about how life is all about mulligans and what you do with them," he said. "Hockey is my third priority [behind sobriety and family]. It makes the game so much fun. I really didn't like the game, but that was because I really didn't like myself."
The Penguins' Game 3 win gave them a much-needed mulligan in this series, but any opportunity is only as good as what you achieve with that second chance.