These Red Wings have speed and skill. They are aggressive, yet disciplined. They have everything you could want in a hockey team, but until last night, they really hadn't provided an important element in any Stanley Cup run:
You know that feeling you have this morning? The wobbly stomach, the dry throat, the constant headache? Either you drank too much or you are just a normal hockey fan. Maybe both. Hey, it was a long game.
Red Wings fans showed up for a coronation. By the end of the first period, they were wondering if the emperor had no clothes -- clearly, he had no teeth. The Red Wings were down, 2-0, and, even if you weren't a worrier, you worried.
What if the Red Wings actually ... uh ... lose this game? They would have to go to Pittsburgh, where the Penguins have not lost since Mario Lemieux's first retirement (except for when the Red Wings beat them the other night). And when -- I mean IF -- they lose that one, they'll face Game 7 at home with those idiotic columnists asking if they're choking!
That fear became reality halfway through the third overtime. And the most normal feeling for a hockey fan -- constant nervousness -- came back to Red Wings fans for the first time since the first round against Nashville.
Entering the Cup final, neither the Red Wings nor the Penguins had trailed in a series. That was weird. The Red Wings only had put their fans through one truly nerve-wracking day or two -- in the Nashville series, when they lost twice on the road and needed overtime to win Game 5.
Game 5 last night was eerily like Game 5 of that Nashville series. In that Nashville game, Chris Osgood allowed a tying goal with 44 seconds left. Last night, after the Red Wings came back to take a 3-2 lead, Osgood allowed a tying goal with 34 seconds left.
That sent the game to overtime, and sent Red Wings fans into (perfectly normal) fits of (totally rational) panic. Here is how good the Red Wings have been in these playoffs: they have defied hockey.
It's not fair to say that hockey is a fluky sport; over a seven-game series, the better team usually wins. But there are more fluky elements to hockey than other major sports. And Game 5 showed it once again.
The Penguins' second goal was scored by Niklas Kronwall, which was weird because Kronwall doesn't score many goals, and, when he does it usually is for his own team. Kronwall was in front of the Red Wings' net and tried to ship the puck out. Instead, the puck hit a Penguins skate and went past Osgood. Kronwall could try that 100 times and never do it again.
Later, Pavel Datsyuk deked Marc-Andre Fleury back to Pittsburgh and fired a leaning, acrobatic shots I couldn't even try if I was standing on carpet in front of a mirror. Datsyuk did everything right on that play. He did a few things right that I didn't know you could do right. And the red light went on and the horn sounded, maybe because Datsyuk clearly deserved a goal. Alas, the puck clearly hit the crossbar. No goal.
Hockey can be like that. And again: a seven-game series usually comes down to talent, not luck. But there are usually some unlucky bounces along the way, even for the best teams.
Take the 2002 Red Wings. We sometimes think of the Red Wings as inevitable Cup champions -- they were the talk of hockey in the summer of 2001, the preseason favorite in the fall of that year, dominated the league all winter and won the Cup. But that was a much tougher road in reality than in memory. They trailed in three of their four series.
If you are a Red Wings fan, you have to hope your team plays just like it did most of Monday night. The Red Wings outshot the Penguins, 27-6, in the third period and first overtime. The Penguins can justify that in the third period because they were playing with the lead and could afford to pack their defense in. But that doesn't explain overtime.
The Red Wings ended up losing. But we gathered more evidence that they are the better team. Now they just have to play like it for two more games -- and hope that luck is at least neutral, if not on their side.