It wasn’t for a lack of trying, but Miikka Kiprusoff was too hard a nut for the Red Wings to crack. Martin Gelinas scored with 43 seconds left in the first overtime period to give the Calgary Flames the victory in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, four games to two.
The Red Wings were, of course, playing without Steve Yzerman, after the Captain underwent surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone damaged in Saturday’s Game Five. “I’m travelling with the team,” Yzerman said as soon as he came out from under the anesthetic. “No, you aren’t,” said the doctors. The pressure changes of air travel would easily damage the delicate orbital bone. The Captain spent hours on the phone encouraging his teammates late Sunday and early Monday. Before the game, the coaching staff carried a Number 19 jersey into the locker room. “How many of you,” they asked, “are going to play like this guy would play?”
It’s generally expected in Detroit that the Red Wings fall apart without their Captain. This game, they did no such thing. Brendan Shanahan and Kris Draper stepped up and showed the way, leading volley after volley of attacks towards Kiprusoff’s net. Nicklas Lidstrom and Mathieu Schneider barely left the ice, sitting on the bench only long enough to give Derian Hatcher or Jamie Rivers a chance to lay a hard check on one Flame or another and give Mathieu Dandenault or Jason Woolley a chance to get out and skate down loose pucks before the speedy Flames could get to them.
Curtis Joseph excelled under the pressure, making saves at least as phenomenal the saves Kiprusoff made at the other end of the ice. All night long, he stopped backhanders from Jarome Iginla and screened shots from Andrew Ference and Chris Clark. He stopped a high shot by Matthew Lombardi with his helmet.
In the end, Gelinas was only able to score due to a missed defensive coverage. Somehow, he managed to sneak into the Red Wings’ zone and wait by the corner of the net. Craig Conroy was tied up in the corner, but managed to bank a centering pass off the skate of Derian Hatcher. Joseph was facing his right to guard against Conroy and Iginla, which meant that Gelinas was able to fire the puck into an open net.
Last year in this situation, writing my last game summary of the season, I strung together a list of predictions for how the Red Wings would pull themselves back together in the off-season.
This year, I don’t feel I can do that. The uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement and the state of the NHL, not to mention the number of free agents the Red Wings will have come July 1, make it nearly impossible for me to think of what might happen.
The only prediction I have for next season is this one: if there is a season, Stevie Yzerman will play again.
Wishful thinking? Maybe. But the NHL is a changing place. The days of the defensive trap are passing, as young, speedy teams like the Flames, Sharks, and Lightning come to the forefront of the league. The Red Wings’ management is intelligent enough to see this and retool to meet the changing demands of professional hockey. The Captain, old-school player he may be, will wish to be there to help his team on its transition into the future. And the team would be foolish not to keep him and his wisdom.