By: Jamie Samuelsen
They don’t script Game 7s in the NHL. But sometimes it seems like they do.
Chicago’s 2-1 overtime win over Detroit on Wednesday night had a little bit of everything. There were plenty of scoring chances for both teams. There were massive momentum shifts. And there was a whole lot of controversy. Wings fans won’t soon forget the game just as they won’t soon forget a magical month of May when hockey started mattering again in Detroit.
But just like the previous three playoffs, the season ends before the Wings could even advance to the conference finals. The Blackhawks move on and will host the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings in the Western Conference semifinals starting Saturday afternoon in Chicago. The Wings will return to Detroit looking to improve a team that is clearly much better than they were given credit for.
You can’t say that the Wings didn’t get the breaks in Game 7, because they were handed perhaps the biggest break any team has ever received in postseason history.
All sports fans feel that someone is out to get their favorite team. But Red Wings fans have always been in a league of their own.
Whether it was Gary Bettman or Kerry Fraser or Don VanMassenhoven, there was always a shadowy figure lurking behind every Red Wings loss. Even in Game 6, plenty of fans moaned about the penalty shot that was awarded to Michael Frolik that ended up being the game-winner.
I’m not much for conspiracy theories, but I was always amused by the passion.
But that era is now over. Red Wings fans have lost the right to ever complain about a ref or a commissioner or a league ‘hating them’ or ‘conspiring against them’ after what we witnessed in Game 7.
Chicago appeared to have the series won in regulation. Niklas Hjalmarsson slapped the would-be game-winner by Jimmy Howard with just under two minutes remaining. The United Center erupted and the game looked like it was over.
But it wasn’t. Back up the ice, referee Stephen Walkom blew his whistle and called coincidental minor penalties against the Wings Kyle Quincey and the Hawks’ Brandon Saad. Walkom could clearly see that a goal-scoring play was going on. And he didn’t even raise his arm until after the goal had been scored. The call will be a footnote now that the Hawks have won the game and the series. But if Detroit had won, this would go down alongside Steve Bartman as one of the great travesties in Chicago sports history. Even Red Wings fans sheepishly admitted on Twitter that they were more than happy to take the break.
The Wings were granted a second chance, but couldn’t take advantage. Brent Seabrook fired a wrist shot part Howard 3:35 into overtime to send the United Center into its second frenzy in about thirty minutes. The Blackhawks get credit for one win. But the Wings had to endure two celebrations.
The initial emotion is disappointment and a certain amount of disgust. The facts are the facts and the Red Wings blew a 3-1 series lead and a 2-1 second intermission lead in Game 6. Whether you’re a seven seed or a one seed, blowing a lead like that is tough to swallow. And Wings fans will be excused if they are a little ornery on Thursday morning.
But as the days go by, it’s impossible not to look at this run as a success. Not only did Howard emerge as a big-time goaltender who clearly deserves the six-year contract he was given, but so many other young players emerged as well. For years, we’ve waited for the next generation of Red Wings stars to emerge. And while they may not be stars yet, players like Damien Brunner, Gustav Nyquist and Patrick Eaves look like aggressive players who have a knack for making big plays in big games. Couple those players with some of the emerging young defensemen, and the Red Wings transition to a title contender may be much quicker than people expected.
The better team won the series. You can’t always say that in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but you can say that here. There should be no shame for the Red Wings or their fans. And better is an important word. Because the Wings are better. And they’re only going to keep heading in that direction.