In years gone by the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs was a no-win situation in Detroit.
If the Wings beat their first-round opponent well, whatever, they were supposed to win after all.
But if the Wings were to get upset early, miserable months of questions about whether age and/or the rest of the league was catching up with the Wings were sure to follow (never mind the answer usually was ‘of course not’).
In a weird way the Wings’ site celebrating 20-straight playoff appearances engenders just as many painful memories as good ones; for every Cup winning highlight there are three clips from three seasons that probably ended before they should have. And so over the years Detroit’s contingent of blue-collar blue-bloods became a little spoiled, but also a little inured to the expense and possible disappointment of early round games.
These, as we’ve noted plenty of times before, are different times.
These days the rest of league is catching up to Detroit and the regular season – never mind the playoffs – are far from the formality they were lo those many years. Winning is expected, but not guaranteed. And now when the Wings do win, people are happy.
The return of spring, a healthy Datsyuk and two performances against Phoenix that confirmed Detroit still is elite when it cares to be, combined to create a sense of fun, hope and exuberance the Joe hasn’t been a party to in years.
There is joy inherent in winning, of course. But a team or player that can win with elan is to be savored. Datsyuk’s style itself is joy incarnate; the root of his success is hard work and efficiency but part of the fun of watching him right now is it seems, after a frustrating season, he’s re-learning the magic he’s capable of right along with us.
The Wings are good, the weather is good and for two games nobody, be they on the ice or in the crowd, took it for granted.
There is a little sadness though. Whilst most Red Wings have to be dragged into retirement kicking and screaming, Mike Modano – now all but officially in his last go-round – was a quiet and seemingly resigned healthy scratch both games.
No matter what you thought about the signing, it says a lot about the man that we haven’t heard any grousing about the scratches. Or the fact because of a (kind of arbitrary) late season scratch he’ll retire one game short of the 1,500 benchmark.
More alarming was the footage NBC showed of Henrik Zetterberg pulling up lame during a Sunday morning skate. Since the Wings – like all NHL teams – maintain a Kremlinesque hold over injury information, it’s pointless to speculate but if Hank felt as frustrated when he looked storming/limping into the dressing room he’s far from out of the woods.
But for now, even the Mike and Hank situations can be spun sweetly. If the Wings keep playing like they are, this should be a quick series. And not only will there be time to rest, but plenty more chances this year for Hank to reclaim his job as Pavel’s deputy, and maybe Mo can get a chance to go down swinging.
Also, Phoenix could bounce back and win tomorrow. Check this spot round about midnight Tuesday and I might well be curled up in the fetal position.
Isn’t hockey awesome?