Thursday, May 3, 2007

Back from the Brink

Sometime after 1 am last night, a yell echoed through a quiet neighborhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was not a yell of terror, anger, or surprise. It was the yell of a man rejuvenated, a man overjoyed. It was also probably a yell that pissed off the neighbors, but I can't really say I cared much at that moment.

That same scene probably played itself out in hundreds of households around the state of Michigan. What was the explanation for such widespread rudeness and unconcern for others' need for sleep? With 3:56 left in the overtime period, Mathieu Schneider gloved down a Scott Hannan clearing attempt and unleashed a slapshot that deflected off Patrick Rissmiller and beat San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov to win game 4 by a score of 3-2.

47 minutes and 53 seconds of game time earlier, the Red Wings could not have looked more dead in the water (or Shark Tank, if you prefer). With 11:53 left in the second period, Marcel Goc scored on a knuckling shot that deflected off the helmet of Andreas Lilja and fluttered over a bewildered Dominik Hasek. Despite Detroit's protests of the Sharks having too many men on the ice (they did) and a video review to make sure the puck didn't go in off a high stick (it didn't), San Jose took a 2-0 lead on the Goc goal. At this point, the Wings looked listless, the Shark Tank was alive, and I was checking to see when the next Pistons game was.

New life came with under 10 seconds left in the second period, as Tomas Holmstrom battled a deflected point shot out of the air, beating Nabokov and pulling Detroit within one. The late goal gave Detroit some momentum heading into the final period, and took the energy out of the San Jose crowd. It was also great to see Holmstrom have such a big impact in his first game back from his eye injury, as he put some grit back in the Wings' toothless power play.

Tomas Holmstrom, King of Swing (screenshot from NHL Highlight Machine)

Detroit looked to be in trouble again late in the third. While they had been able to pepper Nabokov with shots, they were unable to put in the equalizer. With under a minute left, Detroit pulled Hasek, and I watched in horror as Robert Lang, King of All Things Uninspiring, skated what may have been the last truly meaningful shift in Detroit's season. Just as I was cursing his name and searching for the nearest pitchfork and torch, looking to give Mike Babcock my two cents on just who Detroit should put on the ice in crunch-time, season-on-the-brink type situations, the miraculous happened. Valtteri Filppula dug a puck off the side boards and got the puck to Lang, who froze the San Jose defender with a quick pass fake. Never have I changed my opinion of a man quite so quickly, as King Uninspiring became Captain Clutch with one flick of the wrist, beating Nabokov with 33.1 seconds remaining in the game.

Lang sends the game into overtime, temporarily stifling the muttered swearing of thousands of Red Wings fans (photo from

14:52 into the overtime period, San Jose's Craig Rivet shot the puck into the stands from his own zone, drawing a delay of game penalty. A minute into the ensuing Detroit power play, Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan took control of the puck behind the net and attempted to clear the puck out to center. Schneider reached up and gloved the puck out of the air, and sent a shot hurtling towards the San Jose net. Seconds later, I was letting the world know just how happy I was that Detroit had tied the series. And if that pissed off the neighbors, well screw them; they should have been watching the Wings anyway.

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