My favorite playoff series of all time was the 1997 Western Conference Finals. Immediately, I feel as though this requires some amount of justification because between that series and the present, the Red Wings have won four Stanley Cups. Those series were cool too. As was the 2002 Western Conference Finals, in which the Wings once again beat the Avalanche in what is regarded by some to be perhaps the greatest playoff series of all time – a seven game classic that perfectly (from our perspective) capped off the most intense rivalry in modern history.
That ’97 series held the perfect mix of importance, intensity, exhilaration, and ended with a monumentally rewarding payoff. It didn’t have any super soul-crushing losses (Avalanche in 2002, Ducks in 2009, Penguins in 2008), it wasn’t a total cakewalk (Flyers in 1997), and it didn’t nearly kill me (Blues in 1996, others). That payoff was sweet, sweet victory over a rival powerhouse and 12 months of baggage that threatened to stand between the Wings and the ending of a four decade-long drought between championships. Before that series, and despite beating the Avalanche on March 26th of that year, Detroit had lost to Colorado seven out of the prior ten meetings, which of course included a conference final defeat the previous season that was almost impossible to process. Detroit’s series triumph one year later, vanquishing a closet full of demons and propelling them into the Stanley Cup Finals, felt so rewarding that I look back on it to this day as my favorite one.
Until this point, I had felt that this series against Chicago had shown a spooky resemblance – albeit on a smaller scale, of course – to the ’97 WCF. The Avalanche and Blackhawks were both favorites over the Wings. Both were #1 seeds with championship pedigrees. Both teams taking up the roll of Detroit’s biggest rival. Both had captains who wore #19 and drew comparisons to our own #19, whether we agreed with them or not. In both series, both Game 6’s were played on Memorial Day. Even the order in games won and lost between home and road teams through five games was identical, and the way they were won held a striking similarity.
Game 1: Detroit loses control in the 3rd to go down 1-0.
Game 2: Detroit goes down early but comes alive to even the series.
Game 3: A tight contest goes the Red Wings’ way at JLA.
Game 4: Detroit takes a commanding 3-1 lead with a shutout.
Game 5: The favorites storm back with a vengeance to put the series in doubt again.
In both cases, it felt like the Wings had to win Game 6 or that would be it. They won in 1997; they did not tonight. The similarities end here. I have often thought about what Game 7 in those conference finals would been like. The enormity of it would’ve been so large that I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around it. That’s why winning that Game 6 was so great.
Winning this one would’ve been great too. Bullets:
- Loud noises! Octopus! Karen Newman! Joe Louis Arena! Playoffs! /Jakub Kindl takes a dumb penalty and Chicago scores hooray hockey/
- For the first three quarters or so of the 1st period, Chicago carried the play as they did during Game 5, pretty much resembling their usual selves. They were better on the boards and made life difficult for the Wings when they had the puck, and because the Wings didn’t do enough to push through that, it was a very ugly start.
- Quenneville tried his best to keep Jonathan Toews away from Henrik Zetterberg as much as possible. Toews became so dizzy that he plowed into Jimmy Howard to make his triumphant return to the penalty box. He wears mutton chops.
- Detroit snapped out of their malaise toward the end of the period and Patrick Eaves scored to equalize. Coming out of that period with a tie was an absolute steal. Now I'm wondering if my heart would've been better off if it didn't happen at all.
- The scene: 2nd period, May 27th, 2013, Joe Louis Arena. Brendan Smith and the Red Wings are on a penalty kill. Smith attempts to clear a puck behind his own red line. It goes over the glass.
o Smith: aw g’dangit I took another penalty Cooch Baabcak is gonna be mad at me
o Referee: /signals puck was deflected/
o Smith: the fuck’s thaat mean
o Referee: Puck deflected before it went out, there is no penalty.
o Smith: why
o Referee: Because that’s the rule. If it deflects off a stick first, there’s no penalty.
o Smith: paardon me sir I’m just a melk drinkin Wisconsinite but I’m failing to comperhend right here yeah
o Referee: Not much to understand here – you shoot it out, you go to the box; if it’s tipped by another stick, you don’t.
o Smith: how come
o Referee: Because it’s out of your control at that point. You weren’t the last one to touch it.
o Smith: what if I donkey punch a fella as I’m doin it
o Referee: That would be a different penalty.
o Smith: should I have done thaat
o Referee: Huh?
o Smith: look I’m gonna level wichya here im tootally lost. Usually I just skaate around for a while and Baabcak yells at me and then one of ya tell me to go sit over on that little bench with the guy who won’t buy me booze.
o Referee: You’re 24 years old.
o Smith: will you buy me booze
o Referee: Go sit down.
- Joakim Andersson scored. You know how we joke about poop a lot? This was so shocking and unexpected that I literally almost pooped. Not saying it broke the seal, but it was close. It snuck up on me. I shot up out off the couch and almost left a little present.
- Brendan Smith tends to make stupid mistakes on a gamely basis, and his case of brain leakage led directly to a Chicago goal in the 3rd period. Many things led to Chicago goals in the 3rd period.
- Including: the weakest penalty shot call I have ever seen in 20 years of watching this sport. On the ensuing attempt, Howard was pretty bad. Air had completely left the building at that point. Game over.
- Brunner scored a "fuck THAT shit" goal with under a minute to go, hilariously making the penalty shot goal the game winner for Chicago. Cool.
Game 7 is Wednesday. God help us all.