I told myself I wasn’t going to do this. Not going to hold out hope, when we’ve all seen this story before, and just last year. Then Justin Verlander had to go and throw a no-hitter yesterday, and spit in the face of my “San Jose is a little bit better of a hockey team than Detroit is” rhetoric.
I know this sounds crazy, but have fun with this and hear me out. The connection between the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings is undeniable. It starts at the top, as Mike and Marian Ilitch own both franchises. It trickles down to the players and coaches, who have been known to support each other by attending each others’ games during their own offseasons, and throwing out first pitches and such when able. The connection continues to the supporters of each team, as it is hard to attend a Red Wings playoff game and not have a quick conversation with the guy sitting next to you about the current Tigers series. Comparatively, one of my fondest memories of old Tiger Stadium came on June 7, 1997, when, before leaving the game against the Seattle Mariners to catch the end of Game 4, I caught Nicklas Lidstrom’s late first period goal on the big screen in center field. The Tigers crowd couldn’t have been louder following that goal, and chants of “Let’s Go Red Wings” probably had the major leaguers shaking their heads. The Red Wings ended a 42-year Stanley Cup drought that night.
So with the connection established, I couldn’t help but think of two ways that Verlander’s Saturday afternoon gem may have changed the course of hockey history.
First, the last time Verlander threw a no-hitter (sounds cool, doesn’t it?), the Red Wings defeated the San Jose Sharks in the conference semifinals. The year was 2007, and the Wings had already won that series by the time Verlander pulled off his first no-no, but Verlander sure had the calm look yesterday of a man who knew he was pitching for a higher cause. He did not mention the Red Wings in his post-game interview, which was live from the scene in Toronto (NHL headquarters), but I think we all know that he simply did not want to jinx the potential comeback by talking about it on national television.
The second reason that Verlander’s second career no-hitter should be questioned as perhaps a turning of the tide in the Sharks – Red Wings western semifinal series is that last year’s series was played around much worse Tigers news. Game 3 last year saw the Wings come home with optimism, as there was no recent memory of being eliminated by San Jose. That optimism ran concurrent with the sad news that legendary Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell had passed away earlier in the day. This was huge news, even on the Red Wings telecast. The depressing loss of a local legend just happened to be followed by Red Wing losses in their next home game (Game 3), and their next road game (Game 5), which bookended their one shining moment in the series, Game 4’s demolition of San Jose. If Verlander’s no hitter can conversely deliver wins in the Wings’ next home and road games, then the Red Wings will match what Chicago did in the first round, and will force a Game 7 after falling behind 0-3 in the series.
Again, I didn’t want to get anybody’s hopes up, but Justin Verlander went and threw caution to the wind yesterday. Now all we can do is wait for 8:00 p.m. ET, and see if he did enough yesterday to upend history.
I ain’t sayin’, I’m just sayin’.