I remember my Game 7 day like it was yesterday. Friday, June 12, 2009 was one of the most optimistic days of my life. I was unemployed at the time — a result of a combination of the terrible job market and my own apathy following another year of law school — and I couldn’t have been happier. My Red Wings were about to do the deed on the Penguins for the second straight year, and we were in for an aggressively emotional parade that was going to feel like a defense of the Motor City, much like the Eminem Chrysler commercial did during the Super Bowl a year and a half later.
What was going to stop us from having this three-month celebration, anyway? Sure, it was Game 7, and in the past I would have been a nervous wreck over the possibility of losing, but the two teams had shown nothing to suggest a Pittsburgh win on that Friday night. Aside from dispatching of the Penguins in six games the summer before, Detroit had won its first three home games of the series by a total score of 11-2, with no one-goal games in that stretch. This was the scene at the end of Game 5. The Red Wings had shown that they ran the best puck possession system in the league. If anything, the Penguins were just a junior varsity version of the Red Wings. That argument held up in 2008, so why not in ’09?
It was a hot and sunny day, and I felt obliged to amp up my strangely calm heart rate with about seven cups of coffee over the course of the afternoon. I made the obligatory Sour Patch Kids run, my lone superstition applying to Red Wings home playoff games. I made the mistake of buying them from the package, instead of hitting up a candy shop and getting my magic candies in a stock white bag, but what could that hurt? We had this thing on lock.
At that time I was lucky enough to live far enough north to get CBC, and I will never forget Don Cherry’s intro to Game 7. Click the link, and do not go away from it if you have not yet reached the 2:45 mark of the video. “Nine months of war for one game.”
Then the actual game happened. The Wings looked flat early, and found themselves trailing 2-0 after 40 minutes thanks to a pair of Max Talbot goals. It was around that point that I realized this thing was getting away. Sure, the Penguins lost Crosby earlier in the game, but the Red Wings were doing nothing to convince anyone that they planned on scoring any goals that night, let alone three. All I remember are a lot of blank stares, trying to get a head start on processing the devastation that was headed my way. This was it. My team was going out like suckers. Not like the defending champions that they were, but like overmatched weenies afraid to push back.
Then the third period unfolded, and the Wings outshot the Pens 8-1. Jonathan Ericsson cut the deficit in half with just over six minutes to play, and the Wings proceeded to throw everything they could at Pittsburgh. They decided that if they were going out, they were going out like champions. The dream for the repeat finally collapsed when Marc-Andre Fleury stoned Nick Lidstrom from point blank range with about a second to play. What I remember next was a mixture of pain, shock and a quickly developing sense of appreciation for what the Penguins had just done to my team. They came into a building in which they had been beaten down three times to conclude a series that, for the second straight year, they had never led. And they won the game without their best player.
|Fleury saves. Internal crying commences. It hasn’t stopped yet.|
It didn’t seem at that time that the loss was the end of the Red Wings, and until Lidstrom retires it won’t be, but we Detroit fans have spent the past two years hoping desperately for a return to that very spot. We haven’t come close, and there appears to be a two-week window now in which Lidstrom might lock up that era of glory that ended on a Friday night in June of 2009, and throw away the key.
My advice for Canucks and Bruins fans is this: relax, remember this moment, and enjoy the lead up and the game. When it’s over, it’s over. Even if your team wins, attention will soon turn to offseason moves and trying to defend what you already have. If you lose, it will be hard to take. But life will go on, and all the losing team can do is attempt to get right back to where they are today — on the brink.
|“It’s the deep breath before the plunge.” – Mithrandir|
But that’s what makes today so fun. Everything is on a knife’s edge. History is hanging in the balance. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will soon, and we know it will soon. It is very possible that as fans, your team will never get to this point again. And even if they do, there’s no telling how you’ll feel about it as compared to this 2011 campaign. So don’t fret about losing, and don’t pray for a win to come and go as quickly as possible. Enjoy the game tonight, and go get your Stanley Cup.
Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals is tonight at 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT live on NBC, CBC and RDS.