Ouch! Looking back at painful playoff moments in Red Wings’ history

The author has experienced his share of anguish over the Red Wings, including the great Henrik Zetterberg.

Did you cry during the 1995 Stanley Cup Finals? This guy did.

Oh, yeah. Neal Broten, Game 3, another long slapper, 3-0 Devils, and right then and there, the head buried into the pillow and the tears flowed.

Despicable? Maybe. But that’s a die-hard moment – and considering the Wings’ Cup drought (since 1955), the trauma Paul Coffey created (Game 2), and the pain of watching Mike Vernon (unbearable), you can understand the tears.

And if you don’t, oh well. Yours truly already knows he’s a crazy Wings fan, which was solidified when he risked a job to defend Nicklas Lidstrom. Someone called Z “a cheap tipper” at a restaurant, and then came a gasoline-drenched retort defending Nick’s Swedish customs, the language barrier, the lousy waitress service, and the fact that nobody in Metro Detroit can ever criticize the greatest defenseman in Wings history.

Never mind that the “retort” was delivered to a woman, and via email, because that’s irrelevant.

What is relevant: The Winged Wheel. It can drive you crazy, especially during the spring.

There’s tension, stress, nerves, gut-wrenching moments and … many whacky moments.

Here’s a few.

THE MAN WITH A CAT NAMED HENRIK
“Did that just happen?”

The poor bastard was wearing a No. 96 Holmstrom jersey. His cat was named Henrik – after Henrik Zetterberg. And here he was, just standing and staring into the TV – sadness engulfing his mind.

Seconds earlier, Dan Cleary missed a glorious breakaway with two minutes left in Game 6 of the 2009 Cup Finals. It would’ve tied the game, but he was stoned by Pittsburgh goalie Marc Andre-Fleury, who couldn’t stop a beachball the previous contest in Detroit. Cleary helped Fleury’s cause by coasting from the hashmarks to the crease. He slowed considerably as he made a deke to his backhand.

It gave Fleury plenty of time to react, as he stuck out his glove to deny him.

“Did that just happen?” said the poor bastard who was standing and staring into the TV, like a kindergartner who just lost his lunch money.

That was just Game 6. Can you imagine how he looked in Game 7? When a scrub like Maxime Talbot scored twice? When Niklas Kronwall drilled the crossbar with 2:15 left? When Lidstrom nearly pulled off a miracle-tying goal in the final seconds?

THE CHAIN-SMOKER
Why do goalies transform into The Incredible Hulk during the post-season? And why does it have to be against the Wings?

In 2006, Detroit fell victim to Dwayne friggin’ Roloson and the Edmonton Oilers. And here we were again, facing Calgary and Miikka Kiprusoff during the 2007 first round, just three years past his 2004 performance that killed the Wings careers of Dave Lewis and Curtis Joseph.

Now, Kiprusoff was ready to kill a Wings fan.

It was 1-1 in double overtime of Game 6 when a fan sat on a couch near the bar entrance, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He looked like he was withdrawling on meth.

“Fifty-two shots, man …”

He said it so desperately, you had to make him repeat it.

“FIFTY-TWO SHOTS?!?”

He nodded and took a drag of a cigarette.

“Fifty-two shots, man …”

Through the cloud of white smoke, his hands shook repeatedly. He was probably having flashbacks. Maybe shades of Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2003 – 300 pounds of equipment in a 6X4 cage. Maybe Patrick Roy. Or Felix Potvin – the L.A. Kings 2001 Potvin, not the 1993 Toronto version who went by that stupid moniker of Felix the Cat.

Regardless, the chain-smoking dude was minutes away from a nervous breakdown.

But five minutes and three shots later, Johan Franzen cut across the top of the circles and sniped above Kiprusoff’s shoulder. Series over.

The Wings bench emptied.

The bar erupted.

And the chain-smoking dude started to exchange high-fives, happy he avoided a hospital bill.

THE GRIM REAPER
This moment was probably the most shocking and startling death blow for any Wings fan in the past 30 years. Here we were in 1993. First round. Wings vs. Leafs.

The Wings placed second in the Norris Division with 103 points. Toronto was third with 99 points. By today’s format, this would likely be a conference finals matchup – but in ’93, it was a first-round clash between the once-upon-a-time arch-rivals. (Then Gary Bettman took charge and killed the rivalry, of course. He may as well have imploded the Ambassador Bridge, detonated the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, killed the North American Free Trade Agreement and legislated the Canadian drinking age to jump from 19 to 25.)

Anyway, the Wings, winners of Games 1 and 2 by lopsided scores, managed to lose three straight games to the Leafs.

Then, in a fashion only coach Bryan Murray can explain, his team managed to blow out Toronto in Maple Leaf Gardens by a 7-3 score in Game 6.

That set up Game 7 in Joe Louis Arena.

And with 2:43 left in regulation of the deciding contest, Toronto’s Doug Gilmour tied the score and the entire lower bowl of Joe Louis jolted back in their seats. It was like everyone had whiplash at once. The “I-can’t-believe-they-friggin’-scored moment.”

Gut-wrenching overtime was next.

The Wings, who led the NHL with 369 goals-for during the regular season, and were heavily favored against the Leafs, were now one goal away from their season ending painfully short.

And then it happened.

Shawn Burr lost his stick inside his own zone and mindlessly skated to the bench, creating a defacto Toronto power play. The puck made its way to Leafs defenseman Bob Rouse and Wings goalie Tim Cheveldae decided to cut off the angle, two-feet out of the crease.
Rouse, however, fooled Cheveldae with a fake-shot, slap-pass toward the direction of Nikolai Borschevsky.

“There it is,” said a nearby voice in Section 213, Row 15, Seat 4.

The voice sounded like the Grim Reaper as the puck moved off Rouse’s stick in super-slow motion to Borschevsky, who tipped it toward a wide-open net.

It seemed as if the puck was moving like a snail through the crease, toward the gaping goal, the Wings’ promising Cup dreams dying with every sliding inch.

And all that’s heard is “There it is,” which was enunciated so painfully slow, it was like hearing Will Ferrell’s dart-in-the-neck-tranquilizer voice in “Old School.”

Sure enough, Borschevsky’s re-direction moved through the crease and into the net, the red light signaling the end of the Wings season like an ambulance at the scene of a death.

The stroll down the Joe Louis steps – directly above the point of death, all while watching the Leafs celebrate in a massive pile – was like walking in chains toward the electric chair. And waiting at the bottom was the executioner, who wore an ugly, dark-blue Maple Leafs jersey.

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About Bruce Mason

Bruce Mason's work has appeared on blogs such as allpuck.com and obnoxiousfan.com. A Detroit native, he worked part-time at the Detroit News in 2006-07, freelanced for Crain's Detroit Business, and is now a five-time award winning writer at a daily paper in Idaho.