No place like The Joe in the spring for playoff hockey

Joe Louis Arena is magical during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Joe Louis Arena is magical during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The players storm the ice. The decibel levels rise to the rafters. The fans stand and shake those pom-poms, a splendid sea of red and white.

For the 22nd straight spring, it’s playoff time at The Joe, and nothing compares to the feeling and anticipation of a riveting postseason that lies ahead.

The tension can be cut with a knife. The adrenaline courses through the crowd. The fans rock in electricity, ready to explode with each scoring chance.

This is where we saw Steve Yzerman hoist two Cups – once with that gap-toothed grin, another time alongside his daughter.

This is where we saw Mike Vernon and Nicklas Lidstrom raise the Conn Smythe Trophy.

This is where we saw Scotty Bowman put on the skates, dance with Stanley one last time, then ride off into the sunset, a Hall of Fame career in his wake.

Joe Louis Arena in the spring? Nothing compares.

THE MEMORIES
Pride, respect, tradition – it’s all embodied by the boys in the Winged Wheel. It’s all cherished by a rabid fan base, the best in the NHL.
History lies everywhere you look.

Remember the Game 7 atmosphere in 2002 against Colorado? Everyone stood and screamed like animals during that euphoric, four-goal first period! And remember the deafening roar when Patrick Roy was pulled? The ghost of playoff past was gone forever.

How about all of those classic goals? Look at the left face-off circle: There was Slava Kozlov, who slammed on the breaks and beat Chicago’s Ed Belfour five-hole. The bench emptied. The crowd roared. Yzerman shook the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, the first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1966.

Look at the right side of the crease: There was Darren McCarty, capping a sensational goal in Game 4 of the 1997 Finals, the final whisker in the broom that swept Philadelphia, the first Cup since 1955.

Look at the left side of the crease: There was Kris Draper, who redirected a puck past Washington’s Olaf Kolzig in Game 2 of the 1998 Finals, the completion of a dramatic comeback.

And nobody will ever forget that special spot on the blue line, where Stevie Y tattooed a slap shot of epic proportions: Over the shoulder of St. Louis goalie Jon Casey, under the cross bar, into the net, all while delirious Detroit fans absorbed a Game 7 double-overtime winner in the second round in ’96.

ANOTHER RUN?
Look toward the Zamboni entrance, where Al Sobotka twirls the octopi amid a roaring crowd. Look at the banners hanging in the rafters, some created by Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe, the legends of yesteryear, who still lurk in the rink.

Twenty-two years. It’s been special and fun, and maybe it’s time for another run.

How about that final week by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk? No way would they let the playoff streak end. Never count them out of anything.

There was preZident Hank, seven assists in three home games, then a herculean effort in Dallas to seal the deal.

And how about Johan Franzen? Seven goals in seven games? Maybe it’s feeding time for the Mule, just like those dominant performances of years’ past.

Maybe we’ll see their magic from 2008. Maybe there will be another parade.

Or maybe we’ll just dream of it all as we enter through those doors along the Detroit River.

Joe Louis Arena in the spring? Nothing compares.

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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.