Sunday, June 16, 2024

Federov needs to step up before Wings lose again

April 20, 2001

It all began my freshman year when I attended Ferris State.

I worked for the sports information department, writing press releases, sending out mail and most importantly, doing statistics for sporting events.

I was never much of a hockey fan before that year, and being exposed to every one of Ferris State’s hockey games, it suddenly dawned on me how rad this sport was.

So the following year, I transferred to Spartan country to pursue a journalism degree while following our hockey team as much as the television would allow, and also keeping a close eye on the Red Wings.

Sometimes I would even sit one foot from the cube and put headphones on so I wouldn’t disturb my roommate diligently doing his homework.

I’m not going to say I’m the biggest Red Wings fan out there, because I’m obviously not - I’m just another guy who digs hockey and when Ron Mason’s guys sadly lost in the Frozen Four to North Dakota on April 5, my mindset focused 100 percent on the Wings.

The Wings ended the regular season strong, going undefeated for their last 19 games at Joe Louis Arena. Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman and Darren McCarty were all on their games and heading into the playoffs, so I didn’t really see their Round One competitors, the Los Angeles Kings, as being too much of a problem.

Heck, we won the first two games by a combined score of 9-3, and Sergei Federov responded to the team’s injury losses of Yzerman in game one and Shanahan in game two.

I didn’t get too upset after Monday night’s 2-1 loss in Los Angeles because it isn’t abnormal for a team to win one here and there in the playoffs.

So going into Wednesday’s 10:30 p.m. game at the Staples Center, I was feeling pretty confident the Wings would pull through and quiet down the King’s fans.

Four hours later I found myself sitting on my couch, jaw wide open, staring at a screen where a 4-3 score glared right back at me.

The overtime victory by the Kings totally blew my mind. How could the Wings blow a three-goal lead in less than six minutes to a team that really isn’t that good?

It was Los Angeles’ first back-to-back playoff wins since 1993, when it beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in games six and seven of the Western Conference finals.

I woke up the following morning and couldn’t believe we really lost a game we had in the bag, especially because the Wings came out firing and looking confident.

The Kings’ first goal, by Scott Thomas, was only unfortunate because it ruined Chris Osgood’s shutout.

Then Jozef Stumpel got me a little worried with his controversial goal, which I still believe Osgood stopped.

When the Kings tied it up with Bryan Smolinski’s point-blank shot with 53 seconds remaining, I couldn’t believe it.

The Kings, who were quiet and even got some boos from the crowd after repeated failed attempts on their power plays, had somehow scored three goals in the time span of 5:14 in the third period.

Eric Belanger sealed the Wings’ fate at 2:36 in overtime with a shot over Osgood’s shoulder.

And even though unsung heroes Pat Verbeek, Steve Duchesne and Vyacheslav Kozlov contributed snazzy-looking goals, the reason the Wings lost wasn’t because of the loss of Shanahan and Yzerman.

They lost because Federov didn’t step up much in a must-win game that would have given them a burst of confidence going back to Detroit. Also, they let up their guard too soon.

Instead of keeping the pressure on, we saw a tired Red Wings team at the end of the third period that did nothing but clear the puck - or try to.

I’m no hockey analyst, but I hate it when teams play defense only at the end of the game, especially when it’s the playoffs and anything can happen.

There’s no way Scotty Bowman should have lost this one - which is probably why he skipped the postgame news conference and headed straight to the team’s bus.

So that loss poured a little rain on my parade, but it’s all right.

The Wings played amazing during the first two games without the assistance of both Shanahan and Yzerman (and McCarty, who isn’t completely up to snuff right now after an ankle injury in game three), but it’s a bad sign if they can only win at home right now.

The Wings have something most other teams don’t have - the experience and the heart to win it all again. With game five heading back to Detroit at 3 p.m. Saturday, I’m sure Federov and Chris Chelios, among others, will step it up a notch.

Sure, the injuries will hurt us, but there’s no reason this Red Wings team can’t bring the Stanley Cup back to D-town this year - as long as the fans get their red on!

Maybe what Federov needs to do is bring Anna Kournikova with him to game six in Los Angeles - she was at games one and two in Detroit. Coincidence?

Dan Julian, State News music reporter, can be reached at julianda@msu.edu.

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