Inspired by late owner, can Wings,
Tigers deliver memorable ending?
By KEITH GAVE
I never believed much in Hollywood endings – at least in real life – until I saw one for myself a long time ago. But lately I’ve been daydreaming about another one.
That first one I witnessed was in June of 1998, when instead of taking a victory lap around what was then MCI Arena in Washington, D.C., Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman held the Stanley Cup over his head, did a quick 360 so everybody could get their pictures, then skated a couple of strides and set the Cup gently onto Vladimir Konstantinov’s lap and the entire team took a victory lap behind his wheelchair.
“That’s the kind of stuff you see in the movies,” Yzerman told me recently, when I asked him to describe that moment.
Inspired by their fallen teammate, whose career was ended the year before when he was critically injured in a limo crash, the Wings had accomplished the improbable – winning the Stanley Cup for a second consecutive year. Two decades later, they remain the last team to win back-to-back titles.
As much as I’d enjoy seeing the Wings put together an historic push that miraculously enabled them to extend their playoff streak to a 26th season, as amazing a parting gift that would be for their beloved owner who died recently, I just don’t see it happening. Not even after they beat two of the most powerful teams in the NHL over the weekend.
It wasn’t that they managed to beat Eastern Conference leaders Washington and Pittsburgh on consecutive days, it’s how they managed to do it. With a total team effort in front of Petr Mrazek – playing like he did two years ago after he was called up to replace the injured Jimmy Howard – the Wings looked like a team capable of beating anyone in a seven-game series this spring, fi they could only make the playoffs.
The Wings remain last in the Atlantic Division, eight points out of a playoff berth with just 23 games remaining. With 58 points, and likely needing at least 92 to have a shot, they need to go about 17-6 the rest of the way. And just about the worst thing that could happen to a team that looks like it’s heating up, is happening: The Wings begin their union-mandated five-day break on Wednesday, and these breaks haven’t exactly panned out like the players had hoped. The first 15 teams that had their break returned and went 3-10-2 in their first game after returning to action.
But when the Wings return to play, it’ll be out West in Vancouver, the first of a five-game, coast-to-coast trip that will end in Boston nine days later.
If the Wings make the playoffs, we’re not calling Hollywood to tell this story, we’re calling the Pope. Henrik Zetterberg may be a candidate for sainthood.
No, the Hollywood ending I’m thinking about involves Mike Ilitch’s other team – the one he loved most. The Red Wings were Marian’s baby. “My little hockey team,” she calls it. “Baseball’s my sport,” Ilitch would say, though he adored his hockey club, too, especially for all the glory it brought to Detroit.
Before he died, Mike Ilitch kept the window open just wide enough for his baseball team. In what surely seemed like a change of heart after General Manager Al Avila said last fall that change was coming and he started shopping around half his lineup, little happened. In fact, it very well might have been a change of Mike Ilitch’s heart. When the roster came together this week, all the boys, except for centerfielder Cameron Maybin, were back.
And they know the score. Miguel Cabrera acknowledged it early in spring training in Lakeland, saying, “We’ve got one more year.”
One more year to deliver a World Series title to the Ilitch family before the roster undergoes major reconstructive surgery to begin another rebuild.
One more year for this highly (over) paid team to put it all together, to get stronger up the middle with someone (anyone) emerging who can play decent centerfield and hit at least his weight, with a consistent bullpen to backstop what should be one of the better starting rotations in baseball if Jordan Zimmermann can stay healthy.
One more year, a final shot with a roster built to win, a roster bought and paid for by their own angel in the outfield.
These Detroit Tigers are a good team, absolutely good enough to win it all in October. And if they do, it would hardly qualify for a miracle.
But what a Hollywood ending, eh?