This Red Wings team has championship blood.
It’s a bloodline of captains that traces back to Steve Yzerman. Then Nicklas Lidstrom. And now, Henrik Zetterberg.
Each one has their moments in the long history of Red Wings playoff highs and lows: Yzerman finally bringing the Stanley Cup back to the city in 1997 for the first time since 1955. Lidstrom becoming the first European captain to ever raise a Stanley Cup.
This is Zetterberg’s first postseason as Detroit captain, and he doesn’t have the same kind of talent around him as his predecessors while he begins his chapter in Red Wings history. Nobody is expecting him to lift this team to a Stanley Cup title during the same postseason it's breaking in a number of rookies playing critical roles.
But in Detroit’s 4-3 overtime win over the Ducks -- one that forced a Game 7 -- Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk both proved their hearts still pump championship blood. And it’s going to take more than a half-hearted effort from the Ducks to eliminate them.
“They’re huge leaders,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said of his two stars. “Those guys have had an unbelievable amount of pressure. They’ve played hard and been determined, and that’s how they lead. They don’t do a bunch of talking, they just lead by being determined.”
No goals demonstrated that determination and will to extend this series more than Detroit’s first and last goals, the two most important of the game.
Late in the opening period, Zetterberg and David Steckel went into the corner to battle, with Zetterberg absorbing a hit from Steckel and controlling the puck. The moment Datsyuk realized Zetterberg had it, he darted past Francois Beauchemin toward the slot and Zetterberg immediately found him with a quick pass. Datsyuk made a move around Ryan Getzlaf and fired a backhand past Jonas Hiller.
All of this in five seconds.
Five seconds that sent the message that the Ducks weren’t headed to the second round without a huge fight.
When Anaheim rallied to tie the game with a pair of goals within a minute of each other late in the third period, it was the words of those Detroit leaders that reminded the rest of the Red Wings the momentary collapse couldn’t be undone. They couldn’t look back.
There was a game to be won in overtime.
“Nothing really fazes them,” Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “We’ve been through a lot together. We just knew we had to go out there and get the job done.”
It took all of 1:04 in overtime for Zetterberg and Datsyuk to make it happen.
Boudreau wisely called a timeout after an icing to give center Saku Koivu a rest before a crucial faceoff against Datsyuk early in overtime. It didn’t matter. Datsyuk won the faceoff, the puck was worked back to Niklas Kronwall, and he found Zetterberg for a shot. It won’t go down as his prettiest career goal, and his slapshot was redirected a couple times before beating Hiller. It still won the game -- the only thing that matters.
Zetterberg finished with a three-point night, including two goals, the game winner being his first real playoff moment as Red Wings captain.
“The two were kind of ugly ones, but that’s what you need in the playoffs,” he said.
A goal like the one in overtime is the reward for the kind of relentless battle Zetterberg showed for the Red Wings constantly in Game 6.
“I think the third one went in off their body, off the post, off my butt and in. So yeah,” Hiller said. “Those things happen if you don’t play your best or you just wait until something happens.”
With Zetterberg, if you wait long enough, it usually does. This series is headed back to Anaheim because Detroit’s two best players have outplayed Anaheim’s two best. The Ducks captain Getzlaf has matched the play of the Detroit stars for most of the series, although he was a minus-1 and managed to win only 29 percent of his faceoffs in Game 6. Corey Perry has essentially been a non-factor from the start. His next goal of the series will be his first.
Those two have some championship blood, too. It’s time they showed it.
“I think you need more out of Corey and Getzy. We rely on them,” Boudreau said after the game. “If we can equalize Zetterberg and Datsyuk, I think we’ve got a good chance.”
It won’t be any easier in Game 7.