Mike Babcock is running out of things to do or say.
He can’t spank Marian Hossa and send him to the corner.
He can’t make Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson write, “I promise not to disappear in the Finals again” a hundred times on the chalkboard.
Maybe he can bring a sickle into Joe Louis Arena.
It’s a legendary story in Detroit, though more of the cult-like variety.
The Pistons were set to play the Boston Celtics. It was Game Six of the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals. The Pistons, trying to eliminate their longtime playoff nemesis, had won a stunning Game Five victory in the venerable Boston Garden to move ahead in the series, 3-2.
Someone noticed that center Bill Laimbeer was carrying a satchel into the Pontiac Silverdome.
“What’s in there?”
“You’ll see,” Laimbeer said, looking like the cat who swallowed the canary.
The Pistons, in what was at the time the biggest game in franchise history, went out and dispatched the Celtics–finally. They would advance to the NBA Finals for the first time ever.
So what was in the satchel?
“We had to cut the head off the snake tonight,” Laimbeer said, recalling what he told his teammates as he dramatically withdrew the sickle from his black bag. “As long as the snake is still twitching, you have to cut its head off.”
Big, oafish Bill Laimbeer had deftly used three-dimensional metaphor to help inspire his teammates.
The Red Wings have themselves a twitching snake on their hands.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were fit for the slaughter before Game Six. The Red Wings drilled them, 5-0, in Game Five. There was an extra day off before the sixth game. It was a situation in which the Red Wings typically have thrived.
The Penguins spanked them, 2-1, in a game much un-closer than the score indicated.
The Red Wings had failed to lop the snake’s head off.
Only tonight, there are two snakes showing up at Joe Louis Arena.
The Penguins probably look at the Red Wings much like the 1988 Pistons looked at the Celtics: older, and on top for too long now.
Time for a new King Snake.
Fitting that hockey sticks, if you look at them the right way, kind of look like sickles themselves.
Two heads are on the block tonight at the Joe: that of the younger, maybe hungrier Penguins, and that of the tradition-rich, Cup-happy Red Wings.
One head gets lopped off. The winner gets to slither around the JLA ice, the Stanley Cup in tow.
“I’ve actually never played in a Game Seven in the Finals,” said the Red Wings’ Kris Draper. “This is a first for me.”
So there you go–experience is a bunch of hooey tonight.
The Penguins, in fact, have a few players who possess some sort of Game Seven/Finals background. A few more than the Red Wings.
As Casey Stengel once said, “You can look it up.”
Game Seven. For the Stanley Cup.
It’s what little skaters’ dreams are made of.