Wings must win one without skipper

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:34 PM ET


 The concern in Motown is about the left eye of captain Steve Yzerman.

 But the Detroit Red Wings should be more worried about having their heart and soul ripped from the lineup.

 No Yzerman. No heartbeat.

 It sounds totally ridiculous given the experienced roster of the Red Wings, which reads like a who's-who list of stars, champions and Hall of Famers.

 Yet, without Stevie Y, it seems a mess of talented players without a leader. He's made them tick for two decades through the thin of the late '80s and early '90s and the thick of three Stanley Cups in the last seven seasons.

 "He's been the strength and pillar of this hockey club for longer than I've been here," said Darren McCarty, himself a character Red Wings lifer in his 10th NHL season. "(His absence) will be in the back of our minds."

 Yzerman's absence was apparently at the top of their minds during Game 5. The Wings were visibly shaken after the game and coach Dave Lewis admitted his team was stunned by the scare thrown into Yzerman, who writhed in pain on the ice immediately after the incident.

 In a twist of irony, a puck shot by teammate Mathieu Schneider ricocheted off the skate of Rhett Warrener and hit Yzerman flush in the face with tremendous force. It broke the orbital bone around Yzerman's left eye and left him with a scratched cornea. Warrener suffered an eye injury in Game 2 when Yzerman's stick accidentally clipped him in the face.

 Fortunately, after four-and-a-half hours of surgery Saturday night, Yzerman's expected to make a full recovery. He was taken to hospital with blurred vision but that improved after the operation.

 "You don't want to see anybody get injured seriously in any way, especially an eye," said Flames captain Jarome Iginla yesterday after practice at the Saddledome. "When a guy panics like that on the ice or when he started to go off and went down, you knew it scared him, naturally. It's great to hear that he's seeing and that it's not going to be any lasting permanent injury."

 In purely hockey terms, Yzerman's absence from the lineup when the Red Wings need him most is music to the Flames' ears.

 "I don't know," said Flames defenceman Andrew Ference. "With the depth of their team, I think it hurts them a lot less than it would hurt a lot of other teams."

 You'd think that would be the case.

 But with an aging Red Wings roster, Yzerman is still the one true constant. On one leg two springs ago, the captain dragged his club from a 2-0 first-round series deficit against the Vancouver Canucks and willed them onward to hockey's Holy Grail.

 Another Cup victory should have marked Yzerman's NHL swansong.

 But a successfully reconstructed knee allowed him to keep playing and he lifted his team to a Game 2 win in this round by scoring twice to even the series with the Flames.

 Yzerman said prior to the playoffs he planned on returning next year, although the collective bargaining talks admittedly would have factored in his decision.

 This injury might force him from the game.

 Certainly, it's forced him from this series.

 Now it's time for someone else to shine.

 "He's been a tremendous leader and now it's up to us to step up," added gritty Kris Draper. "Let's go out and play a great game for him because he's done so much for us."


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