Stevie Y: The rite of spring

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 4:36 PM ET


 Looked up from yet another article about how the creaky old fossils who inhabit Maple Leafs jerseys were in way over their heads against Philadelphia, just in time to see Steve Yzerman pop one in from the slot.

 It was the first of two he would score on Saturday as the Red Wings rebounded to square their Western Conference series at a win apiece against Calgary.

 It is a rite of spring: Stevie Y reattaches his arm or his leg or whatever part of him that has been in the shop this time, shoots a vial of Geritol directly into his veins and, you know, carries the Red Wings someplace on his shoulders.

 WRINGING THEIR HANDS

 After last year's four-and-out disaster and coming off an unsettling overtime loss to the Calgary Flames in the series opener, Detroit's hockey fans were wringing their hands in angst. A second loss at home could be catastrophic.

 The Wings, like the Leafs, are not quite as old and infirm as it sometimes seems, but they have enough geriatric components to make their fans fret about injury and fatigue. It was worriesome enough that they needed six games to dispose of the Nashville Predators. Now, in the second round against an obviously aroused bunch of Calgary Flames, the Wings were already down a game.

 As per usual, they looked to their captain who, in his 21st NHL season, remains one of the unique superstars in sports. Others talk about doing what it takes to win, but Yzerman lives that credo, a shining example of humility for all his high-profile teammates.

 Who but Yzerman -- don't forget he's the sixth-leading point-getter in NHL history -- would readily accept an assignment to move from his established place at centre on a scoring line, to right wing on what has affectionately become known as the Grind Line?

 Normally, Darren McCarty plays on that line with centre Kris Draper and left winger Kirk Maltby. Coach Dave Lewis has assigned them to throw a blanket over Jarome Iginla, which they have to this point, but he expects even more.

 "Draper and Maltby, with their speed, and Yzerman with his smarts and his hands, they find a way to generate offence, not just defence," Lewis said.

 Maltby and Yzerman were in the final seconds of killing a penalty midway through the second period when Maltby took off with the puck down the right side. Instead of dumping it in, he raced around the Calgary net and hit Yzerman, alone in the slot, with a gimmee set-up to make it 2-0. Less than two minutes later, Yzerman roofed another shot to make it 3-0, more or less settling the matter.

 There are other high-end performers who will check their ego at the door, but not many. More than most teams, the Red Wings have a maturity of purpose and much of that, we suspect, comes from the aura that glows about their captain.

 "Ours is a team that has a lot of guys used to scoring, but there's not going to be a lot of scoring in this series," said Brendan Shanahan, another of those grizzled veterans. "We're going to have to win games 1-0 and 2-1 and that means for most of the guys, including the scorers, success may mean blocking a pass or digging out a loose puck or catching something off a rebound. And we're going to have to be happy with that."

 And if you're not, you'll have to answer to Yzerman.

 It was two years ago that the Wings found themselves down 2-0 against Vancouver in the opening round of the playoffs. Going back to Vancouver for Games 3 and 4, Yzerman grabbed his team by the throat and wouldn't let go until they came home all square. Barely able to skate because of a knee injury (see Medal, Olympic Gold) Yzerman scored a goal and assisted on another in a 3-1 victory in Game 3 and then duplicated that feat in a 4-2 win in Game 4.

 "It's amazing how much energy you have after scoring a goal," said Yzerman, just a month short of his 39th birthday, after Saturday's game against Calgary. "You get a rush of adrenalin."

 We wouldn't know much about that. For us mere mortals, it is quite enough to get our kicks from the annual affirmation that Yzerman, and all the marvelous qualities he represents, are on display again.


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