Wings letting it slip away

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 9:53 PM ET

DETROIT -- Long after it was over, Dominik Hasek was the last of the Red Wings sitting in a near-empty and almost silent dressing room, still shaking his head.

Still wondering how it had come to this, still alone in the room, but not alone with his head shaking.

The best team in the Western Conference final is not winning the Western Conference final.

The deeper and stronger team on the ice is not leading 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.

When summer hits, and the Wings have not been part of any kind of parade, they may well look back at yesterday's game at Joe Louis Arena, and at Game 4 in Anaheim, both of them one-sided, and tear themselves apart wondering how they let this opportunity pass.

How they're playing a game of pool against the Anaheim Ducks and somehow making their shots but leaving too many balls in play.

"I don't know," Hasek said. "It's very hard. I'm just a goalie. I was in the net but from where I was we dominated the game. We outshot them. We out-chanced them. But the pucks didn't go in. The power play didn't score.

"But we are the better team...

"They scored in the end. These are the small things that completely change the momentum of the game."

Or in this case, perhaps, the momentum of a series.

On a noisy afternoon at the Joe, the Red Wings played the part of the former Kronk boxer, Michael Moorer, and the Ducks played the part of George Foreman. For the entire bout, Moorer punched away at Foreman, winning round after round, breaking Foreman down.

Then one well-timed punch and it was over.

Teemu Selanne's overtime score was that punch that knocked the Wings out of the game, and perhaps the series yesterday. A goal and a game the Wings, like Moorer, never saw coming.

"We should have won it and we lost it," said Nicklas Lidstrom, the captain who deflected a puck past Hasek with 47.3 seconds to play in the third period to send a one-sided game to overtime. "Now we have to find a way to come back."

It is, in many ways, remarkable that the Ducks are leading in this series, let alone a win away from the Stanley Cup final. They won a game at home without all-star defenceman Chris Pronger. They won a game yesterday without getting a thing from Selanne and centre Andy McDonald, until everything changed in overtime. They won a game with Randy Carlyle shrinking his bench about as much as any coach can.

They won a game that gives them a 3-2 lead in a series in which they have been lesser team for three consecutive games. This is the kind of series that coaches struggle to comprehend.

Mike Babcock is adamant that you don't win the Stanley Cup in any year without overcoming challenges. So here is the challenge: The Wings have to win two in a row to advance now. History and the Ducks are now against them.

"It's not like we've come out and laid two eggs in a row here," coach Mike Babcock of the past two losses.

"I thought we played pretty well. You keep doing good things and it turns.

"If you think the rink's tilted and the other team is outplaying you, then you've got no hope. But I think if you believe you do good things and good thing happen in life, then you feel pretty good about your situation. So let's keep playing."

At least until tomorrow.

There is no margin of error for the Red Wings anymore.

No more time for Andreas Lilja to give the puck away in overtime. No more time for lazy last-minute hooking penalties by Pavel Datsyuk.

They have seen the enemy in this Stanley Cup series and it is them.


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