Stevie Aside, This One Was All Business

Apparently, there was a hockey game in Tampa tonight. Apparently, the 2nd place teams in both conferences squared off on a sheet of ice. Apparently, the Red Wings won 6-2 (What up Mr. P!)

That said, none of it really seemed to matter in the run-up to the game. All the talk centered around the Red Wings facing off against Steve Yzerman’s new family, which became incredibly apparent throughout the broadcast, on Twitter and in the media before, during and after the game. Don’t get me wrong: I love Steve Yzerman. I’m thankful for everything he’s done (and continues to do) for the Red Wings organization. I just didn’t give a damn tonight.

While everybody and their brother were nostalgic and reminiscent of the days where #19 led the Winged Wheel, I found myself muttering “How about that Stevie?” and “Fuck you Tampa” every time the Wings scored. It wasn’t because I dislike Yzerman or am harboring bitter bitchiness at him for heading down to Tampa. No, it was because the Wings treated this game exactly the way they needed to, which is exactly the way Yzerman would have wanted them to.

It’s just business, baby.

Two extremes were in play tonight, and I’m not talking about the fan bases. No, on one side there are the Detroit Red Wings: a team that has slumbered through the first part of 2011 in the midst of an absolute war going on around them in the Western Conference. On the other side of the coin are the Tampa Bay Lightning: the best story of the year in the NHL, but a team that finds themselves needing to answer the bell in the face of their “legitimate” status being challenged. Veteran poise vs. youthful exuberance. How many times has that story played out the wrong way for Detroit in the past?

Not tonight though. There’s no doubt both teams were well aware of the Yzerman hoopla surrounding the game, and the way each team handled the extra pressure was evident all night long, save for a five minute stretch in the second period. The Wings shelved the emotion, put on their skates and came to play hockey. It wasn’t pretty at times – neutral zone clogging never really is – but the job got done and the two points were secured. Meanwhile, the Lightning allowed themselves to fall behind early, start to get lulled to sleep, woke up, surged back and then got rocked to sleep in front of a crowd who was never in their corner to begin with. Yes, the Wings did surrender 40 shots. Too many? Probably, but this game was only close when the Wings lost focus and started coasting in the second. Once the challenge was issued, the Wings finally switched on the killer instinct and soundly defeated a team desperately searching for validation.

I’m sure there are those that will argue that the Wings put in the extra effort as a tribute for their former leader. I disagree. If anything, they did it in spite of Yzerman. Not maliciously, mind you, but for the simple fact that ever since their commitment to the task was challenged by Mike Babcock, they’ve responded in spades. Trouncing a friend was just icing on the cake, and the only statement the Wings were looking to make tonight was that even though the upstart Lightning might be having a great season, there’s still a long way to go to become a legitimate threat.

It will be interesting to see where these two teams go from here. The Wings look poised to have a solid March, with a familiar face in Brad Stuart returning tonight and Mike Modano, Chris Osgood, Ruslan Salei and – hopefully – Valtteri Filppula making their way back in the coming days and weeks. The Bolts, on the other hand, are starting a monster stretch of games in their own barn, but are still reeling from a heartbreaking shootout loss to the Eastern leading Philadelphia Flyers, and tonight’s dismantling courtesy of the Wings. Only time will tell what the rest of the season holds for these two teams.

Personally, I’m glad the “Showdown with Stevie” is over with. Too much hype around a guy who doesn’t want it, trying to instill that same belief in a new organization that is beginning to look eerily similar to the one in Detroit. And with their win tonight, the Wings helped their former captain teach his kids the message they need to learn, albeit a bit painfully:

It’s just business, baby.

Photo courtesy of John T. Greilick/Detroit News