Henrik Zetterberg saved his best game of the series for an elimination game, showing his strength as a new captain. (Beauty Playin’ Eh, Flickr)
With his team’s back firmly implanted against the wall in game six, Detroit Red Wings’ captain Henrik Zetterberg hadn’t yet found the scoresheet himself.
On Friday night, that changed in a big way, evoking definite memories of Steve Yzerman. With two goals including the overtime winner, Zetterberg was bound and determined to will his team to victory. As Yzerman so often did, Zetterberg likely didn’t lead with many pre-game words, but rather his actions on the ice.
With the score tied at one in the third period, Zetterberg got Detroit’s woeful home power play off the mat with a huge blast from the left side. It was the captain’s first meaningful offensive play in the series, and gave the Red Wings’ entire lineup a definite boost. Meanwhile, his defense continued to be outstanding. After the wheels had careened off in the third, everyone, from fans to the janitors to the concession workers were panicking. Everyone had lost their cool except Zetterberg, of course.
El capitano wasted little time rescuing his needy team. After a beautiful fake, Zetterberg hammered a shot from the left side of the ice low, handcuffing Jonas Hiller, who never saw the shot. Just 1:04 into overtime, the Red Wings were heading back west for a game seven, where, as both Zetterberg and Yzerman can attest, anything could always happen.
It was his watershed moment as captain. Yzerman’s, of course, came in 2002 with his Red Wings facing a seemingly insurmountable 0-2 hole on the road in Vancouver. Yzerman opened the scoring in pivotal game three, and also contributed an assist. Another identical two point effort in game four helped even the series. Yzerman, as everyone remembers, was literally performing on one leg, with knee injuries threatening to cripple him. The Red Wings wouldn’t face a sticky situation again until game six in Denver, where Yzerman’s assist helped set up the ice breaker.
Though they’re separated by a decade and different teams, these situations are different yet entirely similar. In Zetterberg’s first major test as captain, he willed his team to a victory, much like he willed them into the playoffs against plenty of late season odds. It was the best kind of leadership; quiet and by example. If Detroit can be buoyed by one thing in game seven, it’s that their leader refused to let his team die when giving up seemed like an easy choice.
With the concept of momentum now null and void, game seven is anyone’s to win or lose. Certainly, given the unpredictable nature of this series, the Red Wings could emerge victorious for the first time in regulation. The Anaheim Ducks, boosted by home ice, could also beat Detroit. Either way, given what we’ve learned about Zetterberg’s leadership down the stretch, nothing about Sunday night should be considered a complete loss. Defeat would be frustrating to the fans, but building blocks do exist.
Regardless of the final score, the Red Wings have found Yzerman’s clone. The transition that looked uncertain months ago has steadily found its way. Learning that on a night in which the season was on the line is Zetterberg’s proudest accomplishment as captain to date. If Zetterberg wills this particular team further, it will only help aid in the creation of his own legacy.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax