Chalk up a W for Stevie Y

Updated: May 2, 2006, 4:40 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

As the seconds ticked down on Steve Yzerman's Hall of Fame career, here's hoping the Detroit captain is remembered more for the thousand little things that made him a champion than the stark disappointment of another playoff fade by his Red Wings.

There are the three Stanley Cups, of course.

And the gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002.

And All-Star games and personal awards.

But Yzerman's career should ultimately be remembered for the myriad subtle characteristics that go unnoticed by all but those who called him a teammate.

Like this playoff season.

During a six-game series against Edmonton that revealed a surprising leadership vacuum in the talented, experienced Red Wings dressing room, Yzerman was among the team's best players.

Hampered by what Detroit papers were calling a torn rib muscle, Yzerman missed two games but returned for Monday's deciding sixth game in Edmonton. He set up a power-play goal to give the Red Wings what should have been a comfortable 2-0 lead midway through the second period. But the Wings could not hang on as the youthful Oilers overwhelmed Detroit with four third-period goals en route to a dramatic 4-3 win and a 4-2 triumph in the series.

Although he probably shouldn't have been playing, these are the kind of sacrifices the understated native of Nepean, Ontario, has been making for more than a decade.

When then-coach Scotty Bowman told the team he needed less flash and more heart in the late 1990s, it was Yzerman who turned in gaudy stats for a more complete game. He scored less often but blocked more shots, killed more penalties. He became the ultimate lead-by-example guy.

And it earned the Wings three Cups between 1997 and 2002.

In the spring of 2002, Yzerman returned after missing 30 games to injury and led the team with 23 points, second in overall playoff scoring, in spite of a badly damaged knee.

Earlier this year, understanding his friend Wayne Gretzky was in an untenable position in selecting the Canadian Olympic team, Yzerman called and told Gretzky he wouldn't be available. At the time, many believed Yzerman would call it quits midseason, sidelined by injuries and seemingly out of place in the new NHL. But he bided his time and returned as the team's most dynamic player down the stretch and indeed in this disappointing first-round series.

Even as his body began to break down, Yzerman continued to establish himself as perhaps the most recognizable sports figure in a sports-mad town. GM Ken Holland told ESPN.com earlier this year that in the end Yzerman will rival Gordie Howe as the town's brightest light.

And make no mistake, the end is here.

Even before this season, Yzerman, who will turn 41 before the end of the next round, wrestled with whether to return to the game, and this injury-plagued campaign will make that decision easier.

The problem for the Red Wings is they showed precious little character beyond that which Yzerman showed, failing to fulfill significant promise for the third straight playoff year.

With Yzerman's formal declaration on his retirement being rumored to come over the next week, the challenge facing Holland in finding someone to fill that significant void is likely under way. It won't be easy.

Gamble pays off

Kudos to rookie head coach Randy Carlyle in Anaheim for making the hard but correct decision in starting untested Ilya Bryzgalov in goal, at home, for Game 6 of the Ducks' first-round series against the Calgary Flames.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere has shown flashes of brilliance harkening back to his virtuoso performance in the spring of 2003. But he's also shown an alarming lack of consistency while Bryzgalov has been stellar in relief.

It would have been easy for Carlyle, coaching in his first NHL playoff series, to go with the tried and true, but he went with his gut and it paid off with a dramatic 2-1 win over the Flames in Game 6 to force a deciding seventh game Wednesday night in Calgary. Bryzgalov stopped 21 of 22 shots and will undoubtedly be the Ducks' Game 7 starter.

Forsberg flash

Here's a news flash. When Peter Forsberg plays well, the Flyers have success. Next up, scoring is good.

But seriously, for a veteran squad, the Flyers' fortunes have been surprisingly tied to Forsberg's performance in this series.

In the team's three losses, all in Buffalo, Forsberg has two assists. In the two home victories, the Swedish star has four goals and two assists. Is it fair to suggest that as Forsberg goes, so go the Flyers?

"I think it's fair. I don't like it. But I think it's fair," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said.

That said, Hitchcock added he thinks players in the Flyers dressing room want to disprove that theory.

"We're not a one-trick pony," Hitchcock said. "We've shown it all year that we're not a one-trick pony."

Does Forsberg think everything's riding on his shoulders to keep the series alive in Game 6?

"Well, I hope not. But all I know is, [Tuesday] I'm going to come out and play hard, so hopefully it'll be enough in that case," he said Monday.

Forsberg said he's never been on a team that has come back from a 3-2 deficit in the playoffs. This is technically true, although in the spring of 2001, the Colorado Avalanche trailed New Jersey 3-2 in the Stanley Cup finals and won the last two games to capture the Cup. Forsberg, however, was out with a ruptured spleen.

"It didn't count," he joked.

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.