For the past two days, ever since the Red Wings kept their playoff hopes alive by winning Game Six, the Detroit media has been full of playoff cliches. "It's a do or die situation." "The first goal will be huge." "The Red Wings need to play to win." Fans took up time at work discussing hockey?perfect strangers started talking hockey while waiting in line at the grocery store or in dentists' waiting rooms. Anxiety? Yes. Anticipation? Yes. Excitement? Oh, yes.
The fans and media need not have worried. Game Seven was a dream game, the game we all imagined but never dared to give voice to, a stunning 7-0 victory to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals and give the Colorado Avalanche a sendoff to their summer vacation.
The Red Wings came out fighting, and the first goal WAS huge, as well as early and from a not-so-expected, but highly deserving source. Igor Larionov won a faceoff in Colorado's zone and got the puck back to Luc Robitaille. Robitaille passed back to Steve Duchesne at the left point. Duchesne fired towards the net, and Tomas Holmstrom tipped it as he was being shoved to the ice. The puck redirected between the legs of Greg Devries and past Patrick Roy for the all-important first goal.
Second shot, second goal. The Red Wings continued to control. Steve Yzerman passed the puck to Sergei Fedorov at the blue line. Fedorov carried it in up the left wing side. His hard shot deflected off the stick of Rob Blake, off Roy's blocker, and into the net.
What next? Keep right on going. After the Wings very neatly killed off an obstruction interference penalty to Freddy Olausson, Robitaille increased the lead by one more. He carried the puck into the zone and passed it to Larionov behind the net. Larionov skated towards the blue line, but gave the puck back to Robitaille on the way. Robitaille's patient shot slid through Roy's five-hole for a 3-0 game.
Holmstrom scored again before the end of the first period. Robitaille carried the puck into the zone, splitting between two defensemen. Roy came out of the crease to block the shot, but the rebound angled out to where Holmstrom was coming up with speed to flip it into the net and set a new record?Patrick Roy had never before given up more than three goals in one period.
The Wings started patiently in the second. Nick Lidstrom and Chris Chelios paired up to start, to keep the Avalanche from scoring an early goal and possibly gaining momentum. Colorado did try to pressure, but Hasek was huge in net again, and the Wings again scored early. Boyd Devereaux fought for the puck behind the net, then put the centering pass out front for Brett Hull. Hull looked toward Roy's far side, lured him away from the goalpost, and then whipped the puck into the space Roy had vacated.
It took the sixth Detroit goal, a power play goal by Olausson from a splendid cross-crease pass by Yzerman, to chase Roy from the net. Backup goalie David Aebischer came in to take his place. The fans filling the Joe let Roy know that he was not forgotten: "We want Roy!" they taunted.
Colorado started the third period slowly, without nearly as much pressure as they are normally capable of. The Red Wings managed to shut them down for the most part, sending in only one forechecker and playing strongly in the neutral zone to prevent any turnovers or careless play. When the Avalanche did break through, Hasek was ready for them.
The Avalanche did think they had ruined Hasek's shutout when Chris Drury put the puck in the net with 7:10 remaining, but video review showed that Drury had kicked it in, and the goal was disallowed.
Finally, Pavel Datsyuk put the icing on the victory cake during a Red Wing power play with 3:51 remaining. Duchesne passed to Hull from the left point to the left half boards, and Hull angled a pass across to Datsyuk on the right side. Datsyuk's shot deflected off the stick of Darius Kasparaitis, off Aebischer's arm, and into the net. The time ran down, the buzzer sounded, and the fans screamed for their team, the new Western Conference Champions. The Clarence Campbell Bowl, the award for Western Conference victory, was presented, and Steve Yzerman accepted it graciously, showing it off to the fans before putting it carefully away. The Campbell Bowl is nice, but ultimately not important. A bigger trophy is calling.
The Avalanche go home. The Red Wings advance. They will meet their opponent, the surprising Carolina Hurricanes, for Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals, on Tuesday evening at Joe Louis Arena.
Notes: Dominik Hasek posts a new NHL record tonight. Never before has a goalie earned more than five shutouts in a single postseason. And just think, he has at least four more chances!?. This was the most lopsided playoff victory since the NHL expanded in 1967.
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