BELIEVE, One More Time

It was June 13, 2002, about 11:00 pm in Detroit. A buzzer sounded inside Joe Louis Arena, barely audible over the screaming of 20,058 fans. Players in white jerseys streamed onto the ice, hugging, laughing, some of them barely able to believe they'd finally reached their ultimate goal. All over Metro Detroit, in sports bars in Royal Oak, apartments Downriver, parties downtown, whoops of joy and celebration echoed out into the cool early summer night. For the first time ever, Dominik Hasek, Luc Robitaille, Freddy Olausson, and Steve Duchesne, deserving veterans all, hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup above their heads. And a few moments later, Sergei Fedorov brought the Cup to fallen defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and helped him lift it above his head, one more time.

The Game Five victory against the Carolina Hurricanes did not come easily. As ever, the Hurricanes played their defensive trap and played it well. Matters were compounded for the Red Wings by the NHL suspension of Jiri Fischer for a hard cross-check laid on Tommy Westlund in Game Four. Trade deadline acquisition Jiri Slegr was brought in to fill the spot on the blue line, in spite of the fact that he had not played a game since the regular season. Slegr was ready, however. "Everybody's dream is the Stanley Cup, and here I'm playing in it right now," he said.

The first period was scoreless, although the Grind Line created some scoring chances, and Luc Robitaille rang a strong shot off the goalpost. Sergei Fedorov got in all alone on a breakaway, but his shot thudded into the chest of goaltender Arturs Irbe.

The Red Wings opened the scoring early in the second period. Series star Igor Larionov made a centering pass from the right corner behind the Carolina net, and Tomas Holmstrom lunged forward to poke it in for the goal. He was being shoved down at the time, and as he landed flat on his back against the boards behind the net, Holmstrom raised his arms in celebration.

The Hurricanes had a chance to tie the game when Jiri Slegr was given a penalty for holding up big Erik Cole along the boards, but Dominik Hasek made a phenomenal save, screened on a redirected shot, and the Red Wings kept the lead.

The Wings gained a goal cushion, and the eventual game winning goal, on a power play of their own. Jaroslav Svoboda was in the penalty box for roughing, and Steve Yzerman fired a shot on net. The puck flew high, but Fedorov found it behind the net and passed it out front to Brendan Shanahan, who one-timed it past Irbe.

The Hurricanes scored their only goal of the game late in the period, on the tail end of a shortened penalty on Shanahan. Jeff O'Neill took a hard shot from a bad angle on the left wing side. Hasek was screened by Cole, and did not see the shot until it was too late. The shot was so hard and the puck was in and out of the net so quickly that the officials had to review it to make sure it had actually gone into the net.

Play in the third period went end to end, staying mainly in the neutral zone. Carolina played frantically, trying desperately to create needed scoring chances, but the chances would not come. Finally, with just a minute left to play, they pulled their goaltender in exchange for a sixth skater, but Shanahan got the puck from Yzerman, skated it to just outside the Hurricanes' blue line, and fired a laser shot which landed solidly in the empty net to clinch the Red Wings' third Stanley Cup in six years. The players wound down the remaining forty seconds or so. The buzzer sounded, and the celebration began. And Jiri Fischer was the first one to jump off the bench and join his teammates on the ice. In front of the net, Hasek jumped up and down like an excited child. "It's a fantastic feeling, and I'm so happy!" he said.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presented the awards. The Conn Smythe Trophy for the most valuable player in the playoffs went to the highly deserving Nicklas Lidstrom. And then the Stanley Cup itself, to Steve Yzerman, who took his little daughter Isabella with him to accept the award for the team.

In the middle of the revelry, Scotty Bowman dropped the revelation he'd been holding onto: "This is my last game as a coach." He had made the decision during the Olympic Break in February, that regardless of this season's outcome, it was the right time to retire. On top of his coaching game, having broken another of his mentor Toe Blake's records by winning a ninth Stanley Cup, and ready to go, the winningest coach of all time.

Most of the players have indicated that they wish to return for another season. Chris Chelios and Brett Hull are especially eager to keep their skates for another year. Steve Yzerman, once he recovers from the much needed surgery on his right knee, will return to lead the team again. Dominik Hasek has not yet made a decision. The outcome of the 2002 off-season decisions will be known, eventually.

The outcome of the 2001 off-season decisions was realized tonight, as the Stanley Cup returned home to Hockeytown.

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