On to the Finals!

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.

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.

Wings Still Alive

Pressure can be a funny thing. It can cause some things to crumble. It can cause some things to choke. But, it can turn other things to diamond. Facing elimination in Denver and given the chance to show what they were made of, the Red Wings began to crystallize. Their 2-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche carries the Western Conference Final on to its seventh game.

The game began with strong pressure at both ends of the ice. The Detroit bench shuffled its lines almost continuously, making it difficult for Colorado to match up against them, even though the Avalanche, as the home team, had the last change. The Red Wings’ defensemen jumped up into the play to try to capitalize on scoring chances, and passing and puck control were strong.

In spite of their calmly intensified play, the Red Wings were not able to break through Patrick Roy‘s goaltending wall until only thirty-seven seconds remained in the first period. Steve Yzerman fired a shot on net from close range, but didn’t lift it quite high enough to get over Roy, who was flopped down on the ice. Roy thought he had the puck in his glove, but he didn’t. As he stood up to show the world what a save he had made and kept safe in his catching glove, the puck trickled down towards the net, and Brendan Shanahan tapped it in for the goal.

The second period continued in much the same way. The ice opened up for nearly three minutes of four-on-four hockey due to offsetting minor penalties, but neither team was able to take advantage of it. Dominik Hasek lived up to his reputation and turned away every single scoring chance the Avalanche could get past the tighter Detroit defense. The Red Wings first penalty kill of the game was very patient and kept the puck sailing down to Roy’s end of the ice.

Finally, Detroit increased their lead. Martin Skoula gave up the puck to Darren McCarty in the Red Wings’ zone, and McCarty was away on a two-on-one with Kirk Maltby. All the way down the ice, McCarty looked as if he would pass the puck, but instead he shot it on net. Just as in Game One, he had Roy’s number, and the puck flew into the net cleanly.

The Avalanche had a chance to come back within one when McCarty was given a slashing penalty, but they ruined it. In an attempt to gain a five-on-three advantage, the Colorado bench called for an equipment check on Hasek’s goal stick, accusing the Red Wings’ goaltender of having a paddle with a width larger than NHL regulations allow. The stick was measured and found to be well within the legal limits, and the Avalanche received a delay of game penalty for the baseless accusation.

The Red Wings continued to control the game in the third period. Most of the time was spent in the Avalanche zone and in center ice?and as any hockey fan knows, a team can’t score if they can’t bring the puck to the other team’s net.

A team also can’t score when the net is filled by a red-hot goaltender. Hasek continued to come up huge when he was called upon, making saves with all his regulation-sized equipment, including his shiny helmet. The defense and goaltending stood up even in the face of six Colorado attackers after Roy was pulled from net with just over 2:30 remaining, and the Avalanche fans at the Pepsi Center filed quietly out of the arena.

The shots were 28 to 24 in Detroit’s favor. Game Seven, the game that carries all the weight of the entire series, will be Friday night at Joe Louis Arena.

Colorado’s Stephane Yelle suffered a neck strain in the second period and did not return to the game. Alex Tanguay and Dan Hinote were both out with injuries… This was Dominik Hasek’s fourth shutout of this year’s playoffs, tying the NHL record… How is Steve Yzerman’s knee holding up? “Oh, I’m fine,” he told reporters. “I’ll just let Sergei skate the puck up and down the ice all night and then cruise in behind him!”

Sixty Minutes to Decide a Season

For much of the season, the Detroit Red Wings have been labeled one of the best teams ever assembled. The roster features at least nine future Hall of Famers, as well as a handful of others who may join their teammates in the Hall some day.

Despite this, the Red Wings face elimination in the Western Conference Finals, down three games to two to the arch-rival Colorado Avalanche.

Detroit’s run for the Stanley Cup has run up against a brick wall named Patrick Roy. It is a familiar wall that they’ve demolished before, but only once in four previous playoff tries.

For the Wings to advance beyond the Conference Finals, they will have to solve Roy. The only way left for them to do that is to throw everything they have at him. Repeatedly.

Shots from the blue line, rebound chances, deflections… All of them need to be sent at Roy. Enough of this waiting for the perfect shot. Steve Yzerman‘s Game Five goal was a low percentage shot banked off of Roy but it worked.

Above all, the Red Wings must not quit. If the Wings give up, they will play the final sixty minutes of their hockey season tonight. If not, they may just have sixty minutes more on Friday.

Do Or Die

For the first time in the playoffs, the Red Wings must face the possibility of elimination. In spite of a surge of momentum in the third period and the start of overtime, defensive mistakes allowed the Colorado Avalanche to take a 2-1 overtime victory and a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals.

Detroit did not show dominance in the beginning of the game, as they so often have in this series. Instead, they allowed the Avalanche to keep control of much of the game. Dominik Hasek also looked a little shaky, but they kept the Avalanche out of the net through a penalty and until only 2:49 was left in the first period. Peter Forsberg spun around to elude Freddy Olausson, then got the puck across to Steven Reinprecht going to the front of the net. Reinprecht tried to stuff the puck in the left side, then got it back, carried it behind, and stuffed it into the empty right side before Hasek could get over or before Nick Lidstrom could get back with his stick down.

The Red Wings started to perk up offensively in the second period, but the story was one of missed chances. A centering pass bounced up and over Darren McCarty‘s stick. Brett Hull stood waiting and wide open, but the pass hit his skate instead of his stick, and was taken away before he could gather it back. Brendan Shanahan had Patrick Roy cleanly beaten, but the puck rang off the goalpost instead of into the net.

Detroit finally got a break with twenty-eight seconds remaining in the period. Joe Sakic was sent to the penalty box for interference, and most of the power play carried over into the third period. Once play resumed after the intermission, Detroit took control. Hull got the puck to Steve Yzerman at the left side of Roy’s net. Yzerman took the shot from that bad angle, and it banked off of Roy’s back and into the net. Roy tried to cover it up, but the players and officials had seen it?the game was tied at one.

With the momentum from their captain’s goal, the Red Wings were able to apply more pressure. Hasek shook off whatever had been bothering him and came up huge for his team, especially in the last minute of the period when he had to stop a Forsberg shot and rebound from point-blank range. The puck stayed out and the game went to overtime.

Overtime was a frantic scramble by both teams. Again, Yzerman, Shanahan, and Sergei Fedorov all had scoring chances, but Roy held up to the pressure, and the Red Wings finally made the game-ending mistake. Brian Willsie, Chris Drury, and Forsberg got away on a three-on-two rush, and the two Red Wings back both went into the right corner after Willsie with the puck. Willsie got the pass away to Forsberg, who faked out Hasek, then put the puck high as Hasek was dropping to block a low shot.

Shots on net were nearly even, but the Avalanche had a slight edge of twenty-nine over Detroit’s twenty-seven. Game Six of the series will be Wednesday evening back in Denver.

Steve Yzerman’s goal ties him with Gordie Howe‘s franchise record for most playoff goals scored.

An Even Match

The Red Wings dominated the better part of Game Four, just as they had done in Game Three. Unfortunately, this time Patrick Roy was the goalie of the hour, and Dominik Hasek was not. Detroit lost 3-2 to the Colorado Avalanche, leaving the Western Conference Final tied at two games apiece.

The Wings placed great offensive pressure on Colorado early, but as in each of the games this series, the Avalanche opened the scoring 7:50 into the game. Rob Blake got the puck past Sergei Fedorov, whose stick had been broken. Blake, fanned on the shot, but Steve Reinprecht eluded the Red Wing defenders and flipped it high into Hasek’s net.

The Red Wings have become accustomed to playing from behind in this series, and they didn’t let the goal throw them. They instead calmed the play down and took control, waiting for Colorado’s goal momentum to dwindle away. Then they took their chance to score, which, ironically, was in a shorthanded situation.

Kirk Maltby was sitting in the penalty box waiting off a call for holding the stick. The Wings played a strong penalty kill, and repeatedly sent the puck down the ice for the Avalanche to chase. Peter Forsberg attempted to send it into the Red Wings’ zone, but instead it bounced off of Fedorov and out past the blue line, and Fedorov was away with all his great speed, going in all alone against Roy. He deked and sent off a quick shot from point-blank range, and the puck slid right between Roy’s legs.

Unfortunately for the Wings, the Avalanche regained the lead early in the third period. Detroit had cleared the puck from their zone, but not by much, and Greg DeVries flipped it back in onside. It went straight to Joe Sakic, streaking up center, and his hard wrist shot beat Hasek cleanly and gave the Avalanche back their game momentum.

The Avalanche went on to take their first two-goal lead of the series late in the third. Forsberg, Reinprecht, and Chris Drury got away on a three-on-two rush. Forsberg made a centering pass through the air, and Drury got enough of his stick on it to redirect it into Hasek’s net.

The Red Wings did not sit back and wait for the game to be over, even though it was late and they were trailing by two; they pulled their goalie and sent six skaters out to harass Roy. Brett Hull turned a quick wrist shot into a goal on a nice feed from Tomas Holmstrom behind the net, but there were only three seconds remaining, the faceoff came back to center ice, and the game ended 3-2.

The Red Wings outshot the Avalanche thirty-three to twenty-two. Ten of Colorado’s shots came in the third period. Neither team scored a power play goal.

Game Five of the series will be back in Detroit on Monday evening.

Igor Larionov made his return to the lineup today, after sitting out with a sprained knee. Rookie Jason Williams was left out of the game to make room for Larionov…. Sergei Fedorov led the Red Wings with a game-high eight shots on net….. Maybe Brett Hull’s late goal will give Patrick Roy something to think about on the plane ride back to Hockeytown?

The Staring Contest

The two previous games of the Western Conference were remarkably high-scoring, considering that each team has a highly touted world-class goaltender. Game Three was the goaltending showdown that the media and fans have been looking for. The game was tied at one goal apiece as the overtime started. Patrick Roy finally blinked, and the Red Wings took a 2-1 victory to gain a 2-1 lead in the series.

The low scoring should not be completely attributed to goaltending. The Red Wings tightened down and kept better control of the game. Scotty Bowman shook up the lines a little by moving Jason Williams up to center a line with Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan, and putting Sergei Fedorov in between Luc Robitaille and Tomas Holmstrom. He also changed the defense slightly by making sure that Jiri Fischer and Chris Chelios would square off against Joe Sakic’s line instead of Peter Forsberg‘s line.

The “Grind Line” of Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper, and Darren McCarty played superbly, keeping Colorado’s first line penned in their own end for much of their ice time in the first period. The Red Wings also played a more disciplined game?this time they did not take an early penalty. The Avalanche took the first penalty, an interference call on Rob Blake, but they played a frantic penalty kill which kept the Red Wings from setting up a quality scoring play.

Draper took an interference call for the Wings a few minutes later, and the Avalanche put their power play to good use. Sakic shot the puck from the blue line, and Rob Blake tipped the puck in front of the net. It deflected up and over Dominik Hasek‘s shoulder to give the Avalanche the lead.

The second period was played more tightly by both teams. The Red Wings shook off Blake’s goal and continued to control. The defense took a more active role in trying to score, and Hasek made the big saves when he was called upon.

Detroit’s patience finally paid off 5:50 into the third period. Sergei Fedorov shot the puck from the left wing side. The rebound got away from Roy and bounced off of Greg DeVries, then off the toe of Luc Robitaille’s skate, and into the empty side of the net.

Play continued tightly until the overtime period. Then the teams unleashed their offense, and the goalies showed why they have both been considered the “greatest goalie in the world”. Hasek was especially careful to stop a breakaway shot by Chris Drury, the overtime goal scorer from Game Two. Finally, during four-on-four play resulting from offsetting minor penalties to McCarty and Adam Foote, the Red Wings put the puck past Roy.

Hasek cleared the puck up to Yzerman, who passed across to Freddy Olausson flying up center ice. Olausson fired the puck just as he gained the blue line. Roy was partially screened by one of his defensemen Marty Skoula, and could not even see the puck until it was in his net.

Detroit dominated the game in terms of shots on net; they led forty-two to twenty-one. Game Four of the Western Conference Final will be Saturday afternoon in Denver.

This is the first time this year that the Avalanche have allowed more than forty shots on net in a post-season game…. Freddy Olausson’s goal was his first playoff goal in over ten years.

Stirring It Up

Three times, the Colorado Avalanche took a one-goal lead. Three times more, the Red Wings answered to tie. But in overtime, the Wings were not able to break the pattern and score first, and the Avalanche won 4-3 to tie the series at one game apiece.

As in Game One, the Avalanche opened the scoring on an early power play. Steve Duchesne was sitting in the box on an interference call. The Avalanche won the faceoff in Detroit’s zone, and Alex Tanguay got it away to Peter Forsberg open on the right wing side. Forsberg threw the puck towards the net, and Tanguay was on hand to redirect it past Dominik Hasek.

Detroit’s first goal came midway through the first period. Brett Hull passed from the left side out to Boyd Devereaux in the high slot. Devereaux wrestled the puck away from Adam Foote, spun around and fired it. The puck whistled by Foote and over Patrick Roy‘s right shoulder, right into the net.

The Red Wings came on strong in the second period. Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, and Steve Yzerman, with Mathieu Dandenault and Steve Duchesne backing them up on defense, had some especially good chances and pressure in the Colorado zone. Even so, the Avalanche again got the first goal of the period. Martin Skoula took a shot from the blue line which bounced like a pinball off of several players before finally angling off the skate of Forsberg and into Hasek’s net.

Detroit answered shorthanded. Jiri Fischer had been sent off for roughing. The Wings cleared the puck down to Colorado’s end, and Roy came out of his net to clear it away. Kirk Maltby intercepted the clear and came in all alone. Roy backed up, but couldn’t really get set, and Maltby deked the puck behind Roy and in for the tying goal.

Greg DeVries regained the lead for the Avalanche just over five minutes into the third period. The puck went down behind Hasek’s net, and everyone went in after it?except for DeVries, trailing the play. Stephen Reinprecht got to the puck first and centered it for DeVries, who was able to wrist a shot past Hasek.

Reinprecht then cost his team a goal by taking an interference penalty near the end of an Avalanche power play. The resulting power play for the Red Wings was not a full two minutes, but it didn’t need to be. Nick Lidstrom deliberately shot the puck just wide of the net, and it bounced back in front of the goal line, where Roy hit it with the bottom of his skate and put it into his own net.

The Wings took control of the game for the rest of the third period, trying to gain their first lead of the game, but Roy made some key saves and the game went to overtime. Just over two minutes in, Chris Drury broke a scoring drought to give the Avalanche the win. Forsberg intercepted a bad clearing pass, leaving only Fischer back to defend Hasek. Forsberg’s shot rebounded to Reinprecht, who passed across the crease to Drury. Drury put the shot high into the top corner to end the game.

The Red Wings outshot the Avalanche, thirty-three to twenty-six. Both teams were one for five on power plays. Game Three of this intensifying Western Conference Final will be Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver.

Jason Williams played again in place of Igor Larionov, still listed as day to day with a knee injury?. Steve Yzerman’s assist on Nick Lidstrom’s goal was his 100th career playoff assist.

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