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It's Stanley Cup championship or bust for Red Wings

Posted: Wednesday, April 17, 2002

DETROIT -- If the Detroit Red Wings' collection of Hall of Famers fails to win the Stanley Cup, it will be remembered for that disappointment rather than its dominating regular season.

''We've been saying all year, if we don't win the Cup, it won't be a successful year,'' Darren McCarty said. ''This is what this team was made for. This is what we'll be remembered for. Good or bad, it's here.''

Detroit will begin its quest for the Stanley Cup on Wednesday against Vancouver in a best-of-seven first-round series.

While the Red Wings say they're focused on the Canucks, who led the league in goals and enter the playoffs on a 8-0-1 streak, others wonder how Detroit will respond after almost lapping the competition during the regular season.

In other playoff games Wednesday, it's New Jersey at Carolina, Ottawa at Philadelphia and Phoenix at San Jose.

Four more series begin Thursday: Montreal at Boston; the New York Islanders at Toronto; Chicago at St. Louis; and Los Angeles at Colorado.

The Red Wings, with an NHL-high 11 Olympians, won the President's Cup with 116 points, at least 15 points more than the rest of the league.

They trailed only the Canucks in scoring without having a player among the top dozen scorers, and became the first team to have three 600-goal scorers, sometimes on the same line.

They had an NHL-best 10-game home winning streak and won a league-best eight straight games on the road.

Detroit proved it was as good in reality as it looked on paper -- quite an accomplishment alone -- after its already-talented roster was restocked last summer.

The Red Wings traded for goaltender Dominik Hasek, a six-time Vezina Trophy winner and two-time Most Valuable Player, and signed two of the game's best all-time scorers: Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille.

When those three future Hall of Famers were added to the team's other potential enshrinees -- Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan and Igor Larionov -- greatness was expected, and it was delivered.

Presiding over the stars on ice is Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, hockey's winningest coach, who has won eight Stanley Cups and is arguably the best coach ever in any sport.

But now the Red Wings' 82-game ''exhibition'' season is over, and the real reason they were put together is here.

Fedorov said he was relieved to have the regular season over, as if the seven-month season was a nuisance.

Others said they were just glad the playoffs were finally here, since they had nothing to play for after clinching the league's best record almost three weeks ago.

''We've been looking forward to the playoffs all year, especially when we were resting guys when the games didn't mean anything,'' Shanahan said. ''We were a little distracted waiting for the playoffs because there was nothing we could do.

''We know as a team why we were put together. This team was built for the playoffs, not just for the regular season.''

The Detroit veterans also want to prove that their performances in the past three playoffs, when they failed to advance past the second round, were a fluke after winning the Stanley Cup in 1997 and 1998.

The new stars are hungry for different reasons.

Hasek and Robitaille haven't won a Stanley Cup, and Hull wants to prove he's still capable of being a star after scoring the series-winning goal for the Dallas Stars in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals.

Hasek feels something different than he did during his nine seasons in Buffalo, or in the past two Olympics for the Czech Republic.

''There's always pressure on the goalie,'' Hasek said, ''But I think there will be extra pressure after the season we had, and with all the players we have.''

Vancouver coach Marc Crawford doesn't think the Red Wings' late-season slide, when they won just one of their last 10, changed their status.

''They're still going to be the favorite and they're still going to be the team that everyone has to beat,'' Crawford said. ''We're just the first to get a crack at them.''



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