Avalanche, Red Wings set to put it all on line

Posted: Friday, May 31, 2002

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche admitted feeling both anxious and excited about their Game 7 showdown in the Western Conference finals.

The fierce rivals who have combined for four of the past six Stanley Cup titles will meet for the final time this season Friday night at Joe Louis Arena, with the winner advancing to face Carolina in the Stanley Cup finals.

''It's probably good to be a little nervous,'' Colorado's Adam Foote said. ''I'm sure everybody will be feeling it because Game 7s are like that.''

The defending champion Avalanche should know.

Colorado is the first NHL team to play in four consecutive Game 7s, joining the 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs as the only teams to play three Game 7s in one postseason.

The Avalanche have won four straight Game 7s since losing to Dallas in 2000 Western Conference Finals.

''We have a pretty good streak going with Game 7s, so we have to be real positive and think about that,'' Colorado's Patrick Roy said. ''I don't want to say that gives us an edge, but it gives us the right to be confident.''

The Red Wings will play in their first Game 7 since beating St. Louis 1-0 in overtime of the 1996 Western Conference semifinals, but Detroit's Brendan Shanahan downplayed the significance of that fact.

''A lot of us have played in elimination tournaments, like the World Cup and the Olympics, where every game is a Game 7,'' said Shanahan, who along with teammate Steve Yzerman, helped Canada win gold in this year's Olympics. ''You learn from that and you learn how to relax yourself and to get to sleep when your nerves are trying to prevent you from doing so.''

It will be understandable if both teams are playing on limited rest after a night of tossing and turning while thinking about everything at stake.

The team that wins, and advances to play Carolina as a favorite, will move one step closer to making a compelling argument that it is the most successful hockey team of this era.

''We all knew we'd have to get through each other to get where we want to go,'' Foote said.

The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997 and '98. The defending-champion Avalanche also won the Cup in 1996.

There's also a sense that Detroit has more to lose.

With its bulging payroll of $65 million and acquisitions of Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, Detroit has had a Cup-or-bust mentality all season long. Hasek and Robitaille are still waiting to complete their resumes with a Stanley Cup.

''It's impossible not to think about the weight of the game,'' Shanahan admitted.

If the Avalanche lose, they certainly will be disappointed, but they will have some legitimate excuses -- while the Red Wings will not.

There's a chance Colorado will play without four key forwards -- Alex Tanguay, Mike Keane, Dan Hinote and Stephane Yelle -- due to injuries and it will have been pushed to three straight Game 7s.

''Our season is on the line,'' Colorado coach Bob Hartley said. ''The winner grabs all the marbles and the loser goes home. ... There's so many leaders and All-Stars that will be on the ice and those guys will decide the game.''

Stars -- not thugs -- have been the focus in the series, unlike the 1996 conference finals when the rivalry was ignited with plenty of punches and blood.

While some hard feelings carried over to regular-season games in the 1990s, the postseason matchups since 1996 have been relatively tame.

''I think people that have watched the series have appreciated the hockey that has been played,'' Shanahan said. ''I think a lot of people thought the rivalry was dead, but this series has shown otherwise."

''I think this series has show that the most important thing to the players is who wins, not so much who spills the most blood.''

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