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Wings close in on goal

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2002

DETROIT -- Twelve down, four to go.

That was the Detroit Red Wings' mindset after they eliminated Colorado to advance to the Stanley Cup finals, where they will need four victories over Carolina to reach their ultimate goal.

If Detroit fails to win the Stanley Cup, its season will be regarded as a failure by the Red Wings and their fans.

''Nobody is going to remember who comes in second,'' said Tomas Holmstrom, who has seven playoff goals. ''This is nothing. We have to go all the way.''

Brett Hull was wearing a T-shirt that read ''16 Nothing Less'' regarding the number of wins needed to win the Stanley Cup.

''That's what it's all about,'' Hull said. ''That's what it takes to get there.''

Since Day 1 in training camp, pressure has been heaped on Detroit's collection of future Hall of Famers to win the Stanley Cup.

The Red Wings, who welcomed a Cup-or-bust mentality, exceeded expectations during the regular season by earning at 116 points, 15 more than runner-up Boston.

After losing the first two games of the playoffs to Vancouver, the Red Wings won eight of their next nine games over the Canucks and St. Louis to set the stage for the matchup all hockey fans wanted to see -- Colorado and Detroit.

Not surprisingly, the Red Wings struggled at times against the defending Stanley Cup champions and even faced elimination in Denver down 3-2 in the heated series.

Detroit responded by winning the final two games of the series, 2-0 and 7-0, while looking just as dominant as it often has since October.

''It's a huge relief,'' Detroit's Igor Larionov said.

Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch will not be able to let out a sigh of relief unless his $65 million team gets past the Hurricanes and their owner Peter Karmanos, who has a rivalry of sorts with Ilitch.

When Karmanos moved his team to North Carolina in 1997, citing financial losses in Hartford, Conn., he openly talked about the possibility of moving it to The Palace of Auburn Hills, which is about 30 miles north of Detroit.

The two owners sponsor youth hockey leagues in the Detroit area and have invested millions of dollars in the Motor City.

Karmanos, who owns Compuware Corp., will move the software company from suburban Farmington Hills to a $350 million headquarters, which is being built in downtown Detroit, just down Woodward Ave. from Ilitch's Comerica Park, where his Detroit Tigers play.

If the Hurricanes win the Cup, Karmanos could torment Ilitch by plastering Stanley Cup champion banners all over his new building for Ilitch to see on his way to his office in the Fox Theater.

Many aren't expecting Karmanos to have an opportunity to do that, however.

A glance at the betting lines shows oddsmakers believe Detroit will hoist the Cup easily.

A gambler in Las Vegas picking Detroit to win the series would have to wager $750 to win $100, while a $100 bet on the Hurricanes would turn into $550 if they pull off the shocking upset.

''I think it's going to be a tighter series than people expect,'' Colorado captain Joe Sakic said. ''If you've been watching Carolina, you know that they have an up-and-coming team. They remind me of San Jose. But Detroit is going to be tough to beat, they've been awesome all year.''

The Red Wings will be confident, but far from cocky against Carolina.

''I expect that we will have to play at least as good as we did against Colorado,'' said Dominik Hasek, who set an NHL record with his fifth shutout in one postseason in Saturday's 7-0 win.

Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman said he and his teammates watched many of the Hurricanes' playoff games and have been impressed.

''I think they opened everyone's eyes when they beat New Jersey in the first round,'' Yzerman said. ''They've got something special going, so they're dangerous.''

But so are the Red Wings.

They are as motivated as they are talented.

Hasek sought a trade from Buffalo to Detroit last summer to complete his impressive resume with a Stanley Cup and Luc Robitaille signed with the Red Wings for the same reason.

''I'm looking to win the Cup,'' Robitaille said. ''That's what I came here for.''

And Detroit mainstays, such as Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan, want to win it all again after getting knocked out of the playoffs early in the three seasons following their Stanley Cups in 1997 and '98.



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