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One year after Bourque, will Hasek finally get his Stanley Cup?

Posted: Tuesday, June 04, 2002

DETROIT -- This Stanley Cup story line worked so well last year, it may be worth repeating.

An aging Hall of Famer-to-be is traded after playing for years in a city where he is a civic icon, just for the chance to win the prize that he has unsuccessfully chased his entire career.

Ray Bourque, once the greatest player to have never won the cup, got his last year at age 40. Now, Dominik Hasek, arguably the best goalie to never carry the cup on a victory lap, can win his at age 37 as he leads the heavily favored Detroit Red Wings into the Stanley Cup finals against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Game 1 is tonight at Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings wiped out defending cup champion Colorado 7-0 Friday to finish their comeback from a 3-2 series deficit and win a memorable Western Conference final.

These finals don't figure to be nearly as stirring or as compelling -- not unless Carolina, as surprising a finalist as the NHL has had in years, pulls off an upset for the ages.

With so much star power around him -- Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Hull, Chris Chelios, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and Luc Robitaille compose a veritable all-star team -- Hasek may not be the all-commanding presence Bourque was on and off the ice in last year's finals.

But it is rare that a player with Hasek's portfolio -- six Vezina trophies as the top goalie, two Hart trophies as the NHL MVP, an Olympic gold medal -- waits so long for so good a chance to win the cup. He almost won in 1999 with Buffalo, only to be eliminated by Hull's was-it-really-a-goal in the third overtime of Game 6 for Dallas.

''I think it is good for me to be there once, even if we lost; now I know how it is to be in the final,'' Hasek said Monday. ''I have said many times it (the cup) is something that's still missing. I won the Olympics ... but there is one trophy that is still missing.''

Now, if Hull has a say, and one of hockey's best big-game scorers often does, there will be no dispute and no doubts, and Hasek will no longer be without his cup.

The two talked last week for the first time about what is still known in Buffalo as the ''No Goal.'' Hull scored with his left skate clearly in the crease, an apparent violation of the rules at the time and an oversight that angers Sabres fans to this day.

''We talked for about two minutes one off-day in Colorado and, other than that, we've never talked about it. What are you going to say?'' Hull said.

The Hurricanes, the long-floundering franchise formerly known as the Hartford Whalers, are adopting much the same attitude about advancing to their first finals: What are we supposed to do, apologize?

''You look back a short while ago, and people used to laugh at New Jersey, and look where they are today,'' Carolina captain Ron Francis said. ''The more success we have, the more respect we'll get.''

The Devils' ascension to respectability accelerated when they upset Detroit in four games in the 1995 finals; Carolina might be the biggest underdog in the finals since those Devils.

''But what does that mean?'' Carolina forward Jeff O'Neill said, a touch of contempt in his voice. ''Nobody expected the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl, either.''

Carolina coach Paul Maurice made a joking reference to repeatedly hearing his players called underdogs, playfully calling them his ''mongrels.''

But beating the Red Wings, who have been favorably compared to hockey's greatest teams ever, will be much tougher than taking out New Jersey, Montreal and Toronto, as the Hurricanes did in the Eastern Conference playoffs with their tight-checking, trapping, take-no-risks system.

Can a system that has allowed only 29 goals in 18 playoff games, or half as many as Detroit has scored, possibly work for as many as seven long games against a supernova team?

''Being in the finals, I think people do realize we have some good players and we do play our system right,'' forward Martin Gelinas said. ''We play a simple game. We're not a complicated team. We're not trying to open it up. We like 1-1 games, 2-1 games.''

The question, of course, is whether they will play them, and history says they won't. In the nine previous finals matching teams separated by 15 or more points during the season, only one won -- Montreal over Boston in 1939, when the finals were a best-of-three series.

There's also history in the making standing behind the Red Wings' bench. If Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman can win his ninth cup (with three franchises), he will break his 8-8 tie with Toe Blake.

''He has such a command of the game, and such a great command of his team that you are in awe,'' said Maurice, invoking a word not often used by one coach to describe another in a championship setting.

''When our games and our experiences are put side by side, it is very noticeable, his fantastic career. He's done some amazing things.''

And Bowman, and his team, now have the chance to do one more as they try to win a third cup in six seasons.

''We have something nice going,'' Chelios said. ''We're going to be ready.''



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