Red Wings strewn to pieces by unexpected force of 'mongrel' Hurricanes

Francis glances in Game 1 winner

Posted: Wednesday, June 05, 2002

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings have the stars, the big salaries and the Hall of Famers. All the Carolina Hurricanes have in these supposedly one-sided Stanley Cup finals is the lead.

Ron Francis knocked in Jeff O'Neill's short pass to the top of the crease past goalie Dominik Hasek 58 seconds into overtime, and the Hurricanes shocked the heavily favored Red Wings 3-2 in Game 1 Tuesday night.

Remarkably, it was Carolina's first victory in 13 games in Joe Louis Arena since a game-winning goal by -- yes, him again -- Francis for the then-Hartford Whalers on Nov. 14, 1989.

Francis was playing his first finals since June 1, 1992, when he scored the game-winner in Pittsburgh's cup-clinching 6-5 victory over Chicago in Game 4 -- with Hasek in net after replacing Ed Belfour earlier in the game.

Carolina finished 25 points behind Detroit in the regular season, the largest gap in the finals since the Rangers' 27-point edge over Vancouver in 1994.

The Hurricanes have been underdogs in each of their four series, causing coach Paul Maurice to playfully call them the ''mongrels.''

''We're disappointed to lose but not shocked to lose,'' Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman said. ''We're playing against a good team that's hot right now. They've got a good thing going, they're on a roll. We're in for a real battle.''

The start was similar to the 1995 finals, when the heavily favored Red Wings were upset by the New Jersey Devils in Game 1 and went on to be swept.

''We said all along we believe in ourselves and believe in each other, and believe in our ability to go out there and win hockey games,'' Francis said. ''That's what we're trying to do. It's a boost for our confidence, but now it's behind us and we've got to get ready for Game 2.''

As the Hurricanes left the ice in victory, several jersey-wearing Red Wings fans sat slumped in their seats, speechless and failing to comprehend how this possibly could have happened.

Detroit's big mistake was to let Carolina take the game into overtime. The Hurricanes are 7-1 in overtime this postseason -- the second most overtime playoff wins in NHL history to Montreal's 10 in 1993 -- after playing a league-high 27 overtime games during the season. The Red Wings are 1-4 in overtime. Luc Robitaille, one of the few Red Wings looking for his first Cup, denied they overlooked Carolina after taking out defending champion Colorado convincingly 7-0 in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals Friday.

Maurice didn't try to play up the no-respect angle during his pregame talking, saying, ''We knew we were an underdog. No point in making the mountain any bigger than it was.''

O'Neill scored the tying goal late in the second period, then set up the game-winner with a pass from along the right wing boards to Francis, who was inexplicably left unattended in front of the net. Hasek went for the poke check, but Francis lifted the puck over him.

for his sixth playoff goal, and only his second at even strength.

''The puck came out front and it bounced right back to Jeff O'Neill,'' Francis said. ''He made a great pass, and I was able to flip it up over the top of Hasek's pad into the net.''

Francis, probably the most revered player in franchise history, returned to the team four years after it relocated to North Carolina -- after winning two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh.

''Ronnie Francis was our MVP over the course of the season,'' Maurice said. ''The bigger the game, the better Ronnie Francis plays.''

It was the second overtime win in as many games for Carolina, which beat Toronto 2-1 on Martin Gelinas' overtime goal May 28 to win the Eastern Conference finals. Carolina goalie Arturs Irbe is 6-0 in overtime.

''It's been a comfortable position for us through the whole playoffs,'' Carolina forward Erik Cole said. ''We haven't changed a thing from period to period. We just take it 20 minutes at a time, refocus, and hopefully somebody will step up for us.''

The Red Wings opened 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but couldn't hold either lead as they went 1-for-7 on the power play. Carolina was 1-of-6 in a feisty but not nastily played opened.

''We had a chance to win it with the power play,'' said Detroit coach Scotty Bowman, who is seeking a record ninth Stanley Cup title.

Up 1-0 early in the second period and in control, the Red Wings were unwisely drawn into taking two penalties in a span of 37 seconds, one on 41-year-old Igor Larionov, the NHL's oldest player, the other on Kris Draper.

With 83 seconds of two-man advantage to work with it, Carolina tied it at 3:30 when Sean Hill's knuckleball of a one-timer from the upper edge of the left circle eluded Hasek, who shut out Colorado in the final two games of the Western Conference finals.

Detroit regained the lead as Kirk Maltby's hard wrist shot from the right circle sailed by Irbe and inside the far post at 10:39 of the second. It was the sixth goal in eight games by the Red Wings' Grind Line of Maltby, Draper and Darren McCarty -- a checking line that suddenly has become a scoring force.

But, less than a minute from taking a one-goal lead into the third period, O'Neill took former Detroit defenseman Aaron Ward's up-ice pass to flick a short wrister by a sprawled Hasek at 19:10 of the second.

Hasek, sometimes criticized for flopping and falling when it isn't necessary, nudged the puck into his own net with his back.

It was a bad day all around for Hasek, who was ticketed for allegedly driving 65 mph in a 45-mph construction zone en route to the morning skate.

Despite spending considerable time on the penalty kill, the Hurricanes hardly seemed in awe of their surroundings or their opponent, staying in their tight-checking, 1-2-2 trapping defense to constantly clog up the middle and slow Detroit's speed in the neutral zone.

Detroit, which has nine players older than the 35-year-old Maurice, came into the series with a huge edge in Stanley Cup playoff experience. Nearly half the Red Wings' roster was around for sweeps of Philadelphia in 1997 and Washington in 1998.

Notes: Each of the Red Wings' last three finals appearances ended in sweeps. ... Hill's goal was the first scored against Hasek since Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against Colorado. ... Fedorov has five goals and nine points in his last six games against Carolina. ... Detroit has a 24-11 scoring advantage in the first period of the playoffs. ... Road teams are 10-2 in overtime in the finals since 1990. ... It was Francis' second game-winning overtime goal in a Stanley Cup playoff game. He also had one for Pittsburgh against the Rangers in 1994.

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